MIDLOTHIAN — If you’ve ever wanted to know where your water comes from, suit up in firefighter gear, solve a mock crime scene or find out where all your tax dollars go, then Midlothian’s Citizens Academy is for you.

The city will offer its annual citizens academy classes at 5:30 p.m. every Thursday from September to November, beginning Sept. 6. Classes are free and open to all residents who live within the city limits and in the surrounding extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ).

“It’s a really unique, hands-on learning experience,” Mayor Pro Tem Joe Frizzell said. “You visit each department in the city to learn about that department and experience what they do.”

Deputy City Secretary Tammy Varner talked about what activities class members had expect to experience.

“When the class visits the fire department, they get to put on the bunker gear and enter a mock fire scene, and at the police department they get fingerprinted, use a radar gun and solve a mock crime scene,” Varner said. “At public works they can drive construction equipment and see the camera used to run down sewer pipes. Through the citizens academy, residents can gain first-hand knowledge about the city at every level through hands-on classes.”

The departments class members learn about include the fire department, police and code enforcement departments, water treatment plant and city hall, public works, parks and recreation and animal control, finance department, integrated technology (IT), planning and zoning, building inspection and engineering. In previous years the Mid-Way Regional Airport has been included in the citizens academy and is expected to be included in this year’s classes.

Frizzell has the unique experience of comparing Midlothian’s Citizens Academy to another city’s where he lived previously.

“We didn’t sit down and talk to finance and planning or go through the water treatment plant and all that kind of stuff,” he said. “We sat in a conference room and had slides shown to us by the Parks and Recreation about their new lawnmower – we didn’t get to touch it or ride it. As compared to Midlothian’s, the first time I ever saw Bill Houston was in the citizens academy, driving a bobcat (front-end loader). One lady in the class moved about one dump truck load of dirt with the bobcat. It’s hands-on activities like that and sitting down with the people who work in there showing you how to do it.”

Adamant about the education gained through the classes, Frizzell said it should be a requirement for every citizen.

Midlothian Mayor Bill Houston felt equally passionate about the academy and described how easily it is to get hooked.

“I loved it. It gives you a little bit of information about every department. I told my wife, ‘I want you to take this class,’ and she was kind of hesitant, but I told her, ‘If you’ll go to just one class – then you don’t have to go back if you don’t want to.’ After the first class, she was so excited she never missed another.”

Houston was so impressed with the information provided through the citizens academy, he suggests that anyone interested in city government attend the classes.

“I think that anybody that wants to be on any board, committee or council should have to go through the citizens academy. But (City Attorney) Don Stout told me that wasn’t legal,” he said, laughing. “You really gain an insight into how the city operates. Anyone who has gone through the classes is a huge supporter of it.”

Class size is limited to 15 and spots are filling up quickly. Residents that wish to sign up for the citizens academy can apply online at www.midlothian.tx.us by looking under the “Government” tab at the top, and under the “City Secretary” category, or pick up an application at city hall.

For more information contact Tammy Varner at 972-775-7195 or Mary McDonald at 972-775-3481.

Follow Aaron on Facebook at www.facebook.com/AaronSchwadererWDL. Contact him at 469-517-1456 or a.schwaderer@wninews.com.