Mock council program shows students process of government

By: Andy Kozlowski, | Madison - Park News | Published March 30, 2016

MADISON HEIGHTS — Local government has a direct effect on residents — maintaining infrastructure, providing services like police and fire, and more. Yet the average person might not know the amount of thought and deliberation that goes into each decision on City Council. With the return of the mock council program, students at local schools will have the opportunity to see how the process works firsthand.

Mayor Pro Tem Mark Bliss spearheaded the initiative, inspired by his own experience with the city’s last mock council program, back when he attended Lamphere High in the early 2000s. The city recently collected essay applications from students on how local government affects them, and officials will be judging them soon. 

The winners will then meet April 25 for an afterglow where they’ll determine their assignments on mock council — roles and responsibilities such as city manager, mayor and more. Then, on May 9, the students will spend the day practicing their mock council meeting, touring the municipal complex, shadowing department heads, attending the actual council meeting, and then staging their own. Lunch and dinner will be included.

The mock council meeting will take place from 7 to 9:30 p.m. May 9, and the community is invited to come to City Hall and support the students as they work through the issues.

Actual council members and city staff will be there, helping guide them through the process. The students will learn to engage in civil dialogue, working out differences and examining all angles of an issue to arrive at the best possible solution.

“This program will help us (on council) impart the wisdom of generations before us to the future leaders of tomorrow, and show them an example of what this process is supposed to look like,” Bliss said. “We’ll set the example and show them behind the curtain. Hopefully, it’ll affect them so much that I’ll visit council many years from now and watch one of these students sworn in on council as mayor.” 

Bliss recalled how when he was a student on the last mock council program, he was seated a few feet from Ed Swanson, the mayor at the time. Years later, Bliss was sworn into council, standing the same distance from the same mayor. It was his experience as a student that opened his eyes to the potential of City Council to do good. It stuck with him and inspired him to become a public servant.

Bliss said that being a good role model to those future leaders is important to him. 

“When you talk issues at the state or federal level, it’s more conceptual — your boots aren’t on the ground, and you’re not as close to where it’ll be impacted. That’s part of the problem with the (Interstate 75) expansion — the people making that decision aren’t the people who will live with it. Concepts, by their nature, are divisive,” Bliss said.

“But this program is an opportunity for us to show these students that not all politics have to be that way,” he continued. “Politics can just be neighbors coming together, trying to make a difference in their community. I want the students to see that in this day and age where everything is so divisive — where you can’t watch 10 minutes of a news program without presidential candidates bashing each other personally — that there are still politics, close to home, that are civil.”

Mayor Brian Hartwell agreed with Bliss that members of City Council have an obligation to educate the leaders of the future.

“A mock council will provide awareness of city services to students. Our students will learn what resources the city provides them: public safety, recreation, programs at the library and more. Another reason for this program is to enhance access to City Hall. All of our people should feel comfortable coming to our meetings and sharing their opinions,” Hartwell said.

“A mock council breaks down any perceived barrier a student may think is between them and their government. That’s the benefit of living in a smaller city — we can all have immediate access to the decision makers,” he said. “The program will also be enlightening to students because in their government classes, they deal with federal government and millions of people and billions of dollars, but at City Council, we’re concerned about whether Ms. Jones got her trash taken out on Monday. It’s much more immediate.”

Most importantly, Hartwell said, “A mock council will embolden these students to step up and speak out.”