Area high school students see county government up close

Friday, March 13, 2009
Saline County Sheriff Wally George talks to area high school students Wednesday, March 11, during the annual American Legion-sponsored County Government Day. (Sydney Stonner/Democrat-News)

Students from Marshall, Sweet Springs and Malta Bend high schools sat in a courtroom at Saline County Courthouse Wednesday, March 11, not to be tried or sentenced, but to learn. At Government Day, sponsored by the American Legion, they heard about the role of county government from various county officials.

Sheriff Wally George spoke to his audience about how the economy affects his work. In a bad economy, more people are unable to pay their bills, he said, which means more work for his deputies serving papers in civil suits. George also discussed the extradition process.

"Some of you all are going to be working out there in government," Judge Hugh Harvey said to the students. He told them about his work in probate court, dealing with the administration of estates.

Circuit Court Clerk Sharon Crawford explained her role as record-keeper for the circuit court. She told students they would also see her to apply for a passport.

Moving aside the Missouri flag hanging in the courtroom, Crawford showed students a hole in the wall that judges used to use to communicate with clerks in their offices one floor below.

"If you see me, it's probably not a good thing," Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Joby Raines said to the students.

He discussed his role in prosecuting those who break the law and warned students of crimes frequently committed by others their age. Raines cautioned against underage drinking and "sexting," a common practice among teens of sending nude pictures via text messages.

County Assessor Margaret Pond told how her office is responsible for assessing the value of property in the county. She explained to students about the process for licensing a car, which requires paperwork from the assessor's office.

County Clerk Ken Bryant, who also acted as the emcee of Government Day, emphasized the importance of voting, though he said voter registration is not all his office does.

"If you don't like somebody telling you how to run your life, the best thing you can do is register to vote," Bryant said.

The county clerk also determines what portions of collected taxes go to different parts of the county, he said. Bryant showed maps of different county districts like schools, roads and ambulances.

Treasurer Sam Jones told students that, in his position, he managed the county's income of $18 million last year.

Tara Vogelsmeier, county auditor, encouraged students to become informed about their government.

"Know your elected officials," she said. "They make a lot of decisions that are affecting your life."

Recorder of Deeds Jamie Nichols called her office the "happy office" because it's where people go for marriage licenses and genealogical records.

Mary Toliver, public administrator, said many people "have no clue" what her job entails. She told students that her office works with wards, people who are unable to do certain things for themselves, and their guardians or conservators who take care of their affairs.

She asked students to "be safe" because "I don't want to be your guardian."

The final county officials to speak in the morning session of Government Day were Northern District Commissioner Norvelle "Brownie" Brown and Southern Commissioner Richard "Dick" Hassler.

Hassler first thanked veterans and the American Legion for serving their country. He then noted that, though commissioners are in charge of the county's budget, they are not in charge of other county employees.

Brown mentioned that commissioners also oversee many of the county's roads.

After listening to county officials in the morning, students went to Missouri Valley College for lunch. In the afternoon, they heard from Judge Dennis Rolf.

Contact Sydney Stonner at

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