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Citizen’s Government Academy Experience

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Carl J. Gabrini 
October 19, 2019

One of my professional development goals this year includes completing the Dalton Citizen’s Government Academy. I had heard of citizen police academies but was not familiar with citizen government academies. Upon learning of this opportunity, I sought information about them. One source is a University of North Carolina website with information on citizen government academies, including a database containing information about cities and counties that offer them. Based on my reading of various online materials, the citizen’s government academy was developed after the introduction of citizen police and fire academies in the United States. A few websites indicated that citizen academies started to appear in the 1970’s and were adopted based on similar academies offered in Britain. The number of local governments offering citizens academies has grown significantly over the past 15 years. My quarterly column offers highlights of my current experience as a participant.

Attending the academy in Dalton was easy. I completed an online application and received an acceptance notification a few weeks later indicating the dates and times of the meetings. The 2019 academy meets every Tuesday during September and October of 2019 from 6:00 to 8:30 PM. Most nights we hear two presentations, one from an administrative department and another from an operational department. The meetings are held at the facility of the operating department presenting that night. The presentations are made by the leaders of the departments and often include a tour of the facility. We are given an overview of the organizational structure of the department and an explanation of the functions they perform and programs they administer. The administrative departments share with us the role they serve in managing the business affairs of the City. As of this writing we have attended six of the nine scheduled evenings.

Our class is the second for the Dalton’s academy. The City administrator told us on the first night that the second class was more than double the size of the first. They also expanded the program from five nights over one week to nine nights over nine weeks to allow time for more administrative and operational departments to make presentations and to allow us the chance to visit many of the facilities. Presentations have included the Fire Department, Information Technology, the Municipal Airport, Human Resources, Public Works, the City Clerk, the Solid Waste Authority, the Police Department, the Municipal Court, the Finance Department and Parks and Recreation. Our upcoming meetings include the Dalton Utilities, Convention Center and Visitor’s Bureau, the Downtown Development Authority, the elected City Officials and the City’s Administrator. The lineup of departments is extensive, and the presentations are thorough.

Every presentation thus far has been interesting; however, a few highlights stick out to me. I served as a volunteer firefighter in the past, so the presentation by the Dalton Fire Department was of interest to me. I was impressed by the level of professionalism of the Department. The Department faces several challenges. When calls go out for assistance several emergency vehicles will respond simply to ensure enough staff are present to handle the call. The budget limits the number of firefighters per vehicle per shift. Another challenge is the cost of equipment, whether it’s a new vehicle or just the equipment that goes on the vehicle. The Department makes sure to take care and properly maintain all their equipment to maximize the life of each asset. The Firefighters’ regular schedule includes ample training, maintenance and chores which keeps them busy every day of the week, but results in a well-trained, properly equipped Department.

The presentation by Solid Waste Management was informative. They explained to us the history of waste management in our part of the state. Prior to tighter government regulation waste was disposed of liberally throughout the City and County. There are remnants of old landfills throughout Whitfield County. However, with the formation of Joint Solid Waste Management Authority a single landfill is maintained along with a comprehensive recycling program. We were provided tours of both the recycling and landfill operations. They demonstrated the recycling process and explained the many uses for the recycled material. According to the Authority’s Director, Georgia has the second largest recycling economy in the country behind only California. Something I did not think about previously is how often the same materials are recycled. Aluminum cans and plastic bottles are continually recycled if they make it back into the recycling stream.

There are many more interesting facts I learned about the City of Dalton’s operations and the services provided to residents—too many to discuss in this column. However, one thing is clear to me. The citizen government academies are worthwhile. They provide citizens an opportunity to engage with their local government. They arm citizens with knowledge about how their local government is organized and operated. They are informed about the breadth of services it provides and may serve as a vehicle to encourage future participation. Ultimately, citizen government academies illustrate public officials’ commitment to transparency. I would encourage anyone living in a community that offers a citizen’s government academy to attend.

Author: Carl J. Gabrini is Assistant Professor of Accounting at the Wright School of Business, Dalton State College and earned a PhD in Public Administration at Florida State University. Email address [email protected].


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