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Fairmont 101 to give residents a civics lesson

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After high school or college, there may not be many opportunities to take classes in civics and local government.

However, one West Virginia city will allow residents to do just that.

Fairmont 101 is a series of eight two-hour morning or evening sessions with the goal to teach residents about how local government works, resolving many unanswered questions posed throughout the community.

And the program has another goal — to get feedback on how local government operates.

April 18 will be the first day of this civics schooling and sessions will be held on the third Thursday of each month.  Registration is going on now but classes are limited to 20 participants per session.

Topics of discussion may include history and orientation, planning/community/economic development, budget and finance, public safety, utilities, public works, building inspection code enforcement and rental registration and quality of life.

They will be held in the city council chambers at the Fairmont Public Safety building. However, some classes may be taught elsewhere, depending on these topics.

"There could be days where we set up an opportunity to maybe go on a trip to one of our parks and hear about a project," explained Jay Rogers, Fairmont's city manager. "It's not going to be a seminar where you sit for two hours. We want to have interaction and make it as pleasurable as we can for those attending." 

Rogers explained the concept grew in two ways.

First off, Fairmont is surrounded by other smaller municipalities and Rogers said sometimes the public may not know town boundaries.

"Several times a day, we would receive questions or concerns or comments from the general public that there are issues in those other towns," Rogers said. "We would inform that citizen that we don't have jurisdiction in that. We can't go and pave a road in another town."

 "There's a lot of misinformation out there," he added. "A lot of people don't understand the corporate bounds of the city."

Last year Roger attended a municipal league summer conference, where he heard an assistant city manager from a town in Georgia discuss a civics education program.

"The whole concept sounded like aha! They talked about where they were located being very similar to Fairmont, where other municipalities surrounded it and there was a misunderstanding of the responsibilities. I talked with her about how they got started and what results they had seen."

The city manager told Rogers that ever since the implementation of this program, the city saw an increase of volunteers.

"That's an issue we struggle with every year — getting people to participate," Rogers said.

Rogers said the more he thought about this program, a question popped up in his mind — "why can't we do something like that?"

So, Rogers sat down with various department heads to collaborate together about a series of classes they could offer.

"We wanted to take the department head's area of responsibilities like finance, budget, public works and public safety and devote two hours to brining any group of residents and citizens in and telling them what our roles and responsibilities are to try to give people that knowledge and get feedback on how we operate," he said.

And it's not just something for cities like Fairmont. Any town can benefit from classes like these, Rogers said.

So how long will these classes continue in Fairmont?

"We went into it with the belief that it would be something on an annual basis," he said, noting the program in Georgia has been running steady for 10 years. "We were thinking about advanced classes too because even in two-hour settings, a finance director could not possibly cover everything about the budget process. There's always something that there may be out there to offer as far as additional classes in the future."