In the not so near future, Calvin Byrd plans to enter the local political arena.
But for now, the 24-year-old Dawson County native says he has a lot to learn about county government.
“I’ve always thought I’d one day run for a local political office,” he said. “If I eventually do, I want to know and understand the inner workings of county government and how it runs.”
A new program designed to give people a hands-on look at local government from the inside out may be the steppingstone Byrd needs.
Dawson County Manager Kevin Tanner, along with officials from a variety of local government offices, developed the Citizens Government Academy, a 10-week course that gives residents an opportunity to learn about their local government.
The program lays the groundwork for a working knowledge of local government, Tanner said.
It begins with an overview of county government. That is followed by presentations from city government leaders, school system officials, the court system and a number of additional departments within local government.
By engaging elected officials, such as the sheriff, judges, and county department heads to teach the course, participants will receive an in depth look at their local government through the eyes of the people who are the most knowledgeable and understand Dawson County government.
The classes will meet throughout the county at fire stations, the law enforcement center, the courthouse and Rock Creek Park to give participants an opportunity to see the county buildings.
“It’s important to offer this type of program, because one of the things I have found over the last 19 years of working in government is that very few everyday citizens really have a good understanding of what goes on in their government,” Tanner said. “And it’s at the local level that citizens can have the most impact on government. They can have the biggest voice.”
So far, residents from many walks of Dawson County life have already signed up for the academy.
“We have people who are retired. We have people who are business owners, people who work outside the county in private business and live here. We have parents, grandparents, so it’s a pretty broad range of participants,” Tanner said.
Karen Armstrong, an administrative assistant in the voter registration office e-mailed Tanner last week to ask if county employees were eligible to participate in the program.
“I just thought it would be fun, and I’d also like to see how other departments run their offices or what they actually do,” Armstrong said. “I want to have a little more understanding of our other departments so that when a citizen calls my office and asks a question, I can give them more information to better serve our public.”
James Swafford, who was elected in July and will start serving on the Dawson County Board of Commissioners in January, said he looks forward to participating in the course for both his and the public’s benefit. “There’s a lot I don’t know and this will give me the latest up-to-date version of how things work,” he said.
For Byrd, the academy is a way to be more involved in his community. “There’s so much going on that as an outsider I can see, but without the knowledge and understanding of government, I’m guilty of getting caught up in things that I don’t know enough about,” he said. “This is a great program and opportunity put together for the citizens.”
Tanner said his hope is that citizens embrace and take advantage of the information available through the academy. “It’s an opportunity for the citizens to question the departments on why they do what they do, or even for us to get the feedback, positive and negative feedback, from the citizens attending the class,” he said.
“At the end of the program, hopefully we’ll have a voice in the community that can reach to us when they hear things that we need to do different, or that we need to change, or suggestions that they have. We’ll have those people out there in the community that will have that link back to the county government,” Tanner said.
Classes begin Sept. 23 and will run for nine weeks on Tuesday from 6-9 p.m. A graduation ceremony will be held during the tenth week.
Anyone interested in signing up for the Citizens Government Academy should e-mail Tanner at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call (706) 344-3501.
E-mail Michele Hester at email@example.com.