For new Charleston residents or novices to city government, a Charleston City Council meeting might be a bit overwhelming.
In a single evening, the 12-member body and Mayor John Tecklenburg can sign off on dozens of capital projects, grant applications, zoning requests and new ordinances — all of which can have huge impacts on the way the city functions.
To help shape those decisions, residents have to do more than just cast their votes in city elections every two years.
That’s why the city’s Business and Neighborhood Services Division is hosting an introductory course called, “I’m a Resident, Now What?” later this month.
The free workshop, from 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Sept. 23, will be held at The Citadel's Holliday Alumni Center as a pilot of what the city hopes will be a regularly scheduled program to familiarize residents with departments and processes such as planning, budgeting, zoning and more.
The best part? There will be no such thing as stupid questions. And they're serving free lunch.
Clay Middleton, director of Business and Neighborhood Services, said the department modeled the workshop after similar events in other cities, such as Charlotte and New Orleans, that have helped improve civic engagement.
He said Charleston's workshop won't be a typical class or sit-down seminar. They'll hold interactive exercises to put participants in the shoes of city planners and financial officers, who have to follow a strict set of guidelines to make their decisions about how money is spent, where public facilities go, and more.
"We all have things we feel like the city has to cover, so we’ll be giving them a list of priorities and asking them to figure out how do you get them covered?" Middleton said. "This is really going to inform people more, to get people to decide whether they want to be on a board or commission."
Tecklenburg and other city department heads will be there to discuss their work and answer questions.
“Our goal for this workshop is to empower residents who want to be proactive and help shape the future of their neighborhoods,” Tecklenburg said in a written statement.
So far, about 70 people have signed up to participate. Space is limited, so those interested should register by Sept. 12 at charleston-sc.gov/neighborhoods.