LEAP Making Municipal Leaders Through Mock City Council
Dec. 2, 2021
SHSU Media Contact: Wes Hamilton
By Mike Yawn
Students from the Center for Law, Engagement, And Politics (LEAP) programs “City Fellows” and “LEAP LEADs” aren’t on any town’s city council, at least not yet. However, that didn’t stop them from gathering at Huntsville’s City Hall to learn how municipalities operate. They learned from some of the area’s best through a simulated mock city council workshop with former Mayor Mac Woodward and former City Secretary Stephanie Fors.
The exercise was the culmination of a semester-long learning process. The LEAP LEADs students learned from a cross-section of community leaders in bi-weekly sessions, hearing from School Board Trustee Ken Holland, County Court at Law Judge Tracy Sorensen, members of City Council Mayor Andy Brauninger and Councilmember Joe Rodriquez, and SHSU Administrator Anne Gaillard.
For the City Fellows, the process included semester-long internships with the City of Huntsville, including: Parks and Recreation, Economic Development, Huntsville Main Street, the Huntsville Public Library, and the Wynne Home Arts & Visitors Center.
The Mock City Council, however, was a different learning experience. “Mayor” Delani Johnson presided over the meeting with the help of “City Secretary” Hayley Matthews, both having to rein in the sometimes unruly “councilmembers” Abbey Staiger, Candace Simpson, and Molli Thompson. “City Manager” Morgan Robertson did her best to provide information to Council through her “employees,” “Public Safety Officer” Mario Ocampo, “Finance Director” Amy Walker, and “Parks Director” Ethan Stephens.
With big issues on the table, however, it wasn’t an easy task. The Mock City Council tackled a proposed mock park expansion, which was approved. Even more controversial, however, was a proposed mock legalization of marijuana, which the “City Attorney” Yvette Mendoza swiftly discouraged council from adopting. Council members Jacqueline Galo, Erin Juarez, and Catalina Padron were happy to defer to Attorney Mendoza and avoid losing mock votes from their constituents.
In the process of hashing out these issues, the students learned the leadership roles in city government, the nature of a city charter, municipal law, parliamentary procedure, and the myriad ways that local governments affect the lives of citizens.
“It was enjoyable to see them grow over the course of the semester and learn more about the process of governance.” Woodward said, “I was glad to be part of it. This was a good group of students, and we need more young people in government.”
The students, however, aren’t ready to announce their candidacy. Delani Johnson, a senior criminal justice major isn’t sure she wants the spotlight.
“I’m not sure if it’s something I’d ever pursue in real life, but it was fun to have the gavel,” Johnson said. “Too bad I don’t have one of those in class.”
Yvette Mendoza, a sophomore political science major and aspiring attorney, didn’t have a gavel, but she did exercise authority.
“I do want to be an attorney, so you never know,” Mendoza said.
The LEAP Center congratulates City of Huntsville HR Director, Julie O’Connell, who is retiring at the end of November. The staff at the LEAP Center are grateful for her many years leading the City’s internship program.
The Center for Law, Engagement, And Politics (LEAP) offers unique learning opportunities related to the fine arts, history, civil rights, literature and, in particular, law, engagement, and politics. Its mission is to enrich students' academic education through various educational opportunities, including internships and other experiential learning; volunteerism; guest lectures; presentations by leading public figures; educational field trips; and numerous other opportunities. The Center also offers pre-law advising and limited academic advising.
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