ROCHELLE — The City of Rochelle hosted a graduation ceremony Thursday for the participants of its inaugural Citizens Academy program.
The 10-week program offered the opportunity for residents to learn about the city and its various departments. Participants went behind the scenes to learn how the city works through hands-on activities, facility tours and more.
“I'm very happy we did this,” Mayor John Bearrows said. “This process was for people who wondered about the city. For a city of 10,000 people with a $95 million budget, this is a huge machine. A lot of that is the electric department because of the power we have to buy and turn around and sell, but $95 million in a town of 10,000 people is mayor, city manager and city clerk; finance and human resources; police and fire; community and economic development; public works and engineering; Rochelle Municipal Utilities and airport, golf course and tourism.
City officials said they plan to offer another Citizens Academy program in the future after the success of the first one.
When asked about what they learned from the program, Citizens Academy participants talked about learning where taxes go and the importance of shopping local, learning about different jobs that they didn’t know existed and learning how government in a small town works.
City Clerk Sue Messer took the lead in setting up the program and said it was something she’s wanted to do for a few years. She said the goal of the program was to provide a better understanding of how the city operates and the services it provides.
“We wanted to develop relationships with a diverse group of community members,” Messer said. “Most of us didn't know any of you, nor did you know each other or live in the same part of town. It was exactly what we wanted.”
Messer said she hopes the group can become ambassadors and spread the word about what the city does on a daily basis. She wants others to be open to listening and said Citizens Academy participants can share insight with other members of the community.
Staff members worked to make their individual sessions interesting for Citizens Academy and learned how to make them better in the future.
“It's given us a lot to think about,” Messer said. “You were a great, interactive, fun group that made this comfortable for everyone. The fire department was voted best session. They have the most toys. They did the jaws of life. Every department got at least two votes. I want to thank you all for making this inaugural year such a success."
City Manager Jeff Fiegenschuh said he’s been part of similar programs in the past with other cities, but they weren’t as successful as Citizens Academy due to not seeing as much participation.
“I’m glad we did this and I want to thank you all for taking part in it,” Fiegenschuh said. “The government that's going to affect you most in life is local government.”