Citizens' Academy: Popular (and free) program offers inside look into city politics

When Jacob Kain first came to work as City Planner for the City of Mt. Pleasant in 2015, he noticed that in some instances, when residents would take umbrage to city policy, it wasn’t necessarily a matter of bad policy but rather poor communication.

A previous job had something called a Citizens’ Academy, which offers an educational look into the inner workings of city government. He suggested instituting one here and there has been a waiting list ever since its inaugural class in 2016.

Registration for the fourth annual Citizens’ Academy has opened but those interested may want to apply well before the Jan. 31 deadline. This year’s class is already approaching capacity.

"There’s been a high level of interest every year," Kain says. "The list fills up very quickly."

Citizens’ Academy is open to anyone that lives, works, attends school, or owns property in Mt. Pleasant. Approximately 20 people will be chosen on a first come-first serve basis to take part in the Academy.

The seven-week program consists of a two-and-a-half-hour course every Tuesday evening. Dinner is provided.

Each week is organized around a different theme, from parks and rec to public safety. The purpose, says Kain, is to teach citizens about how city government operates and how they can get involved.

And get involved they have. Of the 63 Citizens’ Academy alumni thus far, two have gone on to hold office in Mt. Pleasant: Newly elected Mayor Will Joseph and Commissioner Kristin LaLonde, graduates of classes 2016 and 2017, respectively.

Upon completion, attendees receive a certificate and small gift from the City Commission. And, Kain says, it looks good on a resume when applying for a role in city government.

"It’s been wonderful to have the opportunity to exchange ideas and information every year," he says.

"Even after the program ends, there are people that I routinely see now, coming to hearings, sitting on boards. It streamlines access to government."

Apply to Citizens’ Academy online or at City Hall by Thursday, Jan. 31. The course is free.

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