Local government officials take class at Kent State

Adam Milasincic

For 10 weeks every spring, there is one class at Kent State unlike any other. Its sessions begin with free pizza, and its students have the power to raise taxes, write budgets and set speed limits.

The class was created for local government officials in Northeast Ohio and focuses on effective leadership, said Melinda Holmes, the course instructor and the assistant director of the Center for Public Administration and Public Policy.

On Wednesday, 18 students completed round one of the Elected Officials Academy and earned certificates in personal leadership. A second installment that centers on public policy will begin March 15.

Most of the students were elected to their posts in November, Holmes said. Municipal governments pay a $215 fee for each official who attends.

“The return on the investment is that they come back with a better understanding about how local government works,” Holmes said. “They ran a campaign last fall, they got elected and they say, ‘This is not what I expected.'”

In its first half, the class learned personal and procedural skills to help ease the transition into public life, Holmes said. Points of concern included critical constituents, the slow pace of bureaucracy and the packed schedule council members keep.

“Working in maintenance really prepared me for political life,” said Tim Manross, a Fairport Harbor councilman. “When everything’s running well in the machine shop, everyone thinks you’re drinking coffee or out smoking a cigarette. When something breaks, it needs fixed fast, and you’re everybody’s buddy.”

Silver Lake Councilman Adrian Achtermann said he has developed separate to-do lists to cope with the demands of public and private life. The Elected Officials Academy has furnished him with practical details about daily life in office. Achtermann praised the course for helping him make good on his “civic commitment.”

“I’m very much in favor of trying to get all the education and training available,” Achtermann said. “If you’re going to do a job, you need to do the best job that you can possibly do.”

The class is also offered as an elective for graduate students who lead the officials in discussion groups. Unlike the council members, graduate students are required to complete a 16-week semester, tests and formal presentations, Holmes said. Most of the students want to become government managers, and the course prepares them to interact with local officials in a true-to-life setting.

“This course probably for me has been the most beneficial one I’ve had so far because you really get to sit and talk and get into the minds of elected officials,” said Jason Loree, a graduate student in the class. “The experience they bring to the table during our discussions offers the most benefit for someone who wants to be involved in public administration.”

The Elected Officials Academy is jointly operated by the College of Continuing Studies and the Center for Public Administration and Public Policy. Similar courses are offered to public finance officers, municipal clerks and mayor’s court clerks.

Contact alumni and continuing studies reporter Adam Milasincic at [email protected]