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Collaboration center in Conyers-Rockdale?
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City Councilman Coach Cleveland Stroud, RCPS Superintendent Richard Autry, Rockdale school board Chairman Jim McBrayer - photo by Michelle Kim

More than a dozen Rockdale-Conyers leaders from a cross-section of key agencies gathered recently at the Center for Community Preservation and Planning in Covington to tour the unique facility as an inspiration of what Rockdale might accomplish with a similar center.

Current Chamber of Commerce Chairman Thua Barlay said the Chamber and Economic Development staff had visited the Newton center two months ago. "We mentioned trying to do something like this in Rockdale," said Barlay. "We were charged with getting together the community stakeholders together. The city, the county, businesses... and view this to see how can we develop something like this."

"We've been blessed with good fiscal responsibility," Barlay continued. With the Chamber's new building at 936 Green Street, some of that space could be used for a similar agency.

Newton's Center for Community Preservation and Planning was founded in 2002 as a politically neutral place where stakeholders from all of Newton's agencies could collaborate and discuss issues that affected all of them, especially economic development and growth.
Kay Lee, the center's executive director, said the center's founders also wanted to provide expertise and data to help officials make better decisions and to bring in outside stakeholders and players.

Covington-Newton Chamber of Commerce President Hunter Hall explained, "It is a non-political gathering place where people can come in, take their titles and tags off and do business and have the conversations that are really critical for a community to have. Whether they're on growth, infrastructure, schools, business, industry incentives, race, social issues to community development juggernauts."

Once a month, representatives from all the major governments and agencies come together to discuss common goals that had been identified in an annual meeting.

"It's phenomenal opportunities to collaborate and talk, set agendas aside, build trust, and then have somebody like Kay who's facilitating, who's calling bull," said Hall.

"So when projects on the economic development front comes in, or sewer becomes an issue on this project, or the BOE is going to have to sign off an abatement, we can say here's why this is a good value. Can we get your support?"

As a byproduct, "The synergy and alignment is constant," said Hall. "I know where the mayor stands, I know exactly where the BOC stands, I know exactly where the Superintendent falls on this issue."

Data and broad stakeholder participation is key to ensuring any plan and set of goals outlives the individual participants, said Hall, who may lose elections or change jobs. He cited Newton's 2050 plan as an example.
"As a collaborative, all the (stakeholders) have been putting these plans together. It's not somebody's one-off agenda. It's all tied to data. We've all signed off. You have all the boards of all the agencies that say we're committed to these goals."

The center works closely with the Covington-Newton Chamber but is an independent entity and is funded through contracts for work to the agencies in Newton, such as its current project of aligning the zoning codes of all of Newton's municipalities and county.