Cambridge hosts Citizens’ Academy

By Rachel Kytonen

Since mid-March, a group of 40 residents have been spending every Thursday night together learning how the city of Cambridge operates.

The first session of the first Citizens’ Academy, offered by the city of Cambridge, began March 15. Each week the residents have learned about the different departments of the city through presentations, hands-on activities and tours.

The city of Cambridge is following the lead of other Minnesota cities that have developed similar programs. The purpose of a citizens’ academy is to inform citizens of the functions and services local governments provide, engage citizens in dialogue with governmental officials and foster greater levels of public participation.

Cambridge Fire Chief Sean Okerlund explains fire department operations during the April 26 Citizens’ Academy. During the presentation, the residents got a real-life look at how the department works when firefighters responded to a motorcycle crash around 8:30 p.m. Photo by Rachel Kytonen

The participants of the Citizen’s Academy will earn certificates of achievement during their final session on Thursday, May 3.

During the session on April 26, the participants learned about the fire department and heard presentations from Cambridge Fire Chief Sean Okerlund and Assistant Chief Todd Tomczik. They were also able to participate in hands-on activities.

Here’s what residents have to say about the Academy:

“I think the staff has done a fantastic job with the Citizens’ Academy. I came into this working in government, but I’ve learned a lot the past seven weeks. I’ve been to all the sessions and they have all been worthwhile experiences.” — Chad Struss, employee with Isanti County.

“My biggest question of tonight was what can I do to help the fire department get to where they need to go quicker. I like knowing how the city process works since I know I’m able to pick up the phone and dial 911 and my problems will get solved. And as a taxpayer, it’s interesting to learn where my property taxes are going.” — Cambridge resident Tony Tong, who also attends Minnesota State University Moorhead.

“I came to the Citizens’ Academy to meet the community and learn how the city operates. The sessions have been worthwhile. This is something they should put on the local cable access channel. If more people saw this, they would have a better appreciation for what they have here in the city of Cambridge.”— Chris Julicher.

“I’m attending the sessions to learn more about my job. It’s also great meeting with the different citizens of Cambridge.”— Lola Nisley, a newer employee for the city of Cambridge.

“I signed up for the Academy because I want to learn more about how things work. The sessions have been worthwhile and it’s been real interesting. Everyone should go to this program.” — Gladys Shelley, who lived in Cambridge for 40 years.

“It has been extremely informative. You really learn about the sophistication about the city apparatus, and learn that the city staff really are working for the betterment of the city. I’ve been to all seven sessions and they have been real interesting and educational. The staff are really committed to what they are doing. I encourage everyone to be a part of it.

“We especially need to get more young people involved with this. We really do have some good role models working within the city.” — Cambridge resident Howard Lewis.

“It has been fantastic. I think the city should offer it again. It’s been nice to learn about the different city departments and how things work.” — Ron Patrick, newer resident to the city of Cambridge.