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The Citizen's College: How government works

By rita spina
Posted Sunday, September 11, 2005

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Over the the past two years, CCEC - INSTITUTE, Inc. and several other citizen formed groups have become aware of the lack of knowledge and understanding that most residents of Chatham County and its three towns - Goldston, Pittsboro, Siler City - have about their own governments. The paucity of knowledge seems to stem from several things: little county wide information on a regular basis in varied media form; significant size of the county; "the east west divide", etc. However, the advent of the internet, the fast growth of the county and the growing diversity of its citizens, appear to have increased awareness of the complexities of county government and overlap with town governments. As the base of information increases, so does the growth of what there is to learn.

There are many programs throughout the country that have been developed to encourage citizens to become knowledgeable and constructively involved in town, city, county and state governments. Many have been designed strictly for information purposes, some to solve specific problems of an area, some at the behest of those who work in government, some developed through citizen groups. And within government agencies themselves there are a variety of programs developed for employees to prepare them for leadership roles. Some local programs:

1. Within Chatham county's own government, there is a program available to County Staff called "Chatham Leadership Academy" which supports the development of skills for supervisors and their staffs that include course work from County Government 101 through Management and Leadership to the internet and specific computer program skills.

2. Two years ago, Durham City and Durham County governments joined hands to create Durham City - County "Neighborhood College" which provides opportunities for Durham city/county residents to learn about how their government works. Government officials and staff members are the teachers.

3. The City of Greensboro's, Governments Works has created " A City Academy" which provides their citizens with "…an inside look at the public policy process" and which in turn, "will foster an environment where residents and government officials work in conjunction to increase the quality of life…"

After meeting with those who run these programs (and they all feel they are becoming successful programs) it becomes clear that there are advantages to be gained from each one. Out of this has grown CCEC- Institute's proposal for Chatham County and the Towns of Goldston, Pittsboro and Siler City.


This program is intended to provide an opportunity for all citizens of Chatham County to learn about their own town and county wide government on a first hand basis from those who are serving in staff and appointed positions; to foster a mutual respect and understanding for each section of the county; to enhance diverse participation in local government; and to create the knowledge base for the growth of future leadership for Chatham County.

This PURPOSE serves the goal of CCEC - IINSTITUTE, Inc. "to empower citizens to enhance Chatham's future" and serves the vision of Chatham County, "Chatham County will be a place that cooperatively controls its own destiny to assure the state of well-being desired by all of our people…"


The framework, development and responsibility of the project is being shared with a staff member from county government to partner with a designated member of CCEC -THE INSTITUTE. The project will be underwritten by CCEC- INSTITUTE, Inc., business and individual sponsors or supporters who offer in-kind services.

It will include the direct involvement of county and town staff, heads and/or members of departments, citizen advisory board chairs, etc., for the purpose of implementing a coordinated curriculum. The County representative and CCEC - INSTITUTE member will organize the program, sessions and develop general curricula and guide lines to be covered. They will also identify and support those who are asked to speak about their specific roles and responsibilities.

Schedule / Participation / Eligibility

The program will be organized around a semester of eleven (11) sessions, given once in the Spring and again in the Fall. Sessions will be held one evening a week, for 11 weeks, and run from 6 to 9 p.m. At graduation a certificate of completion will be issued. Participants will be dismissed from the program if more than 2 sessions are missed. Each semester will include 25 participants. An informal supper will be provided for each session. Most of the sessions will be located at selected sites (to be determined) while others will be located in the different towns or sites (such as the Fire Department, Library, etc.).

Any citizen of the county will be eligible for the program and the goal will be to ensure diversity of region, gender, ethnicity, age, (including senior high school students), etc. A committee will select the participants with the goal of ensuring maximum diversity of the group. Any person who cannot be accommodated in the first 11 week session, will become first on the list for the next session.

A $25 fee for participation will be required, with 5 scholarships available to those who cannot afford to pay.

Citizens in Chatham County will be informed of the program through a series of newspaper ads, flyers in chosen locations throughout the county, notices through various churches and agencies, radio and TV announcements, etc. A brochure will be developed to support all the aspects of the program. An application form will be developed for all those wishing to participate.

Graduates of the program will be maintained in a database as a potential source for boards and committee appointments in government… county and towns.

Potential topics for sessions / particiapnts

Themes for each session will be developed based on county/town departments and services. Each topic will include appointed and/or staff persons from those departments as presenters and discussants of the materials to be offered. The intent of any session would be to offer as much information as possible about "the who, what, when, and where" of the department. The 11th session will support the idea of responsible citizen participation and the scope of the roles they play in their governments. In addition to conveying information, all sessions will be interactive and citizen participation will be expected.

Printed information already on hand from each department, as well as any other materials developed, will be provided to the participants in every session. We will also include an evaluation of the program so any improvement can be made to fulfil the goals.

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