Johnson County Citizen’s Academy
What Happens Locally Matters, By Janet Milkovich
It was during the months following the last presidential election, a time when I felt powerless to stop the chaos happening in the nation’s capital, that I attended a League of Women Voters event at the Blue Valley Library. Representative Joy Koesten was on a panel with other representatives and senators and fielding questions about gun control and education funding, among others. Some panelists waffled, skillfully avoiding taking a clear position but not Joy! I was so impressed with the clarity of her answers and with her knowledge of what was happening at the state level that I waited in line after the forum to speak with her. My takeaway? What happens locally matters. Get involved on a city, county and state level where people like me can make a difference.
Listening to her, hearing truth in her confidently spoken words, I felt my panic subside and I realized that I could be an influencer rather than a helpless by-stander.
I’ve lived in Overland Park twice and have participated in city council meetings numerous times but I knew little about the county government structure or the role of the county commissioners. I was unaware that Johnson County Government provides 350 services and programs including health and human services, mental health services, public works, criminal justice and correction programs. I wanted to know more!
Joy sent me information about the Johnson County Citizens Academy and suggested that I apply. In their introductory materials was a quote by Margaret Mead. “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever does.”
I applied and was thrilled to be selected from a field of 160 applicants for a class of 40 citizens. I’m now halfway through the ten-week program and have gleaned a better understanding of the Johnson County Government Structure. Each week we hear from three county departments and do an on-site tour of one. Sitting in the Emergency Operations Center surrounded by screens with real time action in the county was akin to being in a Tom Cruise movie. A tour of the elections warehouse helped me see the giant scope of operations and the importance of election volunteers. My favorite field trip so far is the Emergency Management & Communications Center where trained staff and police officers respond to 911 calls.
Getting back to Joy’s advice. Because of my participation in the JOCO Citizens Academy, I am more familiar with how the county and city governments function and how citizens can participate through service on boards, commissions and committees. I need not by a helpless bystander. There are many ways to get involved, to use my life experiences and skill set to be a good citizen and an influencer in my own community.
Joy has blogged extensively about her experience and activities in the legislature and beyond.