Participants in the first Pittsfield Citizens Academy were (l-r, first row): Cheryl Mirer, Alisa Costa and Kristin Winsett; (second row) Todd Clark, Zachari Durso, Maria Liccardi and Paul Durwin; (third row) Lynn Wallace, Elizabeth Trabulsi, Mary Jane Dunlop, Cecilia Del Cid-Liccardi and Mark Charland; and (fourth row) Cecelia Swanson. Not pictured are Drew Herzig, Jason Roy and Kevin Haughey.

Pittsfield recently completed its first-ever Citizens Academy, a 10-week program that introduced 16 participants to a wide range of municipal government activities in an effort to increase citizen engagement.

The weekly sessions were held on Thursdays from 6 to 8 p.m. at various locations throughout the city, offering participants the opportunity to interact with department heads and city staff, learn about day-to-day operations, tour workspaces, and take part in breakout activities.

Municipal offices visited included the Police and Fire departments, Building and Health departments, the municipal airport, the city clerk and Personnel Department, and the Finance Department.

“One of the primary goals out of all of this was engagement,” said Catherine VanBramer, executive assistant to Mayor Linda Tyer, “whether that be just attending public meetings, volunteering on one of the city’s boards or commissions, or just being engaged in their government by listening to what’s going on and expressing their voice.”

The academy was limited to 20 participants, with 16 steadily attending all 10 weeks, VanBramer said. After the last session, some participants asked for a list of boards and commissions.

VanBramer said a workshop on citizens academies held at the 2018 MMA Annual Meeting inspired her to approach the mayor about starting one in Pittsfield.

Tyer said she is proud of the deeper understanding of city operations that “community members from all walks of life” gained from their participation in the academy.

“It is my hope that this knowledge will serve to inform their thoughts and ideas as it relates to local government, and also inspire them to continue their civic engagement,” she said.

VanBramer said she hopes to run an expanded academy next year that will include the schools and other departments that were not included in this year’s academy.

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