Commissioners adopt `character' resolution

Officials encourage residents to practice new trait each month

September 28, 2001|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

The Carroll commissioners agreed yesterday to emphasize character education - not with any specific program, such as one promoted by a fundamentalist Judeo-Christian group, but by following the example of the county school system.

Adopting a resolution making Carroll a "County of Character," officials will focus on a different trait each month, such as perseverance, responsibility or trustworthiness. They will encourage "character in schools, businesses, churches, county and city governments, community groups and families."

"Today we were voting to say that we really want to be a character county," said Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier.

With the resolution, the commissioners formally affirmed what they had been discussing for months.

They chose an initiative that is far less structured than "Character First," a character-development program promoted and sold by the Oklahoma City-based International Association of Character Cities. The IACC is a spinoff of the Institute of Basic Life Principles, a family ministry that urges youths to practice disciplines such as tithing and memorizing Scripture.

The commissioners had envisioned banners on county streets and posters in classrooms and at the County Office Building reminding employees and their families of the trait they should be emulating in a particular month. Some type of instruction also had been envisioned.

Critics argued such government-sponsored programs are cause for concern because they promote religious values and might violate the First Amendment guarantee of church-state separation.

Under the County of Character banner, officials will urge business and municipal leaders to join them in "this noble endeavor." The commissioners have the support of several business and community groups and churches, including the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce, which will publish each month's trait in its newsletter, and the local ACTIVE Alliance - Adults and Children Together Improving Values and Ethics.

The alliance aims to strengthen Carroll County families through programs ranging from faith-based marriage counseling to greater availability of long-term care for substance users.

"We felt that all those involved with the alliance should buy into this concept as well and feel comfortable with it," said Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge.

"We all have good in us and we should encourage that good and bring it out," said Gouge. "When you have adults treating each other with respect, children will pick up on it."

The county's initiative mirrors a similar program that has been effective in county schools. That program teaches children about basic values and ethics. Each school determines the best way to implement the program.

"The schools have seen positive results," Gouge said. "We want to get everyone on board with this. For the commissioners alone to say, `We are doing this,' is not going to work. We all have to live it as well."

When they took office in 1998, the commissioners drafted goals for their four-year term, calling for a "focus on youth and families" to "reduce the risk of crime and substance abuse."

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