Selma’s future leaders

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 8, 2004

It’s not easy running a city, especially if you’ve still got to worry about about your biology homework.

That task, thoughout, fell on several city and county students on Monday. The reason – Youth-in-Government Day.

Youth-in-Government is a program lasting through the school year. Administrated by City Council members Nancy Sewell and Jean Martin, students take the roles of city officials, learn the ropes of government and get an inside look at how a city works.

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Jessica Willis, Selma’s youth mayor, sat in Mayor James Perkins Jr.’s office on Monday next to Youth Council President Jeremy Edwards and Takara Stewart, the youth mayor’s secretary. Perkins leafed through papers on his desk, posing questions as the students listened attentively.

“How much money is in the city’s budget?” Perkins questioned. A pause before Perkins answered his own question. “It’s about $16 million,” he said. “How much of that goes to the police department?” Another brief moment of silence. “About $4 million,” Perkins said. “That’s about one-fourth of the city’s budget. That’s pretty substantial, isn’t it? Does that mean we have priority on public safety? I would say so.”

Students didn’t just learn about figures on Monday. They also “shadowed” their respective city employee, learning about his daily duties. Stewart learned that the mayor’s secretary has a job as difficult as the mayor’s. “She has to set up all his appointments, and make sure he gets done what needs to get done,” Stewart said. “And she has to make sure the mayor has everything in order.”

Edwards said he learned that the council president had to ensure the council stayed in order. “I didn’t know that the president has more power than the mayor at council meetings,” he said.

Willis, Stewart and Edwards agreed that students needed programs such as Youth-in-Government. “It lets you know how your city’s run and how they run it,” Edwards said.

Stewart agreed. “It gives us an opportunity to know about what goes on in Selma’s government system.”

While the students agreed that Youth-in-Government was needed, none of them planned to run for public office. “It’s too much responsibility,” Willis said. “It’s too much work. The mayor is always gone all the time. You would really have to like it to do it.”

Memendra Page, youth council secretary, agreed with her fellow participants in City Hall. “There’s nothing wrong with it,” she noted. “I just wouldn’t want to be a politician.”

Page added, though, that she had learned a lot since joining Youth-in-Government. “We practiced how to bring up a motion, how to vote, when you can and can’t speak and when you can veto,” she said. “I haven’t seen any problems yet.”

As students practiced running Selma at City Hall, other Youth-in-Government participants tested their skills across the street at Swift Drug Company. Tona Oliver and Gayle Carlee both showed an interest in pursuing a career as pharmacists.

“I want to go into the medical field, but I don’t like blood,” Oliver said. “This is the next best thing.”

Carlee said she thought the job was interesting. “And I’ve heard it pays well,” she added. “That’s always a plus.”

“Buddy” Swift, owner of Swift Drug Company, said he believed the Youth-in-Government program was a good opportunity for youth to learn about pharmacy. “We’ll be glad to do it in years to come,” he added.