In a three-day planning retreat earlier this month, Clayton leaders and town staff sat in a conference room at an industrial bakery and talked about priorities.
As Northeast Foods on Harvest Mill Lane churned out 2 million Bic Mac, Quarter-Pounder and Filet-O-Fish buns each day, council members and staff set goals for economic development, library services, technology, infrastructure, safety, recreation and more.
Attendees said the retreat was successful.
“I can’t believe the high-quality interaction between council and staff,” Mayor Jody McLeod said. “As opposed to previous retreats, departments weren’t vying for time or competing to win the attention of council. They were all asking each other, ‘How can what I do help you?’ To see them all sit around the same table and buy into the same goal was awesome.”
Councilman Michael Grannis said the collaboration between staff and council was phenomenal, and Councilman Jason Thompson said the whole retreat went well.
“I think the department heads and the town administration did their homework, and they came in with the town needs and did a good job pleading their case,” Thompson said. He added: “We seemed to agree on the same things. What seemed to be the biggest priorities for staff were also the biggest priorities for council.”
Thompson said public safety was the highest priority. The Clayton Fire Department would like to create a medical responder program that would elevate its response to the most serious accidents.
Fire Chief Lee Barbee said, “911 would dispatch us to the most serious calls, to respond with EMS.”
Most Clayton firefighters already have the needed emergency medical training to respond to serious incidents. But the county’s 911 dispatchers don’t page the fire department for “code blue” emergencies, or those in which someone needs resuscitating.
Thompson said a medical responder program has been a “dream for a long time.”
“We want to make Clayton the safest town in the area,” he said. “If we step up to the plate and begin to provide EMT care, we are pretty much guaranteed to have that care on the scene right away.”
Since firefighters already have the needed medical training, the fire department would just have to acquire a few more materials and receive county approval to respond to higher-acuity calls.
“I think it just improves the service that we provide to the community,” Barbee said. “Our job is to save lives and property.”
Thompson said the next-highest priority, to him, was town infrastructure, particularly the universal playground proposed for Clayton. The Town Council has agreed to partner with a private group to help build a playground in East Clayton Community Park that would have equipment designed for children with special needs.
“I think that’s a big, big deal,” Thompson said.
Another priority is increasing the ability of Hocutt-Ellington Memorial Library to grow and serve its customer base. While that includes improving the Virginia Lee Satterfield History Room and possibly budgeting for e-books, it also includes evaluating the advantages and disadvantages of remaining affiliated with the Johnston County library network.
Libraries in Johnston County came together in 1991 and formed an affiliation that allows them to share books. If the library in Benson, for example, purchases a book, a library patron in Clayton can check it out. It works the other way around too. It’s a handy system, but libraries sometimes have to wait weeks for the main library in Smithfield to catalog new books.
“We cannot catalog our own books,” said Clayton librarian Christie Starnes. “It just makes a difference when we are wanting to expand. Clayton is going to have to expand their library.”
Starnes said she would prefer to stay affiliated and hopes to be able to continue sharing books, but sees a need for the Clayton library to grow.
Other town goals include starting a public education program for utility customers, one that would show them how to use less power. Another goal is to bring better parking and sidewalks to town.
Public information officer Stacy Beard said the three days of “kneading, grinding and churning out ideas and plans” brought about more specific goals than past retreats.
“Instead of agreeing on a half-dozen nebulous goals such as ‘Beautify the town,’ or ‘Create an alive downtown,’ staff and leaders took considerably more time pre-planning for the event, hashing out much more detailed solutions and brainstorming creative approaches to the pressing issues of our growing small town,” Beard said.
“Elected officials are excited and energized by the results.”