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Students from high schools across the county participated in St. Clair's Government Day sponsored by the American Legion. (Full story available at 10 a.m. CT)

Last week students from high schools across St. Clair County learned the ropes from county officials ranging from sheriff’s deputies to district judges, county commissioners and state representatives all as a part of the 2008 Student Government Day.

The idea to have a countywide student government program was put forth by the American Legion a few years back and it has grown in the years since.

The original idea was to let students learn more about city, county and state government and be able to take part by running for office in their school and then, if elected, learn about their elected position from a real life counterpart.

“We found out very quickly that these students didn’t know much about county government,” said St. Clair County Commission Chairman Stan Batemon. “They know about city government and they know about state government, but not about what we do here for them.”

Batemon said that the program has given county leaders the opportunity to show students firsthand what it is like to run the part of government that affects them in profound ways. “It’s been a very exciting program for them and us,” he said. “We’re tying to show them as much as we can about our jobs in the little bit of time we have here and show them what goes on behind these gray walls of government.”

There was a courtroom full of student-elects at the courthouse in Ashville that sat in on the St. Clair County Commission meeting and witnessed three commissioners being sworn in before being carried off to see what it’s like to fill the shoes of the public servants that represented the positions the students had won in their schools’ elections.

Some students got a chance to listen and see what state delegates had to say about representing the wants and needs of citizens as State Representatives Dr. Jim McClendon (R-50) and Randy Wood (R-30) took to the floor to argue for and against installing traffic light cameras.

“Randy and I worked this out ahead of time,” Representative McClendon said. “We’re both in same political party and most of the time we are in step with each other. But sometimes we get on the opposite end of issues at times, which is good.”

McClendon, who serves as Chairman of the State Safety Coordinating Committee, argued for the cameras while Wood argued against. They then let the students vote to decide the fate of the issue.

Just like in the legislature, there were no secret ballots. The majority of students voted not to allow the cameras in their mock session.

“I told these young adults, just as I argue down in Montgomery, that I believe that it’s just another revenue measure that the government is trying to use to regulate us and not hiring as many police officers instead,” Representative Randy Wood said. “I doubled up on [Representative McClendon] in votes and I think he just knew he was going to get it because he’s such a salesman.”

Representative McClendon said of the St. Clair students, “They’ were a bright bunch and it was encouraging to listen to them. They got a little tastes of what it’s like in Montgomery in that there’s one guy that’s pro on one mic and the other guy that’s con on the other mic arguing their points.”

Woods echoed McClendon’s sentiments. “I think it really went well and all of the students that Dr. McClendon and I had were well informed and attentive. They got involved and wanted to learn. And they got involved in a way that’s encouraging since, after all, they’re the leaders of tomorrow.”

Students who were elected by their classmates to serve as sheriff’s deputies and investigators got to ride along with county patrol units and witness how traffic stops are performed on both county and state roads.

Those who were chosen to represent circuit and district judgeships sat in the upper courtroom of the Ashville courthouse and listened as St. Clair judges relayed their experiences and outlined the duties they perform for the public.

The county circuit clerk gave a tour and lecture on the duties involved with collecting and recording information and monies for that job.

The St. Clair District Attorney’s Office representatives, county coroner and superintendants of both St. Clair and Pell City School Systems told the student-elects about experiences they face on the job each day while serving the public.

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