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Saturday, Aug. 27, 2016

Students deal with real issues as they learn about government

Sunday, March 5, 2006

Capt. John Martin of the Sikeston Department of Public Safety, shows students the DPS headquarters.
SIKESTON -- In what is likely to be a foreshadowing of the Sikeston City Council's decision Monday, a mock city council made up of students unanimously approved opposing Union Pacific's plan to increase train traffic through Sikeston.

The mock city council meeting was conducted Friday as part of the Optimist Club's annual Youth in Government Day.

"This one's a real-life issue we're dealing with," said Mayor Mike Marshall as city officials prepared students from Sikeston Senior High School for their mock meeting.

The real City Council is slated to consider a resolution Monday which would formally oppose a petition by the Union Pacific Railroad to the Surface Transportation Board to approve their acquisition and operation of the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railroad line with an increase in the number of trains running between Sikeston and Rockview, a town in Scott County located north of Sikeston.

"There's a lot of concerns," said Riley Lape, mock captain of the Department of Public Safety's fire division.

Mock DPS Director Danny Ephraim said DPS has concerns about possible derailments of trains carrying dangerous chemicals such as chlorine as well as having a section of town cut off from emergency services while trains are passing through Sikeston.

"Clearview is right next to the railroad tracks," said a student playing the part of John Q. Public who identified herself as the CEO of Clearview Nursing Home.

She said there is no way to evacuate the home's residents in an emergency as some are bedridden or suffering from Alzheimer's.

Another John Q. Public student who identified herself as Allison Smith, a housewife, said the trains scare her dogs, wake up her children and make it hard to get her son to the middle school. "My house value will go down," she said.

John Q. Public student Sam Zhao, who said he is the president of the Good Humor-Breyers plant, said "hundreds of employees work at Good Humor-

Breyers" and an increase in train traffic may prevent workers from getting to their shifts on time.

One John Q. Public student, who identified himself as Chris Carnell, owner of Carnell Collision, spoke in favor of the railroad's plan.

"I'm actually for it," he said. He suggested the odds are much higher for a trucking accident than a train derailment and that at the longest and slowest, a train would only cut that section of town off for nine minutes.

"Kids aren't usually wanting to get to school anyway," Carnell said.

He said the city could compromise with the railroad by asking them to spend a portion of the money they save by not running tracks elsewhere here to build another fire station or other facilities.

Lape said chances of a derailment with dangerous chemicals may be low, "but they're still there. ... It could kill a ton of people."

Mock council member Tess Marshall said more trains running through town will make the town less attractive to people thinking about moving here.

In preparing the mock council for their meeting, City Manager Doug Friend noted that City Council members have to dedicate a lot of their personal time to the city without pay while holding down their regular full-time jobs.

"Some weeks you may be down here 20-25 hours," Friend said. "That's quite a commitment. ... Most people would want to be compensated."

Friend said students who participate in Student Government Day are generally more informed than most citizens and "give us a lot of hope for the future."

He said local decisions tend to affect our daily lives more than what happens in Jefferson City or Washington, D.C., Friend said.

When citizens do show up for City Council meetings, "most of the time they want to put you on the spot," Friend said.

Sue Rogers, council member, said she sometimes finds herself casting votes based on what is best for the citizens instead of how she would prefer to vote based on her personal feelings or opinions.

Friend said communicating with constituents is important so council members aren't unduly influenced by those who voice issues at council meetings for publicity.

"How do you turn down a citizen?" asked Ryan Beaird, mock city manager.

"It varies," Friend said. "You do have to make decisions that make people unhappy. You can't make everybody happy."