CivicLex encourages students to get involved in municipal government | News
CivicLex, a civic engagement organization based in Lexington, is trying to involve more citizens in city government. CivicLex believes that government problems start within communities and spread across the country. To make big changes, they encourage citizens to start small.
The primary purpose of CivicLex is to “facilitate involvement in civic issues in Lexington”. Founded in 2017, CivicLex has grown from being primarily an information center to hosting events for citizens to learn about and engage with municipal government.
Megan Gulla, director of programs at CivicLex, explained that the progression of the organization was like any other – growing as they got older.
“It started out as more of a simple civics organization…Over the years, we kind of realized that it’s one thing to provide people with information,” Gulla said. “It’s another thing for people to use this information.”
Gulla attributes most of CivicLex’s success to its three-pronged approach – civic education, relationship building, and civic transformation. Through these avenues, CivicLex has held different events across Lexington, some aimed directly at student participation on the UK campus.
Since the start of the COVID pandemic, Lexington City Council committee meetings have moved online. The UK Student Activities Board has partnered with CivicLex to host a weekly City Council Watch Party on Tuesday evenings, led by Gulla.
At these watch parties, Gulla usually begins by encouraging students to get involved in city government. She thinks student voices aren’t always heard by Lexington City Council members.
“I think a lot of people in Lexington only think of the students because, you know, they’re just temporary here, and that’s not always the case,” she said. “The city also recognizes the value of students and is thinking about how to retain students.
At-Large board member Richard Maloney wants to keep the students long-term. Early in his career, Maloney was the youngest council member to ever pass through Lexington. He is now one of the oldest.
To give young people a reason to stay in Lexington, Maloney wants to create more local jobs. A strong proponent of trade schools, he pointed out his dissatisfaction with Fayette County’s current school systems.
US News and World Report ranks Kentucky 33rd in the nation for quality of K-12 education. Maloney speaks in high tones of anger when discussing the fact that Fayette County doesn’t even rank among the top 10 counties for education in Kentucky.
“When I was in high school, everyone wanted to go to college. Now there are too many fucking accountants, there are no more mechanics and the school has to get back to the trades”, a- he declared.
After expressing his disgust with the current state of Fayette County’s school systems, Maloney highlighted his involvement with the UK to show he cares about the opinions of young people. From working with the agriculture department to individual teachers, he said he wanted to be involved with everyone. He wants to rebuild the bridge between the city council and university students.
“We need children, we need the future. I was the youngest council [member] never; I was having one-on-one with a lot of these old people at the time,” he said. “Now that I’m older, I still rely on what I’ve learned from the younger generation because they are the future. Without their help, we will accomplish nothing.
CivicLex aims to bring the issues of Lexington residents to the minds of their representatives. Gulla feels that the support CivicLex garners for the council is reciprocated through the council’s involvement with citizens. She suggests that all young people get involved, either through CivicLex or directly through local government.
Due to Lexington’s size, it is easy to create changes within the system. All it takes is time and discussion. Gulla and Maloney both advocate for greater student involvement in government, with Gulla urging students to reach out to city council members.
“You have to understand they’re right there,” Gulla said. “They’re people. You can schedule a meeting with them and talk in their office. They’re just people doing their jobs. It’s easier than you think to get involved.