By Hannah Heimbuch
City leaders and local citizens sat in for the first installment of Homer’s Citizen’s Academy Thursday. The six-week course will touch on many of the primary functions of the City of Homer, helping participants navigate the often-complex policies and processes that make a city government tick.
Community and Economic Development Coordinator Katie Koester was pleased with the momentum generated in the first meeting, kicked off by presentations from City Manager Walt Wrede, City Attorney Holly Wells and City Clerk Jo Johnson. Wrede introduced the academy on Thursday, saying that a big motivation for holding the Citizen’s Academy is to improve the flow of communication between the city and the public.
“We constantly are reminded that we could do a better job getting information out to the public,” Wrede said Thursday evening. “And the council would really like to see more participation,” Wrede said.
In an effort to respond to that, leaders from many departments are giving participants a closer look at the inner workings of city government. They are hoping that information will lead to not only a well informed and engaged public, but increased involvement in public meetings, boards and commissions.
The first meeting showed that participation already percolating.
“I was really excited to see a lot of engaged members of the public,” Koester said. “The city is really hoping to educate people about what the city does.”
It was excellent to see the workshop generating questions from the group, she said, fostering an information exchange that’s really at the heart of the academy’s purpose.
Koester also hopes feedback from this group of participants will help them gauge the overall success of the academy, and whether and when to hold it again.
“We’re just about where we wanted to be with participation,” Koester said of the group, which includes both residents and non-residents. “I really commend people for taking the time and making the commitment to be educated.”
Thursday’s meeting was held in council chambers at city hall in downtown Homer, but the roughly one dozen academy participants will be branching out to other locales for future meetings. From mucking around the sewer treatment plant, to exploring the harbor’s maintenance shop, the cohort will see the details of city functions up close and personal.
Tomorrow, participants will board a bus to visit the Port and Harbor facilities, with the weeks to follow including visits to the Homer Public Library and public works. Back in chambers, presentations from the planning, finance, fire and police departments will round out the course.
“I think next week is going to be really interesting. The port and harbor has done an excellent job of preparing,” Koester said. “It’ll be really an engaged two and a half hours for the group so I think that’s going to be one of the highlights.”
The class drew a small but diverse group of interested citizens, including both longtime residents and several new to Homer.
Chad Jones of Coastal Realty moved to Homer in 2013. Citizen’s Academy is both a personal and professional opportunity, he said, offering a way to meet a few new faces while he strengthens his understanding of the city functions that affect his field of work.
“Knowing how the city works is kind of an important part of the profession,” Jones said.
Other participants included several city employees, and others who serve on commissions or boards. Several employees mentioned that the class offers them an opportunity to learn about the departments they don’t work within, useful knowledge as both a citizen and an employee.
“Even if I wasn’t coordinating this, I’d be coming,” said Koester on Thursday.
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