“The goal is to increase county government knowledge, encourage citizen involvement and establish positive public relations within the community itself,” County Manager Don Adams told commissioners when briefing them on the proposed program at a July 11 work session.
The course would take place over two months with a series of Thursday night sessions lasting two to three hours apiece, the first of which will be held Sept. 14. The first class will be limited to 25 participants, all at least 18 years old and residents of Jackson County, who will be selected to “create a diverse participant population and obtain a mix that will represent a cross-section by commissioners districts,” according to a summary of the program.
Upon completing the program, participants will go through a graduation ceremony and receive a certificate. The goal is to offer the class twice per year, allowing 50 people to go through the program annually.
“I truly believe local government gives you the most value for your tax dollars,” Adams told commissioners. “This is for people to see this.”
Over the course of the eight weeks, participants will get to experience all the county’s departments firsthand, familiarizing themselves with the diversity of tasks and functions housed in county government. Each week’s course will be held in a different location, ranging from the Sheriff’s Department to the Cullowhee Recreation Complex to the Green Energy Park, and department heads will be responsible for giving the overview of their individual departments.
Adams made it clear that he’d welcome commissioners to make an appearance at some point during the course, allowing the class to put a face with the names of their elected leaders.
“Hopefully what these folks will see when they graduate is they get a better understanding of our government as a whole,” he said.
Commissioners applauded the concept, with Chairman Brian McMahan saying that “it’s a great idea and I wholeheartedly support it.”
Some commissioners did suggest that Adams consider changing the age limit, however. It’s quite likely that a high school senior with an interest in government, for example, could benefit from the course, said Commissioner Ron Mau.
Commissioner Mickey Luker revisited the thought during the July 17 meeting where the program was approved, saying that he’d been in contact with a high school history teacher who thought her classes could benefit from the experience.
Adams agreed that the class could be good for more than just adults but said he’d prefer to keep it with a narrower focus the first time around, as there will likely be plenty to details to work out already.
The goal is to “get our feet wet and try to make sure we figure out what we’re doing on our end of it this first round,” Adams said July 17. “I think when we have these conversations we have to have a real conversation about who our audiences and our applicants are.”
Adams said that multiple organizations have already expressed interest in the program, and he’s hopeful that the academy will benefit the county as a whole, and the individuals who go through it.
“They could be leaders in our community. They could run for county commissioner at some point,” he said.
Apply for the academy
Commissioners and community organizations can submit names to attend the first Citizens Academy, which will launch Thursday, Sept. 14.
Sessions will last two to three hours and be held on eight Thursday evenings between Sept. 14 and Nov. 16. Dinner will be offered immediately preceding the start of the session.
Applications are due Wednesday, Aug. 16, for a class capped at 25 participants. If more than 25 applications are received, the list will be finalized by the week of Aug. 21 with participants notified by Aug. 28.
Applicants must be 18 years old and residents of Jackson County. Applications are available at the Jackson County Manager’s Office, located within the Jackson County Justice and Administration Center on Grindstaff Road in Sylva.
Contact Program Coordinator Jan Fitzgerald with questions or to request an email application. 828.631.2295.