Ever wonder about the future? Me, too. I’m a whole lot more optimistic after working with the students from Kermit King School, however.
It was recently my pleasure to greet Kermit King Elementary school students and their teacher, Jillian Jaeger. After a tour of the library I met them in the City Council Chambers to talk about city government. Well, we wound up doing a lot more than talk. We held a mock City Council meeting, complete with public comments. City staffer Shonna Howenstein organized the entire thing. She even photocopied copies of a staff report the real City Council considered recently.
The class divided into two groups. One group made a list of reasons for voting “yes” on the matter. The other group came up with reasons to vote “no.” The “Council” studied the staff report and prepared itself to consider the issue.
Now, this was a complicated issue with lots of facts and figures and graphs and tables. I wondered if it would be too complex. I watched as the “Council” read it.
“Do you have any questions about that report?” I asked.
“Yes,” said one student, pointing to a list of figures. “Are these costs for repairs only or for repairs and operations?”
I was taken aback. “Uh, they include repairs and operations,” I said.
“And is that a one-time cost?” he pressed.
“Repairs are for deferred maintenance and ADA compliance,” I said. “Operations are recurring, meaning they continue year after year.”
“Uh-huh,” he said. “ADA? That’s….”
“American with Disabilities Act,” I said, “and that means….”
“Handicapped access…” he said. –
Then another student spoke up. “What does this mean? ‘Policy Reference: Live within our means.'”
“That means we decided not to spend more than we make,” I said. “Ok,” she replied.
After a few more intense questions it was time for public comment. Students walked to the microphone and made brief, cogent and logical arguments for and against the issue. Then we closed the public comment section of the meeting and the “Council” deliberated. It didn’t take them long to come to a decision. One student made a motion not to do the project. Another seconded it. One by one they voted in favor of the motion. Until it came to my turn to vote.
“You’ve all done a great job interpreting the staff report and policies,” I said. “You’ve listened to public comment for and against the issue, too. Well done! Now, you’re going to learn another lesson about government. You’ve all voted in favor of the motion. Now I, the Mayor, am going to vote against the motion. Guess what? You’ve outvoted the Mayor, 4-1. And that’s okay.” I explained that, sometimes, Council members don’t agree with each other. After we’ve all voted, however, the decision is made and we all support it and move on to the next decision.
The mock Council meeting was followed with a question-and-answer session and the students asked really great questions about how city government works, what the Mayor does and how to prepare to be on the real Council some day. It was a really great performance by a great group of students. They were attentive, intelligent, and serious about their involvement in government. We should all be proud of them and we can all take a lesson from them.
So, to my new friends at Kermit King Elementary School and their teacher, Ms. Jaeger, I say “thank you.” It was a pleasure and an honor to demonstrate how local government works. And, it was a real boost for me to see how good these young men and women are at this and exciting to think how our city will benefit when they get elected to the real Council one day.
Until we blog again, here’s to you Paso Robles.