During a stop Tuesday morning at Mineral Area College's main campus in Park Hills to take a tour of the school's agriculture program, U.S. Rep. Jason Smith, R-8th District, spent an hour speaking with FFA members representing Farmington and Fredericktown high schools.
This is the fifth year in a row that Congressman Smith, 37, has dedicated the month of August to focus on farms in southeast and south central Missouri. Speaking extemporaneously to the students in Rice Lecture Hall, Smith told them of the importance of FFA in his own life.
"It brings a lot of good memories to me to see the blue and gold," he said. "The jacket that you've got on changed my life and I don't say that lightly, and I'll say that to anyone. When I was a freshman in high school, I joined the FFA because my brother was in the FFA and my dad was in the FFA. I had to do it.
"When I started vocational agriculture as a freshman, I can remember the five paragraphs of that creed. Those five paragraphs were terrible because I couldn't say all of them because I couldn't get in front of a group of people without just the fear of collapsing. I had to do it one paragraph at a time and that was about the most stressful thing I could do — just put those couple of sentences together into a paragraph.
"I don't know what happened, but the four years I was in FFA — through all the leadership workshops I went to — it absolutely changed my life. I was involved in public speaking contests my senior year when I couldn't even do the creed my freshman year."
Smith ran unsuccessfully for assistant sentinel in his freshman year, but his name didn't even go before the nominating committee.
"I took a road there where I could have just gave up or to try to see why I didn't make it and to improve — and that's what I did," he said. "I went on to become the treasurer and then I was elected our chapter president and then area vice president.
"I ran for state office. I wanted state office more than anything. I worked so hard for it. I wanted that so much. There were five of us that interviewed for it and we were all area officers — and very good friends to this day still. We went through three rounds of interviews. I can remember it like it was yesterday and we had to go through a fourth one because they couldn't decide. When I walked out of that fourth round I thought, 'I'm going to get this.' I was like, 'I got it. It's really easy.'
"Then we had to go through a fifth round because they couldn't decide. In the fifth round they asked us one question — 'Tell us a little bit more about yourself that we don't already know.' I said, 'You know everything.' I walked out and I knew I had lost at that moment. I've learned so much from that. That even helped me to grow in the future."
Smith admitted the loss was a great disappointment because it had been the most important goal he had ever set for himself at that point in his life — and he didn't get it.
"What FFA taught me was to learn why you didn't make it and to build from that and it makes you a greater leader," he said. "That's how it changed my life. The night I got elected to Congress, I was 32 years old — the second youngest member of Congress out of 435 members. The average age is 56.
"Imagine that — working with 433 other people who are older than you. They were like my parents and grandparents, but the night I got elected, my chapter officers gave me my framed Salem FFA president jacket. It was the first thing I put in my Capitol office in Washington, D.C. And if you ever visit, it's still hanging on the wall today. This organization means a lot to me and it means a lot to you if you'll utilize it and experience it. It will mold and shape your life."
According to Smith's communications director, Maggie Starks, over the coming weeks the representative will be visiting agricultural operations in each of the counties in the 8th Congressional District "to hear from farmers, ranchers and agriculture industry professionals to gain a better understanding of what challenges they are facing and how he can help as they work to feed and supply America."
Smith also visited H & H Livestock in Madison County Tuesday.
Local emergency responders will soon be receiving free mobile data terminals (MDT) for use in their patrol cars, sheriff's vehicles, fire trucks and ambulances, thanks to a decision made recently by the St. Francois County 911 board of directors.
After going over income and expenses, board members voted unanimously to use excess funds remaining from construction, equipment and CAD (Computer-Aided Dispatch) upgrade projects to purchase these high tech laptop computers.
According to SFC 911 Communications Director Alan Wells, providing the MDTs, that will work hand-in-hand with the 911 Communication Center's new CAD system, will greatly enhance the county's emergency response system.
"We have moved forward and the board has most recently approved and supported that project," he said. "It wasn't one of our original projects — the CAD system was. In giving them that option, that resource out there, but it was going to be out of their budget to move into that environment if they wanted to.
"That piece is not really new in technology and public safety, but it's new to us because our agencies don't have the money nor did we have the capability to push out under the old CAD system what they needed to move into that environment.
