KINGSBURG – When it comes to knowing what goes on at Kingsburg’s City Hall, you may or may not be smarter than a Lincoln School third-grader.
After a week of taking turns touring the three different offices of City Hall, the Planning Department and Council Chambers, students at the Kingsburg elementary now have a better understanding of what it takes to run the city.
Mayor Michelle Roman said it’s important for children to grow up understanding how Kingsburg works.
“We have amazing staff that works very hard on a daily basis that keeps this city beautiful, safe and running smoothly and they need to know who they are.”
During the week of Sept. 4-7, Lincoln classes took turns participating in a mock City Council meeting and learned how they can come and speak up on local civic matters.
“It shows them the democratic process in Kingsburg and now they know how to voice their opinions on any matter that is in our jurisdiction. I have enjoyed this week hearing all their wonderful and creative ideas for our city.”
During the tour on Sept. 7, it was Laura Dutra and Melinda Casida’s classes that were visiting City Hall. Mayor Roman shared some history of the building – it used to be a bank – before pointing out how all the mayors before her had one thing in common.
“Look back on the wall of Council Chambers. It goes all the way back to the very first mayor and ends on this corner with my picture. What do you notice about all the pictures and then my picture?” she asked.
The students were quick to notice that up until her photo, all the prior mayors have been men. They applauded when they realized Roman is the first woman mayor.
Roman’s been mayor for two years now and said even though you have to be 18 to vote, students are welcomed to speak at Council meetings during public comment. The children weren’t exactly sure of what a mayor does, but they had some fairly close ideas.
“You take care of Kingsburg,” one said.
“You make sure the laws are followed,” another chimed in.
“If somebody has to go to court, you tell them if they’re guilty or not.”
Roman explained that while she does get to sit at the center of the dais, she’s not a judge.
“I run the meetings but I’m just one of five council members, so I don’t have any special power any more than the other council members,” she said. Roman often acts as “the face of the Kingsburg” since she is often the one called on to give speeches such as at the Swedish Festival and attend meetings in behalf of the city. “I’ve had kids ask if I’m the president, but it’s not like that.”
Roman introduced City Clerk Abigail Palsgaard, the Council members and City Manager Alex Henderson explaining their duties and how Council meetings are run.
Since some of the students have younger siblings, they are more familiar with Councilwoman Laura North who is also Washington Elementary’s principal.
Palsgaard was on hand and explained how she takes notes during meetings, helps citizens stay informed, helps candidates with paperwork if they seek to run for office and does research to help the Council.
“One thing I’m proud of we did last year is research about the parks where you play. People used to be able to smoke there but we passed an ordinance that outlawed smoking at all the parks so you guys could run on the grass and not worry about choking on smoke. That’s one thing I’m proud of,” Palsgaard said.
Roman also explained what City Attorney Michael Noland, Finance Director Alma Colado, Community Service Director Adam Castaneda, Public Works Director Darren Hays, Director of Administrative Services Christina Windover, Building Inspector Michael Koch, Police Chief Neil Dadian and Fire Chief Tim Ray do at their respective jobs.
The students are likely most familiar with Castaneda’s works since he’s responsible for overseeing summer recreation and after-school rec programs and ensures the city’s pool, shared with Kingsburg High, is well maintained.
“He also keeps parks fun and exciting,” Roman said. “Did you know we have brand-new horse shoe pits at Memorial Park and a volleyball court? We’re also getting new barbecue pits. Adam is the man so we make sure to work with Adam.”
Others, like Hays, ensure the town stays pristine.
“He makes sure we have clean streets, sidewalks, parks, trees and green spaces and makes sure we have clean drinking water. When people say Kingsburg is such a pretty and clean place, it’s because of Darren.”
Showing an organizational chart, Roman said that while many people work for the city, it’s the local residents who are at the top of that chart.
“We talk about the citizens, and even though you’re not 18, where do you live? In Kingsburg. So we work for you. It doesn’t matter your age because we work for you, your families and even the animals. We do have laws that protect the animals as well.”
Staci Smith added that part of her job as a council member is to listen to residents as they share their worries and then take action during council meetings to make the city a better place to live.
“If you have a concern, it’s not just your concern, it’s my concern. I’m going to take care of the things that are important to you. It’s my job to represent your issues.”
In hearing how Council meetings operate, the students were surprised to learn that even they are welcomed to share their opinion on matters concerning the city.
“We’ve had lots of kids come talk about the skate park or having a tire swing put in at one of the parks so we’re working on that. So if you have any issues maybe on your street or at one of the parks, kids can come and speak during public comment,” Roman said.
Next, some students got a chance to act as a Council members and vote, while third-grader Clyrisa Mendez sat with Palsgaard to see what her job entails. The students brought up several issues to discuss - a skate park, a paintball park, High-Speed Rail, an arcade, KHS alley improvements - and finally settled on whether or not to remove the high-dive at the Kingsburg High pool.
With a hearty whack of the gavel, student Mayor Marissa Plascencia opened the meeting and several students spoke in favor of keeping the diving board in place. Student Council members chimed in with Roman leading them through the steps to make a motion, second a motion and then vote on the matter.
To hearty applause, the student Council voted unanimously to keep the high dive in place so future generations could experience the thrill of jumping from the elevated height.
Later, the students took a tour of City Hall and then visited the local Fire Department on Marion Street. There, Firefighter/paramedic Joey Frankmore showed them a fire engine and its equipment and even let students spray water from one of the hoses. Students Sophia Amaral and Kellen Verners even got to put on the protective fire gear known as turnouts.
Dutra said their class would later conduct a mock trial as a book they’re reading, “The Trial of Cardigan Jones” involves a court proceeding.
“Cardigan is accused of stealing a pie. So [the story] shows the court system and through our curriculum, we learn about government. We bring that in with our social studies and literature so it’s bringing it to their world,” Dutra said.
The third graders may only be 8 or 9 years old now, but one day they’ll be old enough to vote, so Dutra said it’s important they understand their roles. Some, like Elise Schofield, will take on special roles as she’s going to serve as a newspaper reporter in covering their mock trial.
“I’m going to be taking a lot of notes and pictures,” she said.
Since Roman is the first woman mayor of Kingsburg, she may be inspiring the next generation of local political activists.
Third grader Marissa Plascencia said she enjoyed getting to pretend to be the mayor that morning and perhaps will have a seat on the Council dais in real life someday. Or perhaps in an even higher office, she said.
“It was fun. I got to hit the gavel. Maybe someday I’ll be a mayor or the first girl president.”