Instead of dwelling on and apologizing for the tragedy at Mount Carmel, Waco needs to step forward with an aggressive plan to sell to the nation and the world all the good things it has to offer, a blue-ribbon task force heard Monday.
“Mount Carmel is history. Its 15 minutes is nearly over,” said Joe Nelson, a member of the Waco Image Task Force, the group formed to assess any possible damage caused by the 51-day-long standoff this spring 11 miles east of Waco.
One way to do that, according to some members of the task force, is to tap into the good will that area residents and business built with out-of-town media here to cover the siege that ended with the April 19 deaths of more than 80 Branch Davidian cultists.
For instance, why not start by inviting reporters who were here for the siege to cover the July 18 opening of the Cameron Park Zoo?
As for an image problem because of Mount Carmel, many task members — especially those who spend a lot of time out of the city — said they think Waco has little to worry about.
“I’m not convinced there is a problem that we need to address other than to take advantage of about a billion dollars in publicity,” said state Sen. David Sibley, R-Waco.
That was a theme echoed by many during Monday’s first meeting of the task force. The group is made up of public relations professionals, business officials and others.
“We don’t have the problem that we probably thought we had on April 19,” said task force member John Fletcher, a Waco public relations and advertising executive. “We don’t think we need to spend time apologizing for the past.”
Fletcher was chairman of the group’s media subcommittee, one of three subcommittees that had several ideas — many of which had nothing to do with Mount Carmel or the Branch Davidians.
For example, the history of Waco should be a more integral part of the curriculum in area schools, said Baylor University vice president Mike Bishop, chairman of the education subcommittee.
Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce president Jack Stewart, who chaired the tourism/economic development subcommittee, said area officials should explore whether the state or federal governments would fund infrastructure improvements that would help the area attract new industries.
Mayor Bob Sheehy said city officials will study the recommendations and issue a final report later. Some of the ideas, like increased advertising, will require new money.
Various sectors of the Waco community — from elected officials to the Tribune-Herald — are represented on the task force. Several task force members noted that there were no minorities in the group.
Joe Nelson, who lives in Dallas, traveled the farthest distance to the meeting.
A former vice president of public affairs for TU Electric, Nelson said Waco suffered little because of the attention wrought by the Branch Davidians and legions of federal agents.
“I don’t think the public felt Waco had anything to do with it one way or another,” said Nelson, who in the 1970s worked in Texas Power and Light’s Waco office.
Nelson and other members of the media subcommittee came up with the idea for Sheehy to invite out-of-town media to the new zoo, the crown jewel in Waco’s effort to become a tourist mecca.
“I think it would be a shame if you didn’t do that,” Nelson said.
The subcommittee also recommended that a national poll be done to measure how Waco is viewed elsewhere in the country. A Baylor University poll has found that two-thirds of area residents believe Waco’s image in a year or two will be the same as it was before the siege.
Several subcommittee members talked about meetings with media representatives during the siege and how they told of enjoying their stays in Waco.
Fletcher said he often talked with a television cameraman from Fort Worth who said he wished there was a way he could live in Waco and commute 90 miles to work.
In their treatment of media and law enforcement, Nelson said, Waco residents acted like a family: they defended their hometown without losing their hospitality.
Any post-Mount Carmel activities, Nelson said, should be designed to strengthen this “feeling of family.”
The Waco Image Task Force members who attended Monday’s meeting were:
Mike Bishop, Baylor University; Barry Click, Waco Ministerial Alliance; State Rep. Betty Denton, D-Waco; Sherrie Ellington, Providence Health Center and Waco Tribune-Herald; John Fletcher, Fletcher Communications; Jim Haddox, U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards’ office; Waco City Manager Jim Holgersson and Joe Kagle, Metro Waco Tourism Council.
Also, Janet Kemp, Providence Health Center; Nancy LeMay, McLennan County Community College; McLennan County Judge Jim Lewis; Dan McGee, Baylor University; Kandace Menning, Richland Mall; Joe Nelson, TU Electric (retired); Carol Perry, City of Waco; Keith Randall, Baylor University; Mayor Bob Sheehy; State Sen. David Sibley, R-Waco; Jack Stewart, Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce; Waco assistant city manager Melissa Vossmer; Rex Whitaker, Images of Waco Foundation; and Ben Younger, Texas State Technical College.
Also attending were Mayor pro tem Jim Chase and Waco chamber of commerce chairman Tom Salome. Neither is formally part of the task force.