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Shorewood - The village of Shorewood will soon offer a six-week class that allows people to learn about everything from road construction to the inner workings of a municipal budget.

The Shorewood Citizens Academy will give 20 lucky people the opportunity to hear presentations about village government, schools and non-profit organizations in Shorewood. The two-hour classes will give tours of facilities and allow time for question-and-answer sessions. Classes will be held on Thursday nights in January and February.

The Shorewood Citizens Academy concept was introduced by Assistant Village Manager Tyler Burkart, who helped orchestrate a similar citizens academy in his last position with the city of Woodbury, Minnesota. He expects the experience will be similarly successful in Shorewood.

New or prospective residents may use the opportunity to meet new people, get acquainted with the village or learn about volunteer opportunities. Longtime residents may also be surprised to learn something new or acquire a new passion for the community. Prospective or existing business owners may see the opportunity to meet people in the community and learn what resources are available to them as a business owner, he said.

The face-to-face interaction will also allow participants to ask questions of presenters, and possibly give the presenters new ideas about their work in the village.

"Shorewood is a very engaged community, so I think this is a great communication tool that allows the village to each out to community members and for community members to engage with village employees," Burkart said.

The village will begin advertising the opportunity in October, and applications will start to be accepted in mid-November. The 20 spots for the first session will be filled on a first-come, first-serve basis, but Burkart is expecting to receive far more than 20 applications. Any applicants who are not expected in the 2017 Citizen's Academy will be wait-listed for the 2018 Citizen's Academy.

Workshop details

The first workshop session will include a half-hour presentation from the Shorewood Historical Society, and then village staff members will talk about the structure of village government, the organization's service culture and the budgeting process. The second workshop will focus on community service, with presentations from elected officials at the village, county, state and federal level. The third workshop will give attendees an opportunity to learn about Shorewood's infrastructure and public works department, including a tour of the DPW building.

After a one-week recess, the fourth workshop will center on planning and development, including information about the village's comprehensive plans, business improvement district and tax incremental financing. The fifth session includes presentations from the Shorewood School District, Shorewood Library and Shorewood Senior Resource Center. The sixth session includes the North Shore Fire Department and the Shorewood Police Department, including a discussion of the department's relocation to the old AB Data building.

Video use questioned

The Shorewood Village Board gave the green light for Burkart to organize the citizens academy, but some trustees thought the presentations would be worth videotaping and posting on the village website.

Trustee Allison Rozek was particularly interested in sharing the presentations on the website. Burkart had previously mentioned that he expects to spend 60 hours over the next several months organizing the citizens academy, not to mention the time and resources of the workshop presenters. Rozek said it would make more sense to have the fruits of those efforts broadcasted to an audience larger than 20 people.

"For the amount of time investment we are putting into this program, we are reaching 20 people," Rozek said. "I don't know that that's a good investment trade-off."

Burkart said that, while the investment of time is high upfront, the program will be less time-intensive to operate over time.

Trustees Tammy Bockhorst and Davida Amenta agreed the workshop presentations should be videotaped, assuming the presenters and participants gave consent to being filmed. Trustee Ann McKaig, Michael Maher and Village President Guy Johnson voted against the idea of videotaping the workshops, at least partly due to the additional time needed to film and edit the video clips.

McKaig also said that videotaping takes away from the interpersonal dynamic of the face-to-face interactions.Some participants, for example, may be less likely to ask all of the questions on their mind if a camera is rolling.

"I love the idea of putting videos on our website that educate residents about village government and what different departments do, but I think that is a separate project from this program," McKaig said. "What's special about this program is creating this environment where there is this conversation that is organic based on the group that's there."

Although trustees were deadlocked over the use of video, the pro-video trustees agreed to vote for the citizens academy this year with the condition that evaluations be held afterward. Those evaluations will obtain feedback from presenters and participants gauging their level of comfort with being filmed in the future.

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