By Carey Restino
At the last Homer City Council meeting, Councilwoman Barbara Howard said she wasn’t going home until her idea of a citizens’ academy was approved.
That’s what it took, apparently, because Howard finally got what she wanted — a program that would educate interested citizens on the inner workings of the city government, from finances to water hydrants.
Howard said the citizens’ academy idea is not a new one – several of the cities she has worked in had something similar.
“It’s basically a way to invite people to come to learn about their government — how many hydrants do we have, why do we go about funding things this way,” she said. “It’s basically government 101.”
Howard said the program would accomplish two helpful things right away — it would educate people who would then go out into the community and help explain things to their friends. But it would also encourage folks to consider being elected officials or participating in the city’s many commissions.
Howard said the class might be of interest to both those already involved in city government in one way, but perhaps considering becoming more involved, as well as those thinking about becoming involved. But the planned six-week class has no prerequisite that you then sign up for a commission or office.
“We hope that folks that had a larger interest in the city that they live in will participate,” she said. “It’s a way to get involved more than just a time when something comes up and piques their interest. I’d like them to have a broader view.”
The plan is to hold the citizens’ academy in the spring before the summer season gets rolling. Participants would spend a few hours each week with heads of various departments, from the port and harbor to planning and zoning and finance. Howard said some departments, like finance, will be challenging to condense down into an hour-and-a-half class, but that’s the plan. She’s hoping to fill 20 slots. If more than 20 people apply, they might consider holding a second class later.
Howard’s suggested citizens’ education program comes on the heels of an effort by Homer resident Ken Castner and several others to start the process of becoming a home rule city. Castner has suggested a large part of his interest in launching the process was to help the community become more involved with its city government again, citing what he saw as a general disconnect between government and citizens.
But Howard said her idea for the citizens’ academy is not a response to Castner’s allegations.
She said she’s not sure how many people are interested in participating in such a program, but that the funding approved for the program will set the wheels in motion for the class to be held this spring.
“I think we’ll have folks interested who care about their town and want to learn more about it,” she said. “If nothing else, I’ll make my husband sign up for it.”
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