HACKENSACK, NJ -- The Recreation Department, Tax Assessor's Office, Health Department, Fire Department and more offices in the State Street/Central Avenue municipal complex were filled with Hackensack High School seniors this morning for the annual Youth in Government Day event.
The annual event pairs small groups of seniors with local officials, department heads, and staffers, to make their way through the municipal complex, learning about the functions of each department. The instructors spoke with candor, and interested students asked all sorts of sentient questions.
"What causes lead posioning, and what does your office to to help fight against it?" Devin Joseph Jackson asked Health Director Susan McVeigh during his four-person group tour of the department.
Mcveigh explained how home inspections work, and how Hackensack city nursing staffers work with families to reduce lead exposure, especially for children under six. She then asked the students their favorite restaurants, and opened a large file cabinet showing that restaurant's (Chit Chat Diner) latest health assessment, and when it must be re-inspected.
Later, HHS Senior Nejuliver Amancio, of this same four-person group, asked a young Fire fighter if all Fire fighters are trained EMTs. Amancio told Tapinto Hackensack she hopes to become a medical assistant.
The Fire fighter explained that all new hires have to be EMT certified, and employees hired before this rule was put into place still have the necessary fire responder trainings.
Down the street, Recreation Department staff were explaining to students how they track child recreation games season to season, to schedule make-up-games if rain cut the previous season short, and Assistant Tax Assessor Patricia Esteves explained how municipalities create and update tax rolls, as well as the process Tax Assessors must undergo to received their CTA.
As usual, the annual event ended with selected students playing the roles of the Mayor, Councilmembers, Clerk, City Manager, and other individuals who actually sit in on regular Council meetings, and the group of students-turned-legislators and staffers held a mock Council meeting with a controversial city ordinance at the center. The ordinance would prohibit texting while walking or walking in crosswalks with both ears covered.
Nicole Huie, as Mayor John Labrosse, introduced the resolution as being a way to keep residents safe and reduce pedestrian-vehicular accidents.
Joseph Jackson spoke during public comment period preceeding the vote. "Shouldn't the car drivers be paying attention to the road, rather than the person walking?"
The real-life Mayor John Labrosse, and Deputy Mayor Kathy Canestrino spoke as fictional constituents, and took the opportunity to lay personal attacks on Mayor Labrosse, Deputy Mayor Canestrino and Deputy Mayor David Sims, to raucous laughter.
After more High School students spoke, a 4th grader from Nellie K Parker school asked if the Council would next ban books. A second 4th grade student asked what the penalty for walking while texting or walking in an intersection with earbuds in would be.
"It will be enforced like a traffic ticket," said Huie as Mayor Labrosse.
"You'll go to jail for 10 to 15 years," said Joseph Marte as Deputy Mayor David Sims, to laughter and boos.
This was the first Youth in Government event attended by the 4th graders, who began their respective department tours after the mock Council meeting concluded, with the controversial resolution passing.
"Nellie K Parker has a special place in my heart because both of my boys went there," said the real-life Mayor Labrosse.
The Council meeting was following by a lunch, with pizza donated by ASAP Pizza on Main Street. All participating students received a reusable City of Hackensack bag with a thermos, t-shirt, candy and official City of Hackensack pin inside.
"This is a fantastic event and I'm always impressed with how our students really throw themselves into learning about government and asking questions," said Hackensack High School Principal Jim Montesaro. "I participated when I was a student at HHS. Our students never cease to amaze me."
"This event gets better each and every year," said Labrosse.