Blaine’s city council members looked quite different at the council’s meeting on Monday, November 26, as familiar faces took a backseat to fresh-faced teens as part of the city’s annual Youth in Government Day.
Since 1996, city of Blaine officials have welcomed the opportunity to teach high schoolers about how local government works. This year 11 seniors from Neil Nix’s AP Government class at Blaine High School spent the day shadowing city department heads and learning what their jobs entail.
The students toured city facilities, listened to presentations from different departments and, as part of their day’s work, the
students created a SWOT (strength, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis for the city.
“It’s a busy day,” Gary Tomsic, city manager said. “It keeps everyone going, but we enjoy it every year.”
After getting a handle on the ins and outs of city government the students are invited to take center stage at the council meeting and, under the watchful eye of council members, run the meeting from start to finish. They also present their SWOT analysis to council and audience members.
“I was very impressed,” Tomsic said. “This group seemed to have a little deeper insight than some of the groups we’ve seen. They’re very aware of what’s going on and very engaged.”
The students offered their findings to council, and addressed issues such as trains, the underutilization of the marina and lack of family wage jobs in their presentation.
“There’s so much more we can do,” Tyler Kelly, who acted as mayor in place of Harry Robinson, said.
Retired teacher John Liebert began the program as a way of introducing local government into his curriculum. “You don’t really study local government in AP classes. You focus more on the federal branches. This is a sidelight to get them into local government.”
Robinson praised the students’ efforts and time spent with city officials. “I’d like to thank all the students who have been here today,” Robinson said. “I’m always amazed at how bright you guys are. You’re very mature and have spent a lot of time on issues and have come up with a lot of ideas. I do hope you’ll take an interest in politics, and that one day you’ll find yourself sitting in one of these seats, whether here in Blaine or whatever city you find yourself in.”
Even with student stand-ins, council made important decisions for the city during Monday’s meeting. Passing a resolution 7-0, council voted to transfer ownership rights of the Semiahmoo fire hall to the North Whatcom Fire Rescue, on the condition that if the district ever decides to stop using the building for that purpose, ownership will revert to the city of Blaine. City attorney John Sitkin said that it was a good move for the city. “It limits our liability,” he said. “There’s a need for this from the district’s perspective. There’s more efficiency and a better access to funds if they own the property.”