Teens attend Youth in Government Day

Thursday, May 3, 2007

They're going to run the country one day, but a few seem ready to get an early start.

Cape Girardeau County held its 22nd annual Optimist Youth in Government Day on Wednesday, giving high school students the chance to play the roles of police chief, city attorney, council members and mayor.

Mayor Jay Knudtson attended one of several events held around the area and told students he's counting on them.

"I will be mayor through 2010; I'm restricted by term limits," Knudtson said. "We need to make sure people who are interested, passionate and concerned about their community stay involved."

The council and staff made up of students from Notre Dame Regional and Central high schools dealt with weighty issues during a mock council meeting at the Osage Community Centre in Cape Girardeau. Proposed ordinances ranged from a ban on exhibitionist driving to restricting smoking in public places.

The idea of a smoke-free city proved a divisive topic.

"One of my main concerns is for employees in a restaurant and being made to work in the smoking section of the restaurant all day," said Blake Palmer of Notre Dame.

Others wondered what all the fuss was about.

"To be honest, I haven't found this to be a problem at all," said acting mayor Ryan Willen of Notre Dame.

In the end, the most entertaining parts of the day were the regular interruptions by a parade of characters played to perfection by event organizer Thomas M. Meyer.

Meyer first played "Jo-Ho" a self-described exhibitionist who enjoys driving the wrong way down one-way streets in Cape Girardeau.

"My fans love my one-way specialties," he said. "They pay me a dollar a day."

Meyer later played "Ho-Jo" a character who was hard of hearing and spoke out against a proposed 200-yard boundary between off-road bikers and homes.

Meyer kept the crowd in stitches by wandering away from the microphone and dropping a one dollar-bribe in front of a council member. Breaking out of character for a moment, Meyer said he was trying to give students the full city government experience.

"They can be hard of hearing or out in left field, they can do all sorts of things," he said. "But you've got to treat them with respect because, after all, they're the ones who elected you."

Students enjoyed the theater which they said stoked a desire to get involved.

"It's been a fun event. I've been to some city council meetings, and they're actually a lot like these," said Cape Girardeau Central junior Mike Miller. "This made me consider running for city council in the future."

Willen had the difficult task as mayor of keeping Meyer under control.

"It's a lot harder than it looks. You have to make sure everyone knows what's going on and then you have to deal with unruly citizens," he said.

Students from Oak Ridge, Saxony Lutheran, Jackson, Delta and Eagle Ridge Christian School also participated in the event. Jackson city government held a separate mock council session and other students shadowed county and federal officials.

The entire group, numbering about 70, ate lunch at the Jackson Knights of Columbus Hall. Newly elected mayor of Jackson Barbara Lohr was the featured speaker.

tgreaney@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 245

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