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Published: Friday, 1/17/2003

Blissfield OKs citizen classes for a 2nd year

BY ERICA BLAKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

BLISSFIELD - Village Administrator James Wonacott knows a lot about budgets and charters, how the water plant works, and what goes into a planning commission decision.

But the average Blissfield resident probably doesn't know about that stuff, he said.

With hopes that others would be interested in how the village operates, Mr. Wonacott last year began a citizens academy - a six-week course on local government. The program is entering its second year, proving he was right, he said.

This week, Village Council gave Mr. Wonacott approval to plan the 2003 citizens academy. Adding a few tweaks to last year's syllabus, the village administrator-turned-teacher said he anticipates another successful year.

“There will always be rumor mills, but this is a way we can tell people about how things really are,” he said. “It's all about information.”

Mr. Wonacott said the idea for the academy came from colleagues in other parts of the state. But no other community in the southeast Michigan county holds similar classes.

Brian Bowman doesn't consider himself an avid political watcher. But when the longtime village resident learned of the academy last year, he signed up.

Mr. Bowman now serves as the newest member of the village planning commission.

“I just thought it would be an opportunity to learn more about the inner workings of our government,” said Mr. Bowman, 48, a financial adviser. “They offered it at a convenient time, convenient location, and you couldn't beat the cost of nothing.”

Mr. Bowman was among the 10 students in last year's academy. He was one of eight who “graduated” or attended at least five sessions.

During the six weeks, participants will focus on public information laws and elections; governing documents; planning, zoning, and building code issues; as well as budgets and services. Mr. Wonacott also is planning tours of various village buildings, including the library and the wastewater treatment plant.

Jolene Nofzinger, 35, was raised in the village and returned to Blissfield more than a year ago to raise her family. Last year, she decided to learn more about how it worked.

“Even if someone is not interested in getting involved with local government, it's still interesting to get information on how things work and where to go,” she said. “It's a great way to communicate information to the citizens. I learned a lot about the services the village offers and where my tax dollars were going.”

Classes begin March 25 and the village administrator knows of interested participants. Dale Wotring, 52, general manger at a local auto dealership, said he has decided to sign up.

“I've lived in Blissfield my whole life, and you always think you understand how things work, but then you read in the paper that the planning commission is doing this or some committee is doing that; I realized I don't really know why they're doing it,” he said.

“Some were more interesting than others,” he admitted. “How the water plant operates was not nearly as interesting as how the budget is put together but all of it was very vital information.”



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