Dayton students get Government 101 lesson from county judge

Liberty County Judge Jay Knight talks to members of the Dayton Chamber of Commerce's Student Ambassador Program following commissioners court on Tuesday. Knight gave a brief overview of county government.

Dayton High School juniors and seniors in the Dayton Chamber of Commerce’s student ambassador program got a first-hand look at how county government works by attending a meeting of the Liberty County commissioners court on Tuesday.

During the one-hour meeting, the student ambassadors watched commissioners approve monthly bills for the county and discuss an interlocal agreement with the City of Cleveland for a future fire station on the SH 105 bypass.

Afterward, they met with County Judge Jay Knight on the steps of the courthouse to hear him explain the basics of county government. He explained the purpose of commissioners court and how his position, as county judge, allows him a swing vote to break ties.

He explained how his correspondence as county judge and the correspondence of other county employees, whether by email or letter, is subject to the Freedom of Information Act, so preserving the integrity of the documents is imperative and required by law.

Knight addressed an issue that receives a lot of complaints in Liberty County — the property tax rate — and explained how ad valorem taxes are assessed on real estate and personal property. Though the county’s tax rate has remained unchanged for the last five years, property values have increased, causing property owners to see bigger tax bills.

He then explained some of the major differences between county versus city leadership.

“In a city like Dayton, the city is run by a city manager and city council,” he said, adding that the city manager is a paid position while council and mayor positions are typically unpaid.

County leadership positions are salaried because they are full-time jobs and have a greater scope of work than unpaid city council positions, according to Knight.

The students attended the meeting with Pam Huggins, Career and Technology Education director for Dayton High School, and Paula Moorhaj, director of the Dayton Chamber of Commerce and the Dayton Community Center.

Moorhaj believes the meeting was an important experience for the student ambassadors.

“I think it’s important to teach our youth about opportunities within the community for their future, so they can go to college, come back afterward and be our leaders for tomorrow,” Moorhaj said. “If we don’t take them to things like this, then they might not be aware of the opportunities in our own community.”

The chamber leader said the students had limited knowledge of county government prior to the meeting but walked away with a better understanding.

“I wish someone would have sat me down and explained all this when I was their age,” said Knight afterward.

Dayton High School students who are part of the Dayton Chamber of Commerce’s Student Ambassador Program are pictured with County Judge Jay Knight, Chamber Director Paula Moorhaj and Pam Huggins, Career and Technology Education director for Dayton High School. Pictured left to right are (front row) Cherokee Johnson, Ruben Aguilar Jr., Kaynah Cox, County Judge Jay Knight; (second row) Jennyfer Trevino, Savannah Lee; (third row) Carolina Tinajero, Bryan Rodriguez, Raven Howes, Paula Moorhaj; (fourth) Pam Huggins, Melissa Lobo, Kayla Moorhaj and Johnny Hoy.

By Vanesa Brashier,

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Before creating Bluebonnet News in 2018, Vanesa Brashier was a community editor for the Houston Chronicle/Houston Community Newspapers. During part of her 12 years at the newspapers, she was assigned as the digital editor and managing editor for the Humble Observer, Kingwood Observer, East Montgomery County Observer and the Lake Houston Observer, and the editor of the Dayton News, Cleveland Advocate and Eastex Advocate. Over the years, she has earned more than two dozen writing awards, including Journalist of the Year.

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