Residents learn about local government
Residents of Kissimmee, Fla., are no longer in the dark about how local government works. This spring, during an 11-week School of Government program, 24 residents learned about the day-to-day operations of city departments.
The free program, offered annually by the city, is designed to educate residents and encourage them to participate on local advisory boards and committees. “Basically, we wanted to open our doors to residents and educate them about our government,” says Wayne Larson, public information officer for the city.
Managed by Kissimmee’s Public Information Office, the program consists of three-hour classes held once a week. Students attend dinners, facility tours, multi-media presentations by city departments, and question-and-answer sessions with department directors. Departments also host activities that allow students to interact with each other while learning about day-to-day operations of the city.
In a recent class sponsored by the Parks and Recreation Department, students divided into groups and participated in challenges to plan a special event and to deal with an emergency situation. In previous years, classes included the Finance Department’s “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” budget game and the city commissioners’ “Ice Cream and Information,” which featured elected officials serving ice cream while discussing community issues with students.
After graduation, students join the city commissioners and city manager in an open forum on city operations and the future of Kissimmee. Since the program’s inception in 1999, more than 60 residents have graduated. Eight alumni have been appointed by the city commission to serve on advisory boards, and, in local elections last fall, one of the mayoral candidates was a graduate of the program.
“It has by far exceeded our expectations,” Larson says. “In addition to having 125 people on the waiting list, the program has spurred similar leadership programs throughout the city.”