Student Government Day spurs inquisitive questions, spirited debate

GEORGETOWN – High school juniors bound for Girls State and Boys State programs in Dover this summer got a crash course in government workings Thursday in Sussex County Council chambers.

Several dozen students from schools in Sussex County assumed roles of county council and three other dais regulars – county attorney, finance director and clerk of the council – for Sussex County’s 2018 Student County Government Day.

In mock sessions, students addressed six agenda items – some taken from actual scenarios addressed or to be addressed by county council – and rendered their votes.

Inquisitive students sought so much information from county staff, posed so many questions and debated issues at great length that the scheduled two-plus hour mock session extended into the slated luncheon break at The Brick Hotel.

“Today, my biggest takeaway is going to definitely be the fact that there is so much hard work and thought put into every single thing that they debate in that room,” said Sussex Central High School junior Madison Rice. “And, the fact that though we may complain about tax increase and what-not, there is a lot of thought put into each and every single issue, a lot of thought put into what should and should not happen, and that in reality it is for the greater purpose.”

Indian River High School junior Samuel Milner agreed. “It is definitely a great opportunity to learn how government functions on a smaller scale instead of like the larger U.S. government,” he said. “You definitely see a lot of conflict of ideals and stuff, and a lot of people have different opinions. It’s just to see how we can work together and vote and finally get a result.”

As an example, the sixth and final item – a “mock” request from Sussex County Emergency Operations Center Director Joe Thomas to allocate county funding for the purchase of a new, state-of-the-art mobile command unit – drew intense debate and scrutiny. The eight students on stage voted on separate motions not once, not twice but a third time before agreeing in majority on allocating a lesser amount for the purchase.

In addition to the mock request from Mr. Thomas, students in waves of eight also addressed:

  • A grant or loan in the amount of $1.5 million representing the county’s support of a sports complex, presented by Sussex County Administrator Todd Lawson;
  • Increased county funding to pay for 22 additional state troopers for Sussex County in a contract with Delaware State Police, with input from Sussex County Finance Director Gina Jennings;
  • A proposed water district, with input from John Ashman, Sussex County’s Director of Utility Planning;
  • A change of zoning from agricultural/residential to commercial, presented by County Planning and Zoning Office Planner Jamie Whitehouse;
  • A funding request from Sussex County Emergency Medical Services Deputy Director of Operations Robbie Murray for a second phase of DriveCam in the EMS vehicle fleet.

“I’d have to say it was a great learning experience,” said IRHS junior Luke Morgan. “It was very, very interesting at the amount of time and amount of energy it takes just to pass one thing. We spent like 30 minutes on something and it was exhausting. And they said after (actual council discussion and action) took six hours.  It was a great experience. I have a lot of respect for people who do that. It’s very challenging.”

“I was honored that I was selected to have this opportunity,” said IRHS junior Jack Martin, who made note of the county council seat held continuously since the mid-1980s by District 4 councilman George Cole.  “The stress, even for our one session, I can’t imagine how much it is for the man who has been doing it for 30-plus years. I don’t think I could handle this job. But I do respect and do think this is an important part of our local government to have these kinds of jobs and these sessions.”

Student County Government Day serves a precursor to Delaware Girls State through the American Legion Auxiliary and Delaware’s Boys State, through the American Legion Department of Delaware.

Mr. Lawson, a Boys State participant in 1992 during his high school days at Sussex Central, encouraged students from Sussex County to make the most of their Boys State and Girls State experience.

“I encourage you … when you get up there, really get involved. Try to run for an office. Put yourself out there. Take a risk and do as much as you can when you’re up there for the week,” said Mr. Lawson.

County councilman Michael Vincent, in his eighth year serving as council president, rendered his annual County Student Government Day pitch for students to get involved in their community wherever life takes them.

“One of the things I think is very important as you go on in your life, always try to give back toward your community. Involve yourself in something that is a volunteer thing,” said Mr. Vincent. “Serving the people is a great calling. Find something that you have a passion about. Volunteer and give back. At the end of the day when it’s over with I think we are all going to be judged on one thing: what we have done for others? What have you done to help other people?”

Mirroring actual county council sessions, the County Student Government day program was broadcast live on the county’s website and audio clips will be available online.

News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at grolfe@newszap.com

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