Citizens Academy gives residents behind-the-scenes look

CARLSBAD — It’s official. Carlsbad residents can sign up for the Citizens Academy hosted by the city of Carlsbad starting March 15.

The free, seven-week course will accept up to 45 students who will learn about the different branches of government and how the city operates and functions. The academy meets one night a week.

“When residents come to Citizens Academy, they learn everything from what the city is in charge of, how we manage taxpayer money and how they can get involved in local government,” said Kristina Ray, communications manager for the city of Carlsbad. “We usually have a mix of people who have just recently moved to Carlsbad and people who have spent their whole lives here.”

Generally, the city hosts two sessions annually and applications are received year-round.  Ray said their students have ranged from 15 to 90 years of age.

Weekly, classmates gather at different city building site venues. Each session, Ray said, will feature presentations by city staff members who are experts in that night’s topic.

“We try to also include tours and hands-on activities,” she said. “Participants get to climb into public works equipment, see our police dogs in action and do hands-on art projects led by our Cultural Arts Office staff.”

A breakdown of the seven-week syllabus includes policy and leadership; development and neighborhood services; police and fire; transportation and utilities; library, arts, parks and recreation; and financial services.

Academy members will also take part in a bus tour with a city planner as their guide. Tour goers will learn about the city’s vision of growth management and gain a better understanding on how it maintains its infrastructure for the community.

“The last night is for the graduation ceremony, which includes a mock city council meeting where participants get to play the roles of city council members,” Ray said. On graduation night, they chat with City Council members and ask various questions about operations.

Ray pointed out that some of their Citizens Academy graduates have gone on to pursue city boards and commissions, while others use their newfound knowledge to assist their neighborhoods or community organizations.

Many of its attendees learn about the academy through recommendations from friends and neighbors. Ray said those types of referrals are a high compliment.

The Citizens Academy was established in 2001 as a pathway to engage community members and has grown stronger with time.

“Each class is a little different, depending on the makeup of the participants, but the program itself has been pretty consistent over all these years,” Ray said. “We ask for feedback after each session so we can see which parts of that night’s program were the most interesting for people and get any other input that can help us refine the program for the next time.”

Ray said comments and reviews about the academy have been very positive. The most popular topic leans toward the subject of finance; participants glean a better understanding regarding the complexities of a city budget and where taxpayer monies actually go.

“We also hear how much people enjoy meeting our staff,” Ray said. “Whether it’s the person in charge of the sewers or the head of our library system, our staff has such passion for what they do, and people really respond to that.”

To learn more about the Citizens Academy application process, call (760) 434-2800 or visit carlsbadca.gov. Session times are from 5 to 8 p.m. and Carlsbad resident applicants must be at least 15 years of age to participate.

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