Critical thinking and civic engagement took center stage during the Oakland County Board of Commissioners’ annual Youth in Government Day, held May 15th.
The event, which drew high school students from across the county, featured speakers, mock debates, and engaging demonstrations centered on Oakland County’s role in the lives of its citizens.
Commission Vice Chairman Michael Spisz opened the event with a welcome for students and a brief presentation on the county government’s many roles and functions.
Students heard from representatives and officials with experience across the branches of government, including Commissioner Shelley Goodman Taub, who emceed the event, Lisa Brown, the county’s Clerk and Register of Deeds, Treasurer Andy Meisner, Paul Walton of the Prosecutor’s Office, and CIO / Deputy County Executive Phil Bertolini.
Bertolini noted the students’ unique suitability for public service.
“Generation Z is motivated by helping people; and there is no better way to do that than working in the government,” Bertolini said.
During his remarks, Treasurer Meisner thanked the students for taking the time to learn about county government and also encouraged them to consider a job in the public sector and to be an informed voter.
For students, the role of county government in their day-to-day lives is not always top-of-mind. Milford High School’s Zoey Patton saw Youth in Government Day as an opportunity to learn more about the roles she might someday occupy.
“This event helped me to see that there are so many different careers in government that people don’t even know about–from working in a crime lab, to cybersecurity,” Patton said.
Speaking to the students about ways to engage with elected officials, Oakland County Commissioner Dave Woodward emphasized the merits of respectful discourse.
“We can disagree without being disagreeable,” Woodward said. “My colleagues and I don’t always agree, but we respect one another.”
To students Sarah Schang and David Clancy, the level of congeniality and cooperation between Board members from differing political parties was particularly attention-grabbing.
“The fact that at the county government we were able to see elected officials compromise and work together really inspired me,” Schang said.
“Maybe if all of government got along as well as we saw our county government get along today, then the system would work better,” he said.
In addition to speeches from county officials, students also took part in a critical thinking workshop and mock debates facilitated by Darren Bagley, an Educator on the Leadership & Civic Engagement Team at MSU Extension 4-H.
Bagley’s critical thinking workshop focused on the ideological filters through which people often process information. During the exercise, students were prompted to place themselves along a spectrum between “agree” and “disagree” on topics ranging from school uniforms to property rights. Once students assumed their positions, Bagley presented new information and allowed the high schoolers to make the case for their stances. At the end of each exercise, students had the opportunity to adjust their positions along the spectrum: symbolizing their transforming stances on the given topics.
During the mock debates that followed the workshop, students debated the merits of hypothetical policy measures, including police body and dashboard cameras, a soda tax, and a ban on Pit Bull ownership. These debates were facilitated by members of the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office, Health Division, and Animal Shelter and Pet Adoption Center.
Following the mock debates and before a CSI presentation by forensic lab chemist Rachel Scott, Oakland County Sheriff’s Deputy Mike Richardson demonstrated the many capabilities of Blitz, his K-9 companion. Richardson showed the students how Blitz is trained to respond in a variety of circumstances, including a narcotics search, an arson investigation, and the pursuit of a human suspect. Several high schoolers found Richardson and Blitz to be an event high point.
“The highlight of the day was the demonstration of the K-9 unit by the Sheriff’s Department,” student Emily Hanner said. “That dog was so cute!”
As the event concluded, students took the opportunity to tour the Oakland County Sheriff’s Lenco Bear armored vehicle. With an up-close view, the high schoolers were able to gain insight into the everyday world of Oakland County’s finest.
Students left the event with a better sense of what their county does for them each day. In addition to hearing from county officials, they also had the opportunity to mingle with their commissioners throughout the day. Commissioner Taub encouraged students to remain active in their local government after the event. That prospect of future civil engagement stood out to Milford High School student Margaret Cooney.
“When you think about government, you usually just think about elected officials only. This event really helped me to see the big picture and recognize all of the others that work at making our county an amazing place to live and work,” she said.
In a first for Youth in Government Day, students were encouraged to be engaged online with the county throughout the event. Participants were able to use a special Snapchat Geofilter designed specially for the day’s activities. Participants were also able to join the conversation on Twitter, where #OaklandCounty became a trending topic.
The event, hosted by the Board of Commissioners, featured dynamic speakers from all corners of county government.
- Oakland County Board Vice Chairman Michael Spisz
- CIO / Deputy County Executive Phil Bertolini
- Oakland County Clerk / Register of Deeds
- Oakland County Treasurer Andy Meisner
- Chief Assistant to the Oakland County Prosecutor Paul Walton
- 4H Leadership / Civic Engagement Educator Darren Bagley
- Oakland County Commissioner Dave Woodward
- Oakland County Sheriff’s Deputy Mike Richardson and K-9 Blitz
- Forensic Lab Chemist Rachel Scott
Thanks to all of the program participants: Darren Bagley (Genesee County), Jason Scott (Oakland County), Janelle Stewart (Lenawee County), and Jackelyn Martin (Washtenaw County) of MSU Extension / 4-H. Thanks to Oakland County Animal Control & Pet Adoption Center, Oakland County Commissioner Dave Woodward, Oakland County Health Division, and the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office.
Thank you to Oakland County’s elected officials: County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, County Sheriff Michael Bouchard, County Clerk & Register of Deeds Lisa Brown, County Treasurer Andy Meisner, County Prosecutor Jessica Cooper, and Water Resources Commissioner Jim Nash.
Thanks to supporting departments: Leadership Oakland, Oakland County 4H, Oakland County Animal Control & Pet Adoption Center, Oakland County Human Resources Department, Oakland County IT / eGovernment, Oakland County Parks, Oakland County Prosecutor’s Office — Teen Court, Oakland County Sheriff’s Office, Oakland County Treasurer’s Office, Oakland County Water Resources Commissioner Jim Nash, and Road Commission for Oakland County (RCOC).
A special thank you to all participating students, schools, and chaperones.
And many thanks to the MSU Extension 4H staff, who generously donated their time and expertise to help develop and execute the day’s sessions and activities.