"With the projects that we've outlined to do originally with this tax, we've been fortunate and come under what our projection was on some of these projects. This has allowed some money that the board approved to put into this project and purchase in bulk some of these units for every department — all police, fire, EMS and sheriff's departments. No matter how small or large the agency, we're going to push out and pay for probably the first four units."
Wells added, "I've been working on the pricing and getting the companies to negotiate even better, so we may be able to do upwards of five per agency or department. Now, some smaller departments may not need that many. If they do not use what we're allowing for them, they will come back and stay in a pool and then the larger agencies can draw out of that pool.
"So, it's going to help everybody to move into this silent dispatch, next generation environment. We're doing it with the tax dollars to put that money back into the cities' police, fire and EMS agencies, so they don't have to do it out of their dollars."
Wells described the response from the local agencies to the purchase of the laptops as being "overwhelmingly positive."
"Some people are a little hesitant to change because it is new computers and software, as well," he said. "They have to learn it. There is a learning curve. Some of the younger officers are real excited about it. Maybe some of the older ones, like myself, are not as excited about having something new to learn — but it's not that tough. It's very simple and I think that once they get it in hand and start working with it, they're going to enjoy it a lot.
"But, again, it's going to come with some agreements with the agency that if they don't utilize them within a certain amount of time, they have to roll them back in to us and let us put them in a pool for larger agencies that need a lot more than the minimum we're able to allow to everybody."
Along with covering the cost for the four or five units that will be made available to each department, Wells said the 911 board is going one step further.
"We're also planning to pay for the wireless connectivity for those departments for a year," he said. "It's going to be to our advantage to work with agencies using the same units. We'll be able to manage the systems much better, as opposed to having four or five or a dozen different products out there. We'll know this system. We'll know what it's capabilities are, so that when our system pushes out we know it's going to work out across the field.
"Now, that's not to say that an agency cannot go out and buy something different if they want. That's entirely their decision, but this is the product that we chose as the best to work in our environment and that we're going to support and push out in bulk.
"Also, if the department wants to purchase more than what we're capable of providing for them, they can buy it off our contract at a much better rate than they can do individually. I'm negotiating the final components now with the company and I expect that this week we will get that contract finalized. The board already approved for me to move ahead with this and I think we'll be looking at up to 30 days getting the units in."
Once the new CAD system and mobile data terminals are in place, emergency responders will be able to receive 911 incident reports firsthand.
"They won't have to wait for the dispatcher to dispatch it over the traditional two-way radio," Wells said. "They will see it immediately on their screen in their emergency vehicle. They will see the information as the dispatcher is putting it into the system.
"They can respond — put themselves enroute. It will also allow us to monitor and track the responders and help us dispatch the closest unit in proximity to the incident. It will also give them mapping capabilities that will help direct themselves to the incident better.
"On the law enforcement side, it will give them direct access to the state and national law enforcement database system where they can do the work themselves as opposed to going through the dispatcher.
Asked what led to the county's changeover to the new system, Wells said, "Our CAD system that we were on for 24 years was bought out by another company that is pushing out their market to a different vendor than the one that we've been with," he said. "They were not giving us the resources within our system that we needed to be able to move into what's called next generation 911 and a silent dispatch component to offer our responders with more resources at their fingertips and help them to do their job more quickly and efficiently.
"They were wanting to force us into their new product. We didn't want to go there, so we bid it out and we ended up with a company that can meet our requirements to do that. We're live on that new system now, but with that we want to be able to push out to our responders — our police, our fire, our medics, our sheriff's departments — so if they wanted to add that component in their units — their ambulances, their cars, their fire trucks — that they can receive that emergency call and information as we see it in the dispatch room. They can also use it as a reporting system if they want it."
Wells believes this alone will make a revolutionary change to the way emergency responders answer calls.
"They can put themselves 'on the scene,' put themselves 'en route,' or clear from an incident," he said. "Law enforcement can have access to their criminal system where they can run people directly and the license tags on the vehicles directly, as opposed to doing it traditionally through the dispatcher.
"They'll be able to do things more effectively and efficiently. To make that happen, though, they need the component in their vehicle called a mobile data terminal ... which are laptops.
"We're excited about it. We really feel this is going to help response times and, therefore, lives and property. As I said, this isn't new technology, but it is new to us because we never had the funding before to move into this environment.
