The 21-person class spent eight weeks meeting one evening a week with department heads, council members and city officials to learn more about their hometown.
Born out of a city council visioning session, the Cartersville Citizen Academy was approved as a council initiative and developed by the city manager’s office, spearheaded by Assistant to the City Manager Tom Quist.
“One of our main goals in putting on the academy was just to let people get to know us, who we are as people and that we really do work for them,” Quist said. “We all work with each other every day and we know the kind of people that work for the city and I know us ... all to be professional, passionate about the work we do, we care about the work we do and we enjoy it. So we wanted to convey that sense of passion we have for our work to the people in our class.
“And I think we succeeded in doing that. I think the participants came away feeling proud of the people that work for them.”
Among the participants was Cartersville resident Patsy Headrick. Quist’s hope in humanizing the public services provided by the city was indeed a success for Headrick, who moved from downtown Atlanta almost four years ago.
“The very first day I drove in, I thought, ‘This is a great little town,’” Headrick said. “Everything about this town is wonderful. It’s well maintained, it’s small enough, it’s friendly, it’s clean, it’s healthy. I can’t really say enough nice things, and then after going through the academy, I realized how many people it takes to make that happen every day.
“I don’t think you can be a really good resident if you don’t know what’s going on ... and I just truly hope that people stop taking advantage or minimizing the value that these department heads and the city manager provide them every day as residents of Bartow County and the city of Cartersville.”
The Cartersville Citizen Academy was offered at no cost for city residents who applied to participate in the eight-week course. Quist and those involved in the program are evaluating feedback now to improve the academy. Quist noted that the course’s first year proved popular with positive participant exit surveys, but structural changes may take place before next year’s academy.
The eight-week format with two-hour classes may be lengthened to take in more information and allow for more participant questions. Quist was pleasantly surprised by the engagement of those involved in the first academy and looks forward to sharing the course with more residents next year.
In the first session, class participants heard a brief history of Cartersville and were greeted by Mayor Matt Santini before a basic government overview. Each week after that, department heads made presentations on what they do, how they do it and how their respective department impacts the community. Included in the presentations were tours of the new public safety headquarters and the Clarence B. Walker Water Treatment Plant.
“I’ve lived in Cartersville for six years now. I moved in 2006 from Cobb County where I had grown up, to Bartow County and Cartersville, and while I had covered the city for the newspaper, I realized I didn’t know a whole lot about it,” said academy participant Rebecca Long. “I really learned how things are and why things are the way they are. I was most impressed with how well all the city departments worked together. Those sessions could have easily turned into long gripe sessions, but they didn’t. It really was question-and-answer. We got honest answers and we were hearing some of the challenges each department is facing and how excited they are about things coming up.”
The city of Cartersville plans to offer its second Citizens Academy next year, most likely beginning again in February. Those interested in participating can look for applications to open in December or January. For more information, visit www.cityofcartersville.org.