Want Engaged Citizens? Try Hosting “Your Community 101”

[This post is from Katie Fritz, CEDAM’s Policy and Program Manager.]

Do you know how your community manages wastewater? Or how the local planning commission works? Do your neighbors know too?

The more you know about your city, the more likely you are to help improve it. But it can be hard to get started. The city of Decatur, GA has figured out how to involve residents in local government operations and community activities.  Since 2000, the city has planned and hosted “Decatur 101” courses, covering topics from police to volunteering. Hundreds of residents have completed the program, going on to run for office, volunteer for boards and commissions, start neighborhood associations and more. “We now know the city listens as well as how to make our voices heard,” said one participant on a feedback form. Another opinion: “It makes it a lot easier to write that tax check.”

If you want to get your community’s residents more involved, try creating a fun course about the local government or neighborhood. For inspiration and tips, check out the class outline from Decatur 101, below. Does your city already do something like this? Let us know in the comments!

***content below is from the Decatur 101 webpage***

Decatur 101 logoClass Outline
Each class consists of five two-hour evening sessions focusing on specific areas of government. The sessions are conducted in various city buildings, including the police station, public works building, city hall, and the recreation center. Classes are limited to 40 participants.

Smart Growth Walking Tour (Optional)

Session 1
Held at the Police Station, begins with a welcome from the mayor. Topics include history of the city, form of government, role of the city manager, strategic plan and economic development. Also includes a tour of the Police Station and a quick overview of that department.

Session 2
Held at the Public Works building, includes overview of sanitation and facilities maintenance, codes, inspections and permits, and engineering. Also includes a tour of the Public Works facility and vehicles.

Session 3
Held at City Hall and includes a tour of the City Hall. Participants learn about the Administrative Services department including budget, taxes, millage rate, technology, accounting & revenue. Also includes an overview of Emergency Management and updates on current initiatives such as Bond Project updates.

Session 4
Held at City Hall. Participants learn about the various boards and commissions and participate in a mock Planning Commission Meeting.  Also includes information about the Community Transportation Plan.

Session 5
Held at the Decatur Recreation Center and includes a tour of the facility and a brief overview of the Active Living and Children & Youth Services Divisions. City volunteer organizations make brief presentations and participants have a Q&A session with the mayor and commissioners. The mayor and commissioners conduct a graduation ceremony, and participants receive a certificate and a commemorative T-shirt. Participants also fill out evaluation forms that provide us with ideas and suggestions for improving the Decatur 101 program.