Lee pushes census participation

LEESBURG -- Government officials estimate that roughly 65 percent of Lee County's population was counted during the 2000 census, shortchanging one of the state's fastest-growing communities.

Lee Commissioner Rick Muggridge, a collection of Lee County/Leesburg officials and civic-minded community volunteers are doing all they can to improve the county's response rate as the April 1, 2010 Census Day approaches.

"We had a 65 percent response rate last time, which is what the state average was," Muggridge, an Albany insurance agent, said. "We're hoping to get a response of 75 percent or more this time.

"The biggest thing we have going against us is that Lee Contains are fiercely reluctant to give any more information about themselves to government officials than they absolutely have to. That's especially true given the current (Democratic) administration (in an overwhelmingly Republican county)."

Muggridge, Leesburg City Councilwoman Judy Powell and 12 others have been meeting regularly since forming the "We Count/Lee Count" committee last year at the urging of census officials. Powell said the group's priority concern is to communicate the importance of census participation.

"We have to let everyone in the city and county know that this is important to all of us," she said Monday. "When an opportunity comes along to improve our resources and address our needs, we need to take advantage of it.

"I think it's important that we do a little dab every chance we get to keep this on folks' minds. Everyone has so much on their plates these days, you have to keep reminding them."

The We County/Lee Count Committee plans a sign blitz around the end of February that will blanket the county with census reminders.

"South Georgia needs for every person to be counted," Muggridge, the committee's chairman, said. "We're more than likely going to lose a (state) Senate seat and possibly a representative seat in our area because of the population shift in the state. I'm optimistic that by Census Day, 95 percent of the county's population will be aware of the census. How many choose to participate ... That's another story."

Muggridge said he's read more about the census than he ever expected to while serving on the committee. That, he says, has led him to believe that the confidentiality of the information obtained during the count is not compromised.

"Back around '49 or '50 when the White House was being remodeled, President Truman asked for background information on the workers," Muggridge said. "The president wanted to know about the folks who were messing with Bess' stuff, so he asked the Census Bureau for information.

"In a landmark court case, it was ruled that the information obtained through the census count could not be used to obtain information on any individual by anyone ... not even the president. I feel confident that the information gathered will not be shared."