More than two dozen Concord residents were a part of the largest graduating class of Concord 101, the city's free, 13-week course on the inner workings of municipal government.
It was the 10th graduating class in the program's nine-year history. The Concord 101 class of 2011 was recognized Nov. 29 with a graduation ceremony at Fire Station No. 9.
Participants met weekly starting in September to learn about city services from city staff.
"We appreciate the citizens who have taken their time to learn about city government and services," said Mayor Scott Padgett. "The graduates always enjoy the course and come out of it learning more than they could have imagined."
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Since the class was first offered in 2002, it has spawned some community leaders who serve their neighborhoods or on city boards and commissions, including the Historic Preservation Commission. Council member John Sweat also is a 2003 program graduate.
"This course is an opportunity for us to interact closely with citizens," said City Manager Brian Hiatt. "We hope these graduates will continue to give us input and take an active role in the community."
Sweat said the course was a huge catalyst for his increased interest in government service beyond the military.
"I feel very strongly that this course prepared me for the daily questions and challenges I face as a City Council member today," said Sweat. "Many people ask what they receive for their tax dollars, but they don't take the time to find out.
"Citizens graduating from Concord 101 have a detailed knowledge of the services provided for the taxes and the fees they pay. I think this is a very important point."
2011 graduates are Mollie Bangert, Mark Barnett, Robert Carpenter, Charles Copeland, Jason Furr, Leslie Furr, Barry Hannibal, Tarri Hannibal, Virginia Herron, Norma Mosley, Griselle Negron, Bob Neilson, Jayne Neilson, Donie Parker, Brian Patterson, Vincent Plummer, Ian Shepherd, Linda Stransky, Emily Tate, Lauren Thomas, Jeanne Torello, Michael Torello, Arabella Malone-Trahey, Thomas Trahey, Victor Vanover and Becky Wilson.
Lauren Thomas, 28, has lived in Concord since May. The South Carolina native said she took the class to meet people and to learn about Concord.
"While (I was) in the process of moving to Concord this summer, the city was unveiling a new recycling program," said Thomas. "This initiative sent a very positive message to me. I wanted to learn more about the other programs and initiatives that the city of Concord does to improve the community.
"While we all may have different ideas and approaches on how to make Concord a healthier, safer, kinder community, we're all living in this community together, and we all want the best for it. This is our patch of earth."
Thomas said she gained a clearer understanding of the hidden or underappreciated services that local government provides.
"Concord 101 was a stepping stone for me to learn more about the unique characteristics of Concord," she said. "It provided me with ideas on how to get involved in making Concord a more vibrant place to live."
Ian Shepherd, 39, moved to Concord in 1977, left in 1991 and moved back in 2005. The project manager/network engineer owns two Concord-based companies and several residential investment properties in Concord.
"I am heavily invested in Concord and utilize many of the city's services - utilities, zoning, permitting, etcetera," said Shepherd. "I saw information about Concord 101 several times in the city newsletter and decided this would be a good year to take the course."
Shepherd said he had three goals: To better understand the city's departmental/organizational structure for future business activities; to look for ways to contribute and get involved in city-related activities; and to network with others who have similar interests and meet and network with city leadership.
"This is a one-time opportunity to meet members of city council, city managers, department heads and other team members in a structured format," said Shepherd. "The course helps to really understand how the city works. From how water is delivered to your faucet to where wastewater goes, this program takes many small pieces of a puzzle and gives you the big picture, while being able to put faces, names and personalities with the different departments."
He said the class also gave him a deeper respect for Concord.
"I'm amazed that city leadership would take so much of their time to spend with a group like this," said Shepherd. "I could tell it was very important to them. I have always been a big proponent of Concord but after taking the course, I am convinced there is no place I would rather live. We have a local government that is extremely focused on bettering the community and a staff that is able to deliver. Concord is clearly a small city with big plans."
The next class will be next fall. Applications will be available in May. For information call 704-920-5215 or visit www.concordnc.gov.