If you’ve ever wondered what goes into running a city council meeting, planning a real estate development or even training city police officers, the Citizen’s Leadership Academy in Lee’s Summit is the place for you.
Aimed at improving the way citizens understand how local government operates, the program has just filled up for the 2019 session with 22 participants. The classes will run on seven Saturday mornings from January through April, for four hours at a time.
It’s the eighth year for a program that originated as a citizen suggestion through the now-defunct Lee’s Summit 360°: Charting Tomorrow project.
“They are actually learning several different things: What the city council does, what city staff does, how the actual government works, as far as staff. I don’t think a lot of citizens realize how many moving parts there are and how active the different departments are with each other,” said Trisha Fowler Arcuri, city clerk.
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For instance, to develop a piece of property, the public works department has to do a traffic study, the finance department gets involved with tax abatement, the planning department examines zoning regulations and the fire department checks for ease of access to get into the development. Even then, there still may be more departments involved, Fowler Arcuri said.
The academy itself has more than doubled in size since its first class of nine people gathered to learn about community history, government structure and the various departments within the city.
“Anybody who wants to be involved and be a better citizen of our community should look at taking this class. Sometimes it’s the same group of people who are involved all the time, and it would be nice to have other people involved in making our city a better place to live,” said Monte Stull, who participated in the 2018 academy.
One session took them to the municipal airport for a tour. Another had them learning about road maintenance, and a third gave them a better understanding of how programming for parks and recreation activities is funded.
Representatives of the different departments teach the sessions, and each one takes place at a different facility, giving participants the chance to tour the various locations where city business happens.
At the last class, participants run for a mock city council, then have their own meeting as council and staff. They’ll debate an issue like what to do if a bar is too close to a school or a church or explore what approvals are necessary to develop a gated community.
Stull, a 20-year Lee’s Summit resident, enjoyed his experience so much that he joined the Lee’s Summit Human Services Advisory Board. That’s exactly the kind of thing city officials are hoping to encourage citizens to do with the academy. Some have even gone on to sit on the real city council.
“We’re hoping to create future leaders and also get citizens who participate on boards and commissions. This helps them understand a little more and hopefully gets them involved,” Arcuri Fowler said.
Though anyone from high school age and up can be part of the academy, the majority of participants seem to be in their mid-30s to mid-50s, Arcuri Fowler said. The city did initially hold open some spots for students but didn’t get any applications from them. The upcoming class may be both the biggest and the most diverse they’ve had, she said, and will be pretty evenly split between genders.