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Town planning ways to showcase local government

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Local Government Week, an initiative aimed at enabling Ontario’s youth and other citizens to learn about local government and become more informed and engaged members of the community, is coming up Oct. 19-25.

Not so much a new event, Fort Frances clerk Glenn Treftlin noted Friday that Local Government Week used to be held annually but dropped off the radar sometime in the 1990s.

Due to an apparent drop in interest in municipal government among young people, however, it’s been brought back this year as a partnership of the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, the Association of Municipal Managers, Clerks and Treasurers of Ontario, and the Association of Municipalities of Ontario, with consultation from the Ontario Teachers’ Federation.

“One of the reasons they’re bringing it back now is it’s been determined that with the ‘baby-boomers’ and such, there’s lots of retirements coming up in the municipal sector and there aren’t enough young people into it that would satisfy the vacancies being created by the exits,” Treftlin explained.

“So they want to get into the schools. This year, they’re targeting Grades 5 and 10.

“But generally, it’s an opportunity for municipalities to educate the public as to what local government is, what it does, what sort of services are provided,” added Treftlin. “You speak to the average person on the street and you’d be surprised about how little they know about their local government.”

He said while many citizens may know who the mayor and council are, given the wide range of services being delivered by multiple town divisions, they may not know which municipal entity to go to with questions or complaints.

In order to help raise awareness of municipal government, Treftlin is trying to arrange television and radio spots featuring town councillors that will be broadcast that week. He also would like to run articles in the Fort Frances Daily Bulletin and Times to explain how the different divisions of the town operate.

Students across Ontario will be meeting their community leaders and getting lessons in local government that week, and Treftlin hopes the same will be done here. He’s been trying to schedule school visits by Mayor Roy Avis and Fort Frances CAO Mark McCaig, during which both will talk to students on the workings of municipalities and how local decisions affect their communities.

But he admitted he’s still working out dates with the schools, and hopes more schools get back to him to confirm their participation sooner than later.

As well, the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing has sent materials containing activities to do pertaining to Local Government Week to schools across Ontario.

Meanwhile, Fort Frances Museum curator Pam Hawley said she’s in the process of putting together some relevant artifacts, such as the first mayor’s chair, a gavel, and copies of the town’s incorporation papers, in order to set up a display at the Civic Centre for Local Government Week.

She added museum staff also are co-ordinating school tours for that week, where students will visit the museum, Civic Centre, police station, fire hall, courthouse, and Fort Frances Public Library to learn about Local Government Week.

Hawley noted an essay or poster contest in local schools also remains a possibility.

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