Perry HS students get a lesson in government from Queen Creek Town Council

Six seniors from Perry High School attended the April 5 meeting of the Queen Creek Town Council to fulfill an assignment for their U.S./Arizona government class. While there, they got to meet Mayor Gail Barney. They are, from left, Mike Styers, Wyatt Freeman, Blake Fillmore, Mayor Barney, Nick Pollak of Queen Creek, Alex Macica from Queen Creek and Dallin Ritchie. (Independent Newspapers/Wendy Miller)

Alex Macica, 18, did not agree with everything members of the Queen Creek Town Council had to say at their April 5 regular meeting. But he did understand what they were proposing that night and why.

And that is a good thing, said Tana Berrelleza, Alex’s teacher at Perry High School, 1919 E. Queen Creek Road in Gilbert.

“I’m so glad Alex said that. It’s needed in today’s political climate that while we may not agree with someone’s position about something, we understand why they feel that way,” Ms. Berrelleza said during a phone interview.

Alex and five other Perry High students attended the council meeting to fulfill an assignment for their U.S./Arizona government class. Alex and Nick Pollak, who both reside in Queen Creek, Blake Fillmore, Wyatt Freeman, Dallin Ritchie and Mike Styers are among the 130 seniors at Perry High who are learning about local government by observing a town council or school board meeting or a political rally, said Ms. Berrelleza.

“I can talk until I’m blue in the face about what a meeting is, but they can’t always visualize it,” said Ms. Berrelleza, who has taught government at Perry for four years and at Combs High School, 2505 E. Germann Road in San Tan Valley, for five years.

The six students were exposed to the short and the long of a council meeting in Queen Creek. The first portion of the meeting moved quickly, with members of the town council — Mayor Gail Barney, Vice Mayor Jeff Brown and council members Robin Benning, Jake Hoffman, Dawn Oliphant, Emilena Turley and Julia Wheatley — unanimously approving a consent agenda.

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The latter ranged from approving an easement granted to Salt River Project for undergrounding electrical lines on the southeast corner of Sossaman and Queen Creek roads for the new Fire Station No. 3 to approving Resolution 1143-17 to support the Department of Defense aviation mission in Arizona.

In addition, the seniors sat through a proclamation thanking area volunteers as part of the town’s recognition of Volunteer Service Recognition Day.

The students also took notes while filling out a class questionnaire about the meeting while the council approved three items on its public hearings consent agenda. The items involved approving a zoning amendment to allow a portion of a residential community to build a 6-foot-tall solid wall near the homeowners’ property line; a conditional use permit for a drive-thru and a site plan for the Wendy’s restaurant to be built in downtown Queen Creek; and a rezone request to allow an equine veterinary facility and future commercial development to be built at 24760 S. Ellsworth Road.

“I thought it was interesting,” Alex, who has lived in Queen Creek for about five years, said during a phone interview the day after the meeting. “I could sit there and have an idea of what’s going on in the town, and have a say in the future depending how I feel about it. Wherever I go in town, I see new construction. By attending these meetings, I can see what’s happening in the future.”

Nick, who has lived in Queen Creek for about 10 years, was interested in hearing about what the town plans to build in Queen Creek, he said during a phone interview the day after the meeting.

“When I moved here there wasn’t even the Target, just all fields,” he said.

The students said they felt less at ease with the council’s final agenda item, a discussion about setting a public hearing about a proposed increase in transportation impact fees.

It included a 73-page slide presentation by Queen Creek Finance Director Scott McCarty that included the history of impact fees in Queen Creek, comparisons to fees in neighboring communities and projections of how fees could be impacted should there be an increase.

“I kind of got lost in the impact fees part,” Nick said. “There were so many numbers.”

“A lot of stuff went over our heads. We picked up on about half of what was being discussed,” Alex said. “I understood what they were proposing, but I would not want them to increase the fees.”

Both students commented on how formal the meeting was. Nick said he probably would not attend another meeting in the near future because they are held late at night and he has school the next day.

The lesson Ms. Berrelleza hopes the students will take away from the assignment is that they can get close to their elected officials and representatives.

“You and I have the right to talk to them,” Ms. Berrelleza said. “My hope is that by requiring them to go and listen now, they, as they grow older, will feel less scared about approaching a representative and will try to make a change they would like to see. I like the public comments portion of a meeting, maybe someone is protesting something. Students can see where they’re coming from and they’ll be more comfortable being a part of government.”

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