You won’t find happier students in any other Bettendorf class.
The Bettendorf 101: City Citizen Academy leaves a different, positive impression on each participant, organizers say. It continues to evolve, along with the city itself, under the guidance of Public Information Officer Lauran Haldeman, who developed the program.
“The Police Department started an academy a couple of years before we started Bettendorf 101,” Haldeman said. “The police academy was quite popular — still is — so we thought it would be a good idea to have an academy that involves other departments.”
After contacting other cities across the country and collecting their ideas, she created the Bettendorf Citizen Academy.
“In 2008, we started out by only allowing 20 in the class,” she said. “Now we try to keep the number around 30. We keep the class size small so each participant can get the most out of the academy.”
Each city department has updated its presentations through the years, keeping the class interesting and relevant, she added.
The seven-week course includes a bus tour of parks and another, hosted by City Administrator Decker Ploehn, that visits locations including the Scott County Waste Commission and Iowa American Water facilities, both in Davenport.
"Even though they are not located in Bettendorf, residents do use their services," Haldeman said. "The City of Bettendorf is part owner of the wastewater treatment plant and compost facility pursuant to an intergovernmental agreement, and we also are members of the Scott County Landfill by virtue of an intergovernmental agreement."
The city council is supportive and department heads and staff are more than happy to take part in the academy, Haldeman said.
"We started the program just to give residents an experience of the breadth of our operations," Ploehn said.
"What has happened is a level of knowledge and enthusiasm about our services that engages these citizens to be enthusiastic customers and cheerleaders, and it makes our staff work hard to provide this level of knowledge and passion about that work," he said. "That makes us very proud."
The city's cost varies depending on how many are in the class and whether Haldeman does a mailing about the class. "My plan is not to do mailings in the future. I am looking at other ways to get the word out," she said.
Without the mailing, each citizen academy costs about $4,000, which is covered by tax dollars. Costs include a dinner, two bus rentals (necessary because the city does not have buses big enough to accommodate the class size), gifts, refreshments for each class (six classes plus two bus tours), and miscellaneous items such as certificate holders and materials.
“Having the opportunity to have residents learn about the city that they live in is very rewarding,” she said. “I love when they ask a lot of questions. We never had a problem filling the classes and always have positive comments from those who take the academy."
The bus tours seem to be a favorite part of the academy, she said. “When they’re done, they’ve loved it. They learned so many things and had a great time.”
“After they’re done with the tour, they always say ‘That was so cool.’”
The academy, offered for residents 18 and older, is held twice yearly — once in the spring and once in the fall.
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Participation does require time, she said. “We really want them to come to as many classes as possible. We want them to miss no more than two in the seven-week class.”
In the meantime, the academy keeps expanding.
“We keep adding on to the bus tour,” Haldeman said. “The departments take care of their own presentations. As they change things in the departments, they change their presentations.”
All department heads participate. “We get full support from the mayor, city council and all the departments. They love doing this,” she said.
If you want to consider the academy, it's not too early to act. Haldeman already has nearly two dozen signed up for the spring class. To register, contact her at email@example.com.
What participants say:
The graduates of the fall 2019 Bettendorf 101 City Citizen Academy gave it rave reviews.
Georgia Mihm: “We heard so many good things from other people,” she said. She and her husband, Dr. Harold Mihm, both enjoyed the program.
Georgia Mihm is a charter member of the Bettendorf Community Schools Foundation, and also served on the school board and Bettendorf Public Library board.
The city, she said “has made up an exceptional curriculum of educational classes, with the presenters all being excited about their jobs involved with the city.
"Lauran Haldeman is to be commended for this,” she said. “This is an enlightenment of how your tax dollars are being spent and how well the city utilizes its tax dollars.”
Ellen Shapley: “It’s such a good overview of how the city functions,” she said.
Shapley recently returned to Bettendorf after living away for 40 years. “My purpose was to know the community now versus what it was when I was younger,” she said.
One moment in particular resonated with her. “When we were on the bus on top of the landfill… We have so much stuff in our landfill,” she said. “We must recycle.”
Also, “One of the things that really intrigues me is the growth here in Bettendorf," she said. “The whole program was terrific. My husband and I are very happy we moved here.”
Dolores Stack: "A friend of mine attended the spring one. She felt everybody in Bettendorf should attend,” said Stack, who marvels at how involved everybody is in running the city, and “how dedicated everybody is.”
“I thought it was just wonderful,” she said.
In particular, Stack said the police session was excellent. The group met Ringo, the K-9 officer. “Ringo was a big hit."