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October 22, 2017

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Boulder City:

Students learn about government with mock council meeting

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Boulder City High School seniors Jacob Lynch, left, and Branden DeLangis, take the seats of city councilman and mayor, respectively, May 21 during the annual Youth City Council meeting at the Boulder City Recreation Center, which is serving as the Council Chambers while early voting continues in City Hall.

Nobody would expect Oprah Winfrey and Donald Trump to become central figures at a Boulder City Council meeting, but their names were dropped numerous times in the Council Chambers on Thursday.

The Youth City Council, an annual project of Boulder City High teacher Eric Speaker’s government classes, had on its agenda recreational uses of the dry lake bed in the Eldorado Valley.

Seniors Hayley Gardner and Jennifer King were representing a county conservation group with a plan to use the lake bed. It included a bathroom facility for visitors, a place to wash the dry lake dirt off vehicles and a touch pond for tiny brill fish that live in the dry lake bed and become active when they have water, the pair said.

When the question of funding for the project came up, they said Donald Trump and Oprah Winfrey had agreed to provide the money.

“Mr. Speaker said if we didn’t know what we were talking about to lie,” Gardner said.

Thus the Oprah Winfrey-Donald Trump Recreation Area was born.

But it didn’t get through the Youth City Council quite as easily.

The council voted 5-0 to send the issue to a public forum while it approved a plan for a second solar energy area in the dry lake bed by a 3-2 vote.

The agenda also had the students deal with traffic in the Hemenway Valley and recycling in Boulder City.

The students in Speaker’s four government classes were assigned parts to play — council members, city staff, applicants and members of the public.

“That was a big challenge, to divide the parts among the classes,” Speaker said. “Everybody has an important job. Each is equally important.”

They were assigned to research the parts and come prepared.

Some of the students playing the part of applicants had PowerPoint presentations ready. Others did posters. All had facts at their disposal, and they employed them as they tried to persuade the council members.

Spencer Sassarita and Austin Samara, representing a disposal company on the recycling issue, noted that the municipal landfill has only four years of life left and only 7 percent of Boulder City residents recycle regularly.

Then they made a pitch to the council for $371,000 for recycling toters to distribute to residents.

Joey Felsenfeld, the mock city finance director, was asked whether the city had that kind of money.

He advised the council that the cost may not be worth the payoff, because it depends on people to use the bins.

It was interesting to look at the city’s issues in terms of their cost, Felsenfeld said afterward.

“I learned how much the city has to pay for stuff and how difficult it is for the city to come up with the money for stuff,” he said.

Bret Turner and Jacob Lynch enjoyed the experience, too. Lynch prepared by reviewing the issues and thinking of questions he wanted to ask. Turner spent two hours the night before studying with Councilman Travis Chandler.

Turner’s preparation was clear when he noted during the dry lake bed discussion that the City Charter requires a vote of residents to allow a commercial venture into the dry lake bed. Would the Oprah Winfrey-Donald Trump Recreational Area be recreation or commercial, he asked Julia Jeppsen, who was acting as the city attorney.

Recreation, Jeppsen replied.

Chandler said he thought Turner did well, and he enjoyed some of the solutions the students came up with.

“I especially like the idea of getting Donald Trump to solve our financial problems,” Chandler said.

Mayor Roger Tobler, who stood behind the dais ready to prompt the student politicians on the process, said the students chose meaty issues and did their homework.

“This group did a pretty good job,” he said. “They asked good questions.”

Councilman Mike Pacini, who coordinates with both Boulder City High School and Martha P. King Elementary School to put on the mock city councils in the spring and fall, said the experience usually sticks with the students.

“They become more interested,” Pacini said. “They take ownership of what goes on in the city and become involved.”

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