City leaders will be going back to school next week as part of their ongoing efforts to encourage widespread participation in municipal government.
Through a program called “Council on Campus,” Bishop’s elected officials have arranged for their next, bi-monthly study session to take place in an auditorium full of high school seniors and other members of the public.
According to City Administrator Keith Caldwell, Monday’s meeting at Bishop Union High School represents perhaps the first time in Bishop’s history that the City Council has convened in open session at a school campus.
Slated to begin at 10 a.m. in the Dorothy Joseph Auditorium, the study session is being held in lieu of the usual 4 p.m. session that precedes each 7 p.m. council meeting at City Hall. No action is taken during council study sessions, which are always open to the public.
Council on Campus has been in the works for about eight months, conceived that long ago at the group level during a “mini-retreat” where councilmembers met to discuss goals, objectives and their vision for Bishop, Caldwell explained.
“This particular council really encourages and looks forward to public comment and enjoys the feedback the public gives,” Caldwell said, so much so that councilmembers do not hesitate to go “out and about” in the community in search of that feedback. “This council is very much ‘of the people’ and wants to be a good representation of the voices they hear out there, and they are.”
Caldwell explained that Council on Campus is really a natural progression, then, in their efforts to make municipal government more inclusive, accessible and responsive.
“We thought this would be a great way to mix the government classes at the high school with local government and local issues and projects that are coming up,” he said.
The school district agreed.
“We thought this would be a really neat thing for our seniors to see how our municipal government functions,” Superintendent Barry Simpson said.
Those seniors – 140 in all – are either currently taking or took an American Government class during the first semester of the school year as part of BUHS’ requirements for graduation, according to Simpson.
The course includes learning about the various forms of government, from the local to federal levels, he continued.
“To actually see government in action is a great teaching tool for our students,” Simpson said. “It reinforces what they’re learning about in the classroom.”
In advance of Monday’s Council of Campus event, government teachers Gerald Howard and Bill Egan distributed copies of the study session agenda to their students, who were encouraged to come prepared with questions for the City Council.
Mayor Laura Smith, who teaches an ROP medical assisting course at the high school through Inyo County Superintendent of Schools, also spent time prepping her students.
She said as of Thursday, the excitement was building – especially as she explained some of the basic City Council functions and ways for students to provide feedback. For example, Smith said, students seemed particularly enthused upon learning that anyone can address the council on any topic during a public comment period, as well as offer their input on any agenda item during a meeting.
“I think the interest (in local government) is there, but for the most part they don’t how it works yet,” she said. “They’re more interested than most people think they are … and I’m excited because they’re excited about it.”
Smith said she also hopes Council on Campus can serve as a way to “open the window” to local government for area youth.
“Hopefully by us coming to them first, they will feel more welcome and invited” and compelled to attend a City Council meeting, she said.
Caldwell noted that many of these high school seniors will soon be 18 – not just the legal voting age but a point in their lives when the start considering their future goals.
“These are our future leaders,” he said.
Caldwell also said he hopes Council on Campus results in a larger-than-normal turnout for the 7 o’clock City Council meeting later that night.
As for the study session, the four-member council (Jim Ellis has been granted an extended leave of absence while he continues to recover from a serious head injury suffered in early February) will be joined by the 140-member senior class for a discussion of no less than 12 agenda items, in addition to department head and councilmember reports.
In particular, the council will discuss its annual reorganization (selection of a new mayor); the Warren Street Improvement Project consultant contract; a negative declaration of environmental impact related to the Bishop City Dog Park; adoption of the final budget for Fiscal Year 2011-12 and amendments to the preliminary budget for FY 2012-13; and fees and charges for city services for FY 2012-13.
The City Council will also introduce Officer Brent Gillespie and his K-9 partner X-Ray and give special recognition to BUHS wrestler Jaime Ruelas for earning the CIF Coastal Division title in the 170-lb. Class.
Superintendent Simpson will be presented a city tile in recognition of his service on the Parks and Recreation Commission. Simpson resigned from the post at the last commission meeting. The vacancy will reportedly be filled from a list of eligible applicants already on file.
The study session is open to the public and includes a public comment period.
While the success of Council on Campus remains to be seen, both the school district and city have expressed a desire to make Monday’s meeting an annual event.
“Our hope would be to do this every – maybe a couple times a year,” Caldwell said.