EVERETT — In any city, somebody has to put out the fires. Somebody has to catch the bad guys. Somebody has to keep the sewers in working order.
This fall 29 people finished a hands-on course in how it all gets done in the city of Everett. They’re the first graduating class of Everett Essentials, basically City Civics 101, for citizens who want to get engaged with the city or their neighborhood.
Students said the classes dived deeper than they expected.
One week they were cutting open cars with the Jaws of Life, alongside Everett fire crews. The next they were balancing a city budget, with guidance from financial experts who do it in real life. On one field trip, they ran through the same virtual reality training police use to prepare for lethal force scenarios.
Guest speakers were a who’s who of city leaders. On public safety, for example, students could pose questions to the police chief, Dan Templeman; a municipal court judge, Laura Van Slyck; and the city’s lead prosecutor, Leslie Tidball.
Tuition cost $50 for an eight-work course. Sixty-five people applied. There was space for less than half.
One of the students, Zaid Al-Mahna, 43, is a used car salesman who emigrated from Iraq in 2007. He signed up to explore the structure of the city’s political system. Many Iraqi immigrants don’t know where to turn when they have policy concerns, he said. This year, for example, he wanted to find a way for veiled Muslim women to access public swimming pools at times.
Al-Mahna found it fascinating to compare how a local government works here, as opposed to his home country.
“People here, they want you to know what’s going on,” he said. “They want you to get involved.”
He didn’t realize how complex a city budget could be. The class went through an exercise to divide funds among programs and projects. Once you’ve put your feet in the shoes of budgeters, he said, you find it’s not such an easy task.
“Things are much more complicated than we thought, especially when it comes to funding — everybody wants more money,” Al-Mahna said. “You have to come up with money from a source that’s not there.”
Mary Fosse, 35, who works with high school kids, suggested the class could be a great, interactive way for teens to study civics. This year the class was open to high school seniors and older.
Graduates have kept in touch through a Facebook page. Some hope to run for office someday. Some, like Al-Mahna and Fosse, applied to serve on the Council of Neighborhoods, a group that shares news and concerns with city staff each month. Fosse was grateful to use the class as a stepping stone, and to learn about the city from the people who make it run.
“You can tell they’re so invested in what they do,” she said. “I have such pride in my city now.”
Staff plans to host the class once a year, in fall.
Caleb Hutton: 425-339-3454; firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @snocaleb.
For details on topics covered, go to everettwa.gov/1766/Everett-Essentials-Class-Materials. Or see the city’s website on the class.