Ocean Shores residents hit the books on local government

Eight-week ‘Citizen’s Academy’ at Ocean Shores Library providing in-depth look at city systems

The city of Ocean Shores recently launched an in-depth educational program aimed to better acquaint a group of residents with the inner workings of their local municipal government.

Over the course of the next eight weeks, city leaders and staff will present weekly informational sessions and converse with participants at the Ocean Shores Library, covering everything from the details of the finance department to the city’s vision for future projects and developments.

During the program, called “Citizens’ Academy,” 18 participants will also get tours of various city facilities.

“The vision of the city and the Ocean Shores Library is that these selected citizens will become ambassadors for the rest of the community, while having an interactive and educating role with others as it pertains to city government,” a city press release states.

The city already hosts monthly meetings called “City Chats” at the Ocean Shores Convention Center, where city officials and staff open the floor to questions from the public on various topics.

Questions from citizens that arose during those city chat meetings made clear the “need in the community to educate citizens on how to find information about the city,” said Ocean Shores Library Director Keitha Owen in an email.

The city opened an application for the Citizens’ Academy from Feb. 24 to March 3. According to the city’s press release, the program was designed for Ocean Shores residents 18 and older without previous experience in “city council, city commissions or city boards.”

During public comment at a recent city council meeting, one resident who was accepted into the Citizens’ Academy, Jane Shattuck, expressed frustration at the city’s selection process for the academy, saying it excluded those who had previously volunteered for a board but still might not be knowledgeable about other parts of city government.

Shattuck also expressed gratitude for the program, saying it “offers an excellent opportunity for the community to gain insight in the inner-workings of our city,” but that she believed “all community members who applied should have had a fair chance to participate regardless of the number of boards or committees they had volunteered on.”

City Administrator Scott Andersen said in an email to The Daily World, “The overall idea was to find people who were interested in learning more about city government, but who hadn’t been exposed to it previously or simply wanted to learn firsthand how the city functioned.”

The program held its first session Friday morning, March 17 in a library meeting room, where Mayor Jon Martin, Andersen and City Clerk Sara Logan explained the details of their respective positions.

After serving on the city council for several years, Martin was appointed as mayor in late 2021 following the death of late mayor Crystal Dingler. In December 2022, Martin opted to quit his regional director job at McDonald’s and stay on as mayor after the city council voted to raise his salary from $12,000 to $65,000 to compensate for increased time devoted to mayor work.

At Friday’s inaugural meeting, Martin said his schedule is usually packed full of meetings on a wide range of topics. The mayor position, Martin said, involves being a “jack of all trades” and “not an expert at anything, but I’m also knowledgeable about everything.”

“If there’s something going on in the city and someone’s mad about something, it comes to me and I try to figure out whatever the solution is,” Martin said at the outset.

Andersen went on to describe some of the nuts and bolts of his job as city administrator, which involves working closely with Martin to lead the city. Andersen also took over as the city’s public works director last year after former director Nick Bird left in 2021 and the city was unable to find a replacement.

Andersen noted the considerable growth of the city since he joined the staff in 2019. He said the city has grown by about 2,000 people since then.

Logan, the city clerk, then delivered a presentation on the city’s website, which has undergone a massive update in the last few years. Logan said an influx of public records requests led the city to start uploading a higher volume of documents to the website, especially for projects or topics of interest.

The Citizens’ Academy will commence in a May 12 reception, where participants will receive certificates and pins.

“The city and Ocean Shores Library will consider additional classes in the fall if there is community interest to process,” the press release states.

Contact reporter Clayton Franke at 406-552-3917 or clayton.franke@thedailyworld.com.