05/04/05 — Students try out governing

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Students try out governing

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on May 4, 2005 1:51 PM

It's difficult to direct a county government, said students who spent Tuesday sitting as a temporary board of commissioners. Sometimes, they said, it's hard just to get board members to get along.

Students from six Wayne County high schools spent the day discussing issues facing the county. In the process, they approved a school building plan, OK'd money to expand the county jail and animal shelter and talked about public transportation, a proposed state lottery and how the county would react to the possible closing of Seymour Johnson Air Force Base.

Every year, a group of students are selected to sit as the county Board of Commissioners in a mock commissioners meeting. The students, chosen by teachers, prepare for the day by attending real commissioner meetings and researching topics that face county leaders.

After deciding on an agenda, the students decide who will take which seat, with seven sitting as commissioners and others portraying the county manager, finance officer, clerk to the board and county attorney.

The student commissioners voted 4-3 to approve a school building plan.

James Malloy, a student at Charles B. Aycock High, presented the school construction proposal, noting the number of mobile classrooms needed to accommodate increasingly large numbers of students at several schools around the county.

Finance Officer Caitlin Poole, a Rosewood High student, said the county could pay for the new buildings by spreading the costs out over a period of years or through the sale of bonds.

Tremaine Rawls of Goldsboro High urged board members to allocate more money for the Gateway public transit system. He pointed to the rising cost of gas as a reason for encouraging more people to use the bus system. The measure was approved 5-2.

During the meeting a desk phone rang twice, prompting assistant clerk Cliff Wilson of Spring Creek High to take care of business immediately.

"That was not part of the script," said the real chairman of the Board of Commissioners, J.D. Evans, after the meeting adjourned.

Dr. Steve Taylor, the superintendent of schools, who also was seated in the audience, said he assumed the phone calls meant the county was ready to write a check to the schools.

"It rang right after the vote on the facilities plan," Taylor said. "I figured the first call they were writing the check and the second was saying it was ready. So I'm just going to hang around and see if I can pick that up."

Brittany Batts, a student at Aycock, served as chairman of the board. She said watching a tape of last year's mock meeting helped her prepare for her role.

"I was trying to figure out how the meeting ran, when I needed to say something and when I didn't," she said, adding that participating in the mock session "made me really respect the chairman's role. Sometimes we minimize what the chairman does."

Erin Coleman of Goldsboro High, represented District 6 on the board. She said she watches a lot of TV but not necessarily the news.

"A lot of stuff we're talking about today, I was never aware of," she said, "but now it makes me more interested in hearing some other stuff that's going on."

Eastern Wayne High student Ashley Tabron, who represented District 3, said that watching the real commissioners at work "made it seem like it was easier than it was."

She said she came away from the experience feeling more informed and more appreciative of the difficult decisions county leaders have to make.

Wayne County Commis-sioner Andy Anderson said he believed that allowing young people to get a glimpse into how democracy works at the local level is the most important aspect of the annual session. Some day, he said, students will be called upon to fill the seats for real.

"We have time to talk about this for months and months," Anderson said. "They have to make a decision basically in one day. But at least they get to see the process."