[Durham INC] Inside the inner sanctum: Durham Neighborhood College (N&O)
bwatu at yahoo.com
Wed Jan 13 05:38:41 EST 2010
After the community's successful effort to stop the asphalt industry from building up to nine asphalt plants in East Durham (led by the Durham-NAACP), we asked that Durham establish a Neighborhood College so other community groups could learn more about the local planning and zoning process. The idea grew to include local budgets, social services, public health, solid waste, housing/inspections, public safety, and so forth.
Kudos to Ellen Reckhow for taking this idea and making it happen...
Viewpoint: Inside the inner sanctum
by Pam Spaulding, Durham News, 13 Jan 2010
Many Bull City residents are new to the city, flocking here from all over the country (and around the world) each year. Even a good number of longtime Durhamites don't have a good idea about how things work when it comes to city and county services.
While you could tool around on the impressive Web sites, taking the Durham City-County Neighborhood College is a unique way to meet - and even break bread with - government officials from a variety of departments to learn how things tick.
Katie Courtland, a colleague at Duke University Press, participated in the college one year after reading about it on the county Web site. She had no prior knowledge about municipal or county functions and didn't know what to expect. She was surprised at the breadth of topics.
"I found almost all of it interesting," she said. "We learned about city and county government, elections, emergency services, social services, planning and economic development, water, public health, government budgets, and more."
"I liked hearing about how things work: where the water we drink comes from, how the tax collector goes about her job, how the widespread use of cell phones has affected the 911 call center, the various ways the city and county communicate with folks in Durham, the number of ambulances Durham has and the number of times they are called out each day, how the economic downturn has affected Durham, particularly social services. I could go on and on."
The class is small - limited to 25 participants - to ensure everyone gets a chance to fully engage with officials, and the city/county pulls together diverse participant pool from as many Durham neighborhoods as possible. A participant must be a resident of Durham (county or city), current on vehicle and property taxes at the time of application, and commit to attending at least eight of the 10 sessions. The $30 fee includes dinners.
Katie was impressed by the field trips and locations for the sessions, held from 6 to 8:30 p.m. beginning with a light dinner, followed by 15- to 20-minute presentations by officials and a Q&A period.
"Some of the meetings were in the County Commissioners' chambers, others were in the City's Employee Training Center," she said. "One evening we walked over to the jail, where we were given a tour. I found that really interesting." There was also a final "graduation day" involving a bus tour around the Bull City.
Her enthusiasm piqued my interest about the Neighborhood College. I asked what surprised her most about the program.
"I was struck by the expertise and years of experience the presenters had," she said. "I was also impressed by my classmates. I liked hearing everyone's perspectives and questions. City Councilman Mike Woodard spoke to us briefly at the beginning of our first class and said that he participated in the DNC before running for City Council. The last class I attended ended in a free-form discussion, where almost everyone agreed that they had enjoyed the program - there's even a Facebook group for DNC alumni."
"The course made me more aware of the knowledge and effort behind things that I tend to take for granted," she added. "You start to think about all the planning and coordination that makes the water run into the storm drain or allows EMS to arrive within minutes of an emergency call."
And that is one of the side benefits of the Durham City-County Neighborhood College - cultivating a sense of civic interest and desire to make our city a better place to live and call home.
For more information, contact the City's Public Affairs Office at 560-4123 or the County's Public Information Office at 560-0008. Applications are available at the Durham County Clerk to the Board of Commissioners and online at bit.ly/lOvkh
Pam Spaulding is the creator of the political blog Pam's House Blend. Write to her at pam at phblend.com.
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