Mayor’s Message: Our adults of tomorrow

In this week's Mayor's Message, Mayor Louis Manzo talks about his latest visit to Friends School Mullica Hill.

I like fielding questions about our community. It could be in a public meeting, a private conversation or a phone call/e-mail exchange, I enjoy the interaction and the opportunity to inform people about what’s happening or happened in town.

Of course, some questions may come from an unhappy resident based on their circumstances, but believe it or not, I probably find that most rewarding. My tenure as mayor has taught me that people appreciate hearing the truth, even if they don’t like the answer. So, I take pride in feedback that expresses surprise in how candid and direct I am, which unfortunately, they may not expect from an elected official these days.

I mention that, in this issue, to recognize a particular group that always presents me with well-thought-out, important questions; with a strong desire to gain an understanding of how local government works and how they can be more engaged in the future. They consistently seek insight and are motivated to make a difference when they have that opportunity. Perhaps you think I’m talking about an organized group of adults in the form of a Homeowners Association (HOA), business society or community federation? I’m not. It’s a group of eighth-graders.

For the past several years, I have been privileged to be a guest speaker in Teacher Brad Gibson’s eighth-grade civics class at Friends School Mullica Hill. I get to spend an hour class giving an overview of local government and how it relates to the state and federal levels; but most of the time is spent addressing questions each student has prepared and sent to me a week in advance. Thank goodness, lol, because I need to prepare. I am always so impressed with the nature and depth of their questions, which serve as a testament to the education they receive and the culture that exists at FSMH.

This year, students Lydia and Ever asked about my weekly routine and how/why I became mayor? Landon wondered if being an Independent changed how I governed? Dylan asked about the eminent domain process and how it applied to the Mullica Hill Bypass project? Gavin wanted to know about any difficult issues facing the town, while Corinne asked about our budget and expenses?

Quick reminder: these are eighth-graders!

Elijah asked what measures we had taken to ensure school safety, while how citizens can reduce gun violence at the local level was on Elle’s mind. Noelle wanted to know what projects we have slated, and Trey asked what we could do to promote growth and development along Main Street? By the way, on my way out, I stopped by to talk with third- and fourth-graders who had questions about recycling. Incredible!

You have to love the unwilted purity that flows “out of the mouths of babes”; we lose that as we age. Lastly, Nathaniel asked how I’ve adjusted in the last decade and if I ever wished that I wasn’t the mayor? I believe in adapting endlessly, Nathaniel, which is why I’ve always loved being the mayor.