The Florida League of Cities and The Florida League of Mayors annually sponsor a statewide essay contest open to all seventh-grade civics students in public, private, and home school. Seventh graders, in Madison County, were encouraged to write an essay on the topic of “If I were elected Mayor . . . .”
The study of civics is important because it helps people understand how government works, and it provides people with knowledge about how to influence government as a citizen. It is an avenue that increases awareness while encouraging meaningful public participation.
The Madison County contest was coordinated by City of Madison Commissioner Jim Catron. Credit is given to former mayor and city commissioner Myra Valentine for her effort to encourage civics education. Assistance was provided by staff at the Town of Greenville, the Town of Lee, and the City of Madison.
Students at Madison County Central School and Madison Creative Arts Academy participated in the contest with the support of teachers, Jeff Veilleux and Allison Prairie. The essays were judged on criteria which included creativity, clarity, sincerity of thought, appropriate grammar, spelling and essay construction. The essays were required to focus on how to make your city a better place, including a discussion regarding “Home Rule.”
In 1968, the Florida Constitution granted Home Rule power to city and county governments which provides the authority for local governments to adopt ordinances and enact programs without permission from the state when such ordinances do not conflict with state and/or federal law. This allows local leaders to make decisions that they believe are best for their city or county.
The contest encouraged students to examine the extent to which local governments affect their lives. Out of the three levels of government in the United States: national, state and local, none affects citizens more directly than local government. City and county governments provide vital services which may include police and fire protection, clean water, public works, sanitation services (garbage and solid waste), as well as cemeteries, parks and recreation.
At a local level, essays were evaluated by a committee consisting of a former mayor, city commissioner/councilman, city manager, city clerk, and a communications professional. Each student who submitted an essay will receive a certificate of participation. Essay contests, such as this statewide contest sponsored by the Florida League of Cities and League of Mayors, are designed to improve the quality of dialogue about what we want for our communities.
Allie Wilkerson, daughter of Margaret and Phillip Wilkerson, was selected as the first-place winner from the essays written in Madison and received $50. Allie’s strategy highlighted “volunteering in your community helps foster pride in your hometown.” Allie’s essay ends profoundly, “By supporting financial, cultural, and employment growth in the community, it will flourish. This would be my legacy as Mayor.”
Joshua Watts, son of Tonya and Jackie Watts, was selected as the second-place winner and received $25. Joshua identified the “job of the mayor is to enhance the quality of the town and the quality of life for the citizens.” In his essay, Joshua highlighted the need to “make our town much more alluring and a better overall quality community to live in.”
Gavin Bass, son of Marcia and Donnie Bass, was selected as the third-place winner and received $10. Gavin pointed out “citizens will all work together to build a greater community.”
Suggestions in other essays included community clean up, neighborhood watch, listening to citizens, informing people about problems, encouraging recycling, seeing what people need to be successful in business, and meeting with other cities to help each other.