By John Burton
LITTLE SILVER – What does your local government do and how does it get done?
That’s a question Markham Place School eighth-graders may have asked previously but, after a visit to Borough Hall Wednesday, May 8, they now know the answer.
All 86 eighth-grade students participated in what social studies teacher B.J. Olsen estimated was the school’s 44th year of conducting Student Government Day.
It’s a day when students take over local government for a few hours and serve in just about every capacity that a borough employee, volunteer or appointed representative does. Students act as mayor and borough council, police and fire chiefs, municipal court judge and head of Department of Public Works – some even serve as temporary representatives for the shade tree, environmental and recreation commissions.
“You’d be surprised about how many people and how much work it is to run a small town like ours,” Mayor Robert C. Neff, Jr. said at the start of the event.
Neff told students the community of approximately 6,000 residents needs about 45 employees to run it and an untold number of volunteers for various committees and programs.
Neff administered the oath of office to his student counterpart, Theodore Cheevers, 14, who would get to be mayor until about noon.
Neff said he wished Cheevers and the other students would take away “a sense of obligation to your town.” He hoped they would become involved wherever they eventually live when they get a little older.
“I think it’s an important job,” Cheevers said of the mayor’s office. “The job ensures that the town is run properly.
“It’s one of the jobs that makes Little Silver the great town that it is,” he said.
The purpose of the day “is to participate in democracy,” Olsen said. “If they take away nothing else it should be that they know about their community.”
The teacher also wanted students to realize borough employees were putting aside their busy time to assist them in understanding how the borough operates. “I want the students to realize that this is an important day,” Olsen said.
Olsen has overseen 19 Student Government Days as a teacher but, as a student here about 30 years ago, he took part in the exercise.
“I realized, and they’ll now know, that it’s not just the seven elected officials who run the town,” he said.
Students prepared questions to ask their official counterparts, with Cheevers spending a little one-on-one time with Neff.
“What you try to figure out is what the best thing for the town is,” on any given issue, Neff told Cheevers. You try “to do your best to try to keep your town a nice town.”
Cheevers wanted to know what is Neff’s favorite part of the job.
“There isn’t a lot I don’t like about this job,” Neff said.
But if he had to say, it would be “every day being involved with really nice people. It’s really, really rewarding.”
Student Government Day remains one of Neff’s favorite events. “This is great. I love talking to the kids,” he noted, quipping, “I’m taking the day off, putting up my feet.”