As part of the Youth in Government program co-sponsored by the Brentwood Lions Club, the 31 Liberty and Heritage students who shadowed city employees last week took their turns in the hot seat, acting out council proceedings during a mock meeting on Monday. Last week, each student spent an afternoon with a city official or councilmember to get an inside look at how Brentwood operates.
Nothing, however, prepared them for Taylor’s appearance at the mock meeting. During the public comment period, “Mayor” Amanda Greene, a senior at Heritage High School, called Taylor to the podium and gave him five minutes to speak his piece. After explaining that he didn’t fill out the speaker card to their satisfaction because he can’t afford a phone and he’s not about to write down his e-mail address for fear that the government will spy on him, Taylor begged the council to do something about a tree which his neighbor planted too close to the fence, resulting in a cascade of leaves littering Taylor’s lawn. Greene and her fellow councilmembers smiled and laughed to themselves, a reaction that Taylor took offense to.
“Why are you smiling?” Taylor asked. “I don’t take this thing lightly, Miss Mayor. I voted for you. The first time, I thought ‘she’ll do a good job.’ I voted the second time, ‘give her a second chance,’ and good lord, it’s gotten worse.”
When Councilman Bob Brockman, who gave up his seat to Heritage senior Stefanie Johnston, stepped forth as a concerned citizen, the new council was prepared to lend a sympathetic ear but resorted to giggles again when Brockman asked the council to open a new bike park for his bike club, which has been sneaking into the city skate park at night to use the facility. He proposed a new park where he and his friends could bike as law-abiding citizens since they can’t run from the cops as quickly as they used to: “I don’t understand why the city – with all the money you guys have – you always support all these young guys with their skate park but you don’t worry about us older people who like to ride our bikes and I just think you guys should do something about that. I think you should think about the other citizens in your town.”
Despite the curve balls, the students were able to complete their meeting in less than 30 minutes. At an awards ceremony following the mock meeting, students took turns explaining what they each learned from the program. Heritage student Brandon Brum thanked Wastewater Operations Manager Casey Wichert for teaching him about how the city turns “crappy water into clean water,” while Liberty’s Estela Venegas thanked Recreation Manager Poldina Scherff for opening her eyes to the growing scope of recreation available in the city.
For Liberty’s Mariah Cuellar, who was mentored by Assistant Director of Public Works Paul Eldredge, the Youth in Government experience helped her get a better understanding of what’s going on in her hometown.
“It’s been great learning about how the city works, and I really enjoyed learning about the downtown area and the new city hall because I’ve been really confused about that. So this is really cool to really understand it finally,” Cuellar told an audience filled with friends, family and city employees there to support the participants.
Heritage student Trevor Carlson, who was mentored by Parks and Recreation Director Craig Bronzan, also gained a new appreciation for the city: “Brentwood is still growing. You might not think it but there’s still place for it to grow to, and I’ve learned that we have an awesome city staff and city government, and we’re very lucky to have that.”
Other students, such as Liberty’s Hayley Axel, got insight into a potential career. Axel shadowed Assistant City Attorney Karen Murphy and spent time with City Attorney Damien Brown. She said she was thankful for the opportunity to make some connections and learn more about the field. Even Liberty’s Joseph Hansen, who shadowed City Manager Donna Landeros, said he enjoyed his experience – even if his teacher Gina Capelli had to “shove it down” his throat first. Hansen said it was a privilege to get a better understanding of what it takes to run a city and thanked Landeros for the coolest city tour – ever.
Landeros said next year’s Youth in Government program will be hosted at the new city hall.
Taylor agreed that the Youth in Government program, now in its fourth year in Brentwood, is a valuable program, and he hopes other cities will catch on and offer students the same opportunity.