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The two graduates of the program designed to foster citizen engagement talk about their experiences

COURTESY PHOTO: CITY OF WILSONVILLE - The 2015 Wilsonville Citizens Academy included current Council President Kristin Akervall (fourth from left).

Since 2015, the City of Wilsonville has spent ample time and effort molding a more engaged citizenry.

The City-run Wilsonville Citizens Academy provides residents the opportunity to meet local leaders, learn about the City's strategies for growth, development and other hot button issues and discover ways to become more involved. And in a short period of time, the academy seems to already have bore fruits — as two graduates became Wilsonville city councilors and others have joined boards and commissions.

But what do those two councilors — Council President Kristin Akervall and Councilor Ben West — think about the program and their experience?

Akervall joined the academy in 2015 after already serving on the City's Development Review Board. One thing she appreciated about the academy is the opportunity to meet the heads of every City department and learn more about how the bureaucracy functions.

"A lot of times we don't realize or think about the huge breadth of work that City staff are doing," she said. "It's great to get a little bit of understanding on all the different activities of people that are hard at work to make things run."

She also appreciated learning about how City's urban renewal districts, which collects the taxes associated with increases in property values to fund public infrastructure projects, work.

"That's a very complex topic and takes a bit of time to understand," Akervall said. "I really appreciated having some time from staff explaining that and getting more familiar with that."

Additionally, Akervall enjoyed getting to know people in the community who also had a volunteer's spirit and realized the power of community involvement.

"It matters who is coming to the meetings, who is voicing an opinion. In local government you really can affect your surroundings but it takes showing up, some investment and some action," she said.

Akervall even said participating in the academy influenced her decision to run for public office. The council president was elected one year after completing the program.

"I think the familiarity with staff and with some of the different types of work the City does was really beneficial in running and beginning to do the work once I was in council too. There's a huge growth curve when you come onto the council," she said.

West, an advocate for legalizing gay marriage and reforming the state's fostercare system, was already fairly well-versed in political engagement when he joined the academy.He had also already worked at in the Oregon Department of Corrections. So, for him, some of the field trips, like visiting the state capitol and Coffee Creek Correctional Facility, were a bit redundant.

"But I think they are fantastic for people who don't have that exposure," West said.

However, West gleaned insight from the tour of Wilsonville's water treatment plant and a local Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue station.

"It's (the water treatment plant) not something I had a ton of knowledge in. I was impressed with the facility, the science behind it, why it was good for Wilsonville, all of that was a great learning experience," West said.

Like Akervall, West was elected to the council a year after joining the academy. But he said the experience didn't inspire him to run in the 2018 election.

"I probably used it as a tool to become more familiar with local government and glean from it what I could," he said.

West recommends community members follow in he and Akervall's footsteps.

"You meet great people, neighbors, you make friends and that is all beneficial," he said.

Zoe Monahan, the assistant to the city manager, said this year's academy will run from January to early April and include about 10 meetings including field trips to Salem and Coffee Creek. Applications for the program are open until Oct. 31. To learn more about the program, visit www.ci.wilsonville.or.us/residents/page/wilsonville-citizens-academy.

"We encourage anyone interested in learning more about the city or community to apply," Monahan said.


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