"The 911 board thanks the people of St. Francois County that supported our tax initiative because it was how we were able to do this and other projects we had to do to upgrade our 911 system, to improve on our radio communications infrastructure, as well as our space. Space was a big problem for us."
Work is progressing on the multi-million dollar expansion and renovation project at the St. Francois County 911 Communications Center in Park Hills, according to updates on construction given at a 911 Board of Directors meeting held recently at Desloge City Hall.
Operations/Construction Committee Co-Chair Mark Allen described progress at the construction site as "outstanding" and encouraged board members to see the work with their own eyes.
"If anyone has not had an opportunity to go and look over at the 911 center, I would encourage you to do so," he said. "It's coming along very nicely. We're spending a lot of money, of course, but I think it's going to be well worth it.
"I commented yesterday that we're only about 10 years late getting this project started because I don't know how they've been able to function in the small space that they're in now. Our committee meets a couple of times a month and we're happy with it. I think we're on track and I know the employees are going to be excited to move into it."
Committee Co-Chair Todd Mecey agreed with the positive assessment given by Allen.
"I agree with Mark that things are going well," Mecey said. "Between the architect and our contractor — for the most part things have went well for this size and scope of project."
Allen added, "Thanks to Todd and his dealings with the architect firm has been invaluable to us."
Board Chairman Ron Bockenkamp noted that the choice of architect had been made largely upon Mecey's prior experience with the firm.
"I don't think we've been disappointed," he said.
Allen agreed that the relationship between the committee and architect has been excellent to this point.
"They've been very good to work with," he said. "We have no complaints."
Budget/Finance Committee Chair Ginger Taylor asked if the project remained on schedule.
"We are on mark," said 911 Communications Director Alan Wells. "We're actually prioritizing the dispatch room first on everything that they're doing so that if we meet the timeline with all of our technologies implemented so this move over can happen. They've got drywall already up everywhere in the building. They've got the majority of it painted."
Bockenkamp asked what date a crew is expected at the center to set up the dispatch center.
"The freight delivery will start Sept. 1, which I believe is a Friday," Lead Supervisor Chuck Farr said. "Then there's Labor Day weekend and they're starting up on Wednesday. The crew will be there for five working days, so by the next Tuesday they'll be done with the installation."
Bockenkamp asked, "So, everything going according to plan, it will be up and running when?"
"The consoles will be functional as far as the consoles — but no equipment will be installed in them as far as radios and phones," Farr said. "That just depends on deliverables from them."
Wells said, "We're projected with all the technology implementation — the 911 system and move over radio and CAD and everything — to have them right around the first part of October. The first or second week is the timeframe."
Bockenkamp pointed out that the 911 staff has a picture of how the new dispatching center is supposed to look once completed.
"If you haven't looked at that, you need to," he said. "It's pretty outstanding."
The Bonne Terre Planning and Zoning Commission and Industrial Development Association met Tuesday night to render recommendations on matters for the city council to approve in special session tonight.
The Planning and Zoning Commission voted to approve the formal adoption of two streets in city limits so that traffic signage could be enforced by city police. The streets include an extended portion of Young Street and a street near city hall and the Park View Apartments to be called Veterans Drive.
The commission also approved an amended property tract at the Old Orchard and a tract boundary adjustment for a property owner to install a retaining wall.
The Planning and Zoning Commission then adjourned and the Industrial Development Association (IDA) Board convened.
The board voted to transfer all of the IDA’s funds back to the city’s general fund and dissolve itself. The transferred funds total $1,500 in two accounts. City Administrator Jim Eaton said the IDA was formed several years ago when more funds were available for such an organization.
“The IDA has been around for several years,” Eaton said. “At the time of its creation, there were some funds and grants that not-for-profit corporations had available to them. About the time we got everything in motion for it, those funds dried up.
“So it set here for several years, and the taxes on the property got out of hand. We decided that, in trying to put an industrial park back together, it would be better with it all in the City of Bonne Terre’s name than it would with IDA having part of it and the City of Bonne Terre owning the other part. We started this process probably close to a year ago.”
The actions taken by the Planning and Zoning Commission and the IDA will be considered by the Bonne Terre City Council today at 7:30 p.m. at city hall. This meeting will be open to the public.