An academy for citizens

Published 10:51 pm Thursday, September 11, 2014

Constitutional officers in the commonwealth are a bit of a mystery, even to natives of Virginia. Why are the sheriffs of the commonwealth’s cities and counties elected? What exactly is the job of the commissioner of the revenue? They are questions that even those who have grown up in Virginia sometimes have a hard time answering.

For the past couple of years, Suffolk Commonwealth’s Attorney Phil Ferguson has sought to help small groups of people get to know their constitutional officers — and their duties — a little bit better. A Citizens’ Academy aims to answer many of the most perplexing questions, while providing its participants information that will make them safer and more engaged in their communities.

The third installment of the series of classes is set to begin Sept. 25. The group will meet Tuesdays and Thursdays, except Oct. 9, through Oct. 30.

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Participants will hear from all of Suffolk’s constitutional officers — the commonwealth’s attorney, the sheriff, the clerk of court, the commissioner of the revenue and the treasurer.

Ten employees of Ferguson’s office will give overviews and answer questions about their duties, including members of the violent crime, general crime and juvenile and domestic relations teams, the chief investigator, victim/witness services and community outreach.

Ferguson himself will speak, and his constitutional office counterparts will also lead the last two class sessions, with a courthouse tour by Sheriff Raleigh Isaacs.

Ferguson said what citizens learn in the academy could be helpful to them in avoiding becoming crime victims.

Learning about the different resources available in the court clerk’s office, how the sheriff helps keep the city safe and how the treasurer and commissioner of revenue work together to keep the city’s financial house in order is also helpful, Ferguson said.

When the classes are over, participants still might not be able to say why Virginia’s sheriff’s are elected — other than to note that the system is enshrined in the state’s constitution — but they are sure to be more informed about the matter than the majority of their neighbors. And the knowledge they gain might help them make their communities safer.

Applications can be obtained by calling 514-4379 or visiting Applicants must pass a background check.