Town Hosts 1st annual Municipal Government Academy
What exactly does a public works director do all day? What types of crimes does a municipal police department normally handle? Why are the town’s elections held in January instead of November?
Those are just some of the questions asked by Upper Marlboro residents who attended the town’s first ever Municipal Government Academy last month. Held on three consecutive Wednesday evenings in the Town Hall, the academy was an idea developed my Mayor Wanda Leonard shortly after she took over that office last July.
“Two of my over-arching priorities as Mayor are openness and transparency,” Leonard said. ““When I shared the academy idea with my fellow commissioners, Linda Pennoyer and Kai Bernal-LeClaire, and our various town department heads, they were immediately on board with it and all in.”
The commissioners and department heads chose to hold the first government academy in the month of November, in order to be part of a 26-year statewide initiative. Since 1993, Maryland's cities and towns have celebrated Municipal Government Works (MGW) Month each November in an effort to promote citizens' awareness of, and interest in, the government in their communities.
Sponsored by the Maryland Municipal League (MML), Municipal Government Works Month is an opportunity for local governments across the state to actively showcase their municipal government and how it works, and to foster goodwill by educating young people about municipal government.
“We all felt it was very important to increase understanding between the town’s elected officials, town staff, and our residents,” Leonard added. “With an increased understanding, residents and town officials can work together more cooperatively in a spirit of true partnership on a variety of issues that matter most to our residents.”
The academy’s three sessions were divided into the major areas of government responsibility and functionality. Each session lasted for approximately 90 minutes:
• Introductions and expectations of the academy
• Preserving our town’s history
• “Meet the Mayor”
• Meet Commissioner Pennoyer
• “Holding it all together – meet Town Clerk Dave Williams
• “Dollars and sense -- meet Director of Finance & Human Resources Will Morgan
• “Something for Everyone” – meet the Events Committee.
• Meet Commissioner Bernal-LeClaire
• “Keeping Residents Safe” – meet Chief of Police David Burse
• “Keeping it Clean” -- meet Superintendent of Public Works Darnell Bond
• “Being Prepared” – meet the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT).
A total of 11 residents participated in the inaugural Municipal Government Academy, including one local resident who attended all three sessions with his daughter and granddaughter by his side. Having three generations of the family there was not only important, it also sent a positive message to his daughter and high school age granddaughter.
“I live in Upper Marlboro, and I signed up to go because I wanted to get more involved in the community,” said Carlton Ansari. “I found the meetings to be very informative, and I learned a lot of things I didn’t know. I’m eager to get even more involved. I was a businessman in Washington for 35 years, so hopefully I can contribute to the town in positive ways.”
Ansari’s daughter, Mecca Ansari, said her father’s influence prompted her to attend the academy sessions.
“My dad has been working in the community for many years,” Mecca said. “He motivated and inspired me to attend the government academy. He has always done this type of thing throughout his life. I came because I wanted to see if we can do something positive for the community.
“My daughter Najaah is a tenth grade student at the Dr. Henry A. Wise Jr. High School,” Mecca added. “She has already volunteered to help on one of the town’s committees without any prompting from me. She did that all on her own. I am very proud of her for doing that. She was very glad that she came to the meetings with me and her grandfather.”
When the third and final session was completed, Mayor Leonard presented certificates to all 11 academy participants.
“I was very happy with the turnout of local residents who enthusiastically showed up every Wednesday night and asked some great questions,” the mayor observed. “For me, this is all about open government prompting transparency to the highest level.
“Our first Municipal Government Academy certainly exceeded my expectations,” she added, “and I know we can make it even better next year.”