Terry McLaughlin: Nevada County Citizen’s Academy an eye opener | TheUnion.com

Terry McLaughlin: Nevada County Citizen’s Academy an eye opener

Terry McLaughlin
Columnist

I was privileged this fall to be among 17 local citizens selected to participate in the 2017 Nevada County Citizen's Academy, a 10-week program in which attendees are introduced to the many different functions, facilities and responsibilities of Nevada County government.

This class comprised a diverse group of local citizens who are actively involved as volunteers, board members, or staff with a vast array of organizations and nonprofits, including Fire Safe Council, Big Brothers-Big Sisters, SYRCL, Family Resource Center, Hospitality House, Women of Worth, Nevada County Planning Commission, Nisenan Tribal Council, Penn Valley Chamber, the Grand Jury, and the Cannabis Coalition, to name just a few.

Our class even included candidates currently running for election to several county positions. This was an excellent opportunity to get to know other active citizens from across the political and ideological spectrum, as we came together to gain a better understanding and insight into the workings of our county government.

Each week's session highlighted a different department. Airport Manager Lee Ocker provided us a tour of the Nevada County Airport during Week Two. In addition, we were able to spend some time with the staff at the Cal Fire Air Attack Base. These are amazing and dedicated men, who were called upon to demonstrate those characteristics shortly after our meeting when Nevada County found itself on fire.

Forget the card files and microfiche of my childhood; today’s libraries use technology to its fullest....And all of these services (and so much more) are free to the users.

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County finances were introduced the following week by Chief Fiscal Officer Martin Polt. The main presenters were County Assessor, Sue Horne, Auditor-Controller, Marcia Saulter, and Treasurer/Tax Collector, Tina Vernon.

At the close of the session, the participants were provided with a hypothetical situation requiring some tough financial decisions, which illustrated to all of us how difficult a task it is to accomplish the county's goals and requirements, while maintaining strict control over the budget. Nevada County is very fortunate to have these three smart, articulate, and immensely capable women handling our tax dollars.

The tours of the county's technology centers and libraries were fascinating. The amount of effort, skill and equipment that goes into the technology which keeps all of the county departments connected, and the citizens apprised of real-time information they need, such as during the recent fires, is mind-boggling.

Getting a glimpse at the equipment buried in the back rooms of the County Administration Center and the extraordinary cyber-security systems in place, left most of us in awe. And everyone should educate themselves about the incredible resources available through our county library system.

Forget the card files and microfiche of my childhood; today's libraries use technology to its fullest, offering services and programs for children, teens and adults, access to the internet and a 3-D printer, a mobile library and technology van which brings services to rural areas which lack a brick and mortar library facility, educational technology equipment that can be lent to teachers and other instructors … And all of these services (and so much more) are free to the users.

And with all that — you can still check out a real-live book, or take your child to story time.

I enjoyed telling my friends that I spent my birthday in jail, as a tour of the jail just happened to coincide with that date. We were welcomed by Sheriff Keith Royal, and led through the Wayne Brown Correctional Facility by Captain Jeff Pettitt and Lt. Bill Smethers.

We toured the entire jail from pre-booking to medical, kitchen, laundry, library, inmate cells, dispatch and more. There were times when I felt somewhat voyeuristic, and I know that I was not the only participant to experience that feeling. I left the jail with a better understanding of the process and consequences of incarceration, as well as an underlying sense of sadness.

When meeting with Jill Blake, Director of Public Health, and Rebecca Slade, Director of Behavioral Health (just weeks prior to her retirement), we learned about the vast number of services available to our citizens suffering from a broad range of maladies extending from the most serious mental illnesses, to those who simply need guidance in parenting techniques.

A tour of Nevada County's juvenile detention facility was included in our session with Mike Ertola, Chief Probation Officer, District Attorney Cliff Newell, and Public Defender Keri Klein. We learned that approximately 80 percent of persons actually indicted and tried for a crime in Nevada County qualify for representation by the public defender's office. I found that statistic to be a striking example illustrating how poverty can lead to crimes of perceived necessity or desperation.

I have only touched on a few of the experiences we shared within this 10 week session, and I'd like to acknowledge County Chief Executive Officer Rick Haffey for conceiving of this program, and staff members Nancy Jeffery and Taylor Wolfe for so ably guiding us through.

I feel incredibly fortunate to have had the opportunity to participate, and would encourage anyone interested in learning more about the functions of our county government to apply for the 2018 Citizens Academy. Many myths were dispelled, and much knowledge was gained. Nevada County is fortunate to have such capable, dedicated, and compassionate staff serving its people.

Visit mynevadacounty.com for more information, or email ceo@co.nevada.ca.us and request to be placed on a Citizens Academy outreach mailing list and receive notifications for the fall 2018 Citizens Academy.

Terry McLaughlin, who lives in Nevada City, writes a twice monthly column for The Union. Write to her at terrymclaughlin2016@gmail.com.