Dozens of local students filled a meeting hall within the Santa Fe Building Monday, as a means of gaining a feel for the inner workings of county governance.

In accordance with its annual Government Day initiative, the Potter County Commissioners’ Court conducted its regular meeting before an audience comprised of students representing Amarillo High School, Bushland High School, Caprock High School, Highland Park High School, Palo Duro High School, Highland Park High School, River Road High School, Tascosa High School, Holy Cross Academy and San Jacinto Christian.

The students observed the Commissioners’ meeting, which was followed by an interactive exchange between the elected officials and their dutiful guests.

“Your Commissioners’ Court is comprised of five members,” Potter County Precinct 2 Commissioner Mercy Murguia said. “We are elected in precincts. Some people call those districts or you can think of them like quadrants, if you will. Often county government is described as the closest arm of government to the people, because we live in that area. We live in that precinct and my footprint is predominantly east and northeast Amarillo. A fun fact about Precinct 2, in particular, is 100 percent of my precinct is in the city. So, obviously I am watching what the city council is doing. I challenge you all to attend meetings and participate in the process. I encourage you to be involved, because everybody wants to find a way to get you all to the table.”

Following the meeting and Q & A session, the students, accompanied by staff from their respective schools, had lunch with Potter County elected officials and continued the session with interaction with other county personnel during the afternoon.

“Participating in Government Day has allowed me to learn more about our local city and county governments and how their decisions impact my life and the lives of others,” Amarillo High School senior Barek Bentley said. “I posed questions regarding the city’s downtown revitalization project and as a homeless advocate, I wanted to see what their thoughts were on that matter. It’s important for my generation to be engaged and determine ways to become connected to the process.”

Bentley, 18, who plans to attend the University of Texas-Dallas after graduation and study Information Technology, said a growing source of concern is the lack of participation in the electoral process among those in his peer group.

“The younger generation does not vote,” he said. “As a citizen just turning 18 a year ago, I feel it is my responsibility to be informed and go to the polls and vote. It’s been a great way to be proactive and interact with my local government.”

But Bentley said there needs to be a concerted effort to gain self-awareness with regard to visiting the polls.

“The primary hindrance is we don’t recognize how powerful our voice is as a potential voter block,” he said. “If you look at the recent student walkout movements, whether you agree with it or not, our generation is starting to wake up and realize elected officials not only represent our parents and grandparents, but us as well. We’re too focused on other distractions and aren’t armed with enough knowledge about the inner workings of our government. I feel education will increase our participation.”