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Learning civics from the source

Mayor discusses government with RHMS students

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POSTED: February 28, 2014 8:00 a.m.
Photo by Jeff Whitten/

Richmond Hill Mayor Harold Fowler talks Friday with the sixth-grade class at Richmond Hill Middle School on the nuts and bolts of city government.

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Friday morning started with a simple lesson on the nuts and bolts of local city government.
It ended roughly 20 minutes later after nearly 600 sixth-graders at Richmond Hill Middle School had heard first-hand what Mayor Harold Fowler thinks about his job, his responsibilities and the likelihood a Chick-fil-A is on its way to Richmond Hill.
The event was staged by the students themselves, according to Christy White, who heads the school’s broadcast and film department. Students Maddie Patselas, Lainie Nygaard, Evan White, Isabella Martinez and Joe Belfield handled the introductions and acted as masters of ceremony.
Questions were asked by Shane Bradshaw,  Kyle Harrell, Carlos Testa, Leina Garay, Abigail Gallagher, Kyla Walker and Jeremiah Harvey.
“It was student driven,” White said. “I think they did an excellent job. No. 1, they learned what the mayor does, but they also learned how to troubleshoot an event. I’m always about thinking outside the box, and they wrote everything themselves with very little teacher guidance. They tried to be funny and creative and they did a really good job.”
Along the way, Fowler was asked why he ran for office, what his job entailed and what was hardest and most stressful about it.
Fowler, who answered the first by explaining he felt people should give back to their communities, said the most stressful thing for him to deal with was when the city has to shut off services to someone for nonpayment.
“That’s a hard decision to make,” he told the students. “These are people with families and we all get into situations where we don’t have the money to pay all our bills and meet all of our obligations. But in the city we have to collect for the water and sewer and other things we furnish, so I would think the hardest thing is telling someone, ‘I understand your predicament, but I’m still going to have to turn your water off.’”
Fowler also was asked if he “ever has days when he wishes he wasn’t mayor?”
That caused a chuckle.
“You get irate citizens, sometimes,” he said. “They’re not happy with the way things are going and so they want to unload on you. I guess that would be the best way to put it.”
But those times were few and far between, Fowler added.
“Normally, day to day, I enjoy the job, enjoy what I do and I have really been amazed I’ve not received more complaining,” he said.
Up next was a student who asked if Fowler planned on bringing in new businesses.
“We are always working toward that,” he responded, and what he said next got students excited. “I’ve met with people from Outback, and we’ve had several meetings with Chick-fil-A … I think we’re going to have a Chic-fil-A here very soon.”
Another student asked what Fowler thought was the most important part of his job.
 “I think it’s making sure we have the right department heads and the right employees, like in the police department,” he said. “We want to make sure that, well, even if they pull you over and give you a ticket, they’re going to be friendly about it. When you come into city hall, we want to make sure you’re greeted with a smile and are made welcome.
“The important part is making sure we are a friendly city and we always have to keep in mind that we work for the citizens of Richmond Hill.”
White said Fowler did a first-rate job of communicating with the students.
“He did an excellent job on speaking to children while trying to get on their level,” she said.
Fowler was invited as part of the school’s preparation for an annual essay contest sponsored by the Georgia Municipal Association for Georgia Cities Week.
“This is a way for them to get hands-on learning through common core,” White said. “It’s where you don’t just teach out of a book, you incorporate many different disciplines. Rather than using a textbook, we are teaching through primary sources. Through newspapers, through historical documents and by having an interview.
“This is one way to learn rather than in the traditional way, a way where they can actually say they met a mayor and they know what he’s all about.”

 

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