One of the goals Stacy Butterfield set out to pursue when she became the current Clerk of the Court and County Comptroller following the retirement of Richard Weiss was to forge a stronger bond between her office and Polk County Public Schools.
That goal was advanced several steps these past several weeks when she joined forces with the Junior Achievement program in Polk County, and culminated in part this past Friday, Oct. 4, with a visit to the courthouse by the students in the Business Law class at George W. Jenkins High School.
“One of my goals is to introduce kids — especially high school students — to what government is. They need an awareness about their local government. What it does, what it means,” said Butterfield. “Junior Achievement was a great avenue to partner with.”
Another purpose was preparing them for life beyond high school.
“I’m giving these kids career paths. There are opportunities,” she said. “They need to be prepared, whether in college or in the workplace.”
At the start, Butterfield and eight members of her staff went to George W. Jenkins and its Business Law class taught by Carole Rollins. Going two at a time for one hour per day for four days, they trained in the classroom.
The time spent was an eye-opening experience for all.
“It was a great experience, just to work with the kids one-on-one,” said Cady Cruz, one of the eight members of the clerks office who participated. (Others included Diana Wilkinson, Tina Hill, Deldra Cornelius, Lawanda Perkins, Mike Phelps, Kim Hancock and Iva Turner). Cruz recalled being asked about applying for a job. “They wanted to know what it takes to get your foot in the door. A lot of these kids had no idea.”
“One of the kids was interested in a career traveling the world,” said Mike Phelps. “Another wanted to know how important it was for a firm handshake.”
Of course, the volunteers from the Clerks’ Office had their own questions. Would the students be enthused. After all, even among the youngest on Butterfield’s staff, it had been at least several years since they had been in high school. Turned out the students were very engaged, which was attributed to their teacher, Carole Rollins, who was called awesome by several with the Clerks Office.
However, the tour got off to a slow start as the students did not arrive until nearly 10 a.m., 30 minutes behind schedule. Following an introduction by Butterfield, who also gave them an overiew of the Clerks Office, students toured several areas of the courthouse.
The first stop was the jury room, where the process of how one is selected to serve was explained. Afterward, Polk County Sheriff’s Office Court Security Lt. Petote explained aspects of the need for safety. Approximately 70,000 to 80,000 people on average enter the courtroom each month; last year that totaled 1,496,000. That also included courthouse employees.
“It’s almost a little city,” said Petote, who added that like a city, there are events such as medical emergencies. On a couple of occasions, there have almost been births. “A lot of things go on at this level.”
Among those “things” are the variety of weapons that have been seized. There was an audible reaction when Petote opened a glass-encased shadow box containing weapons such as switchblade knives, brass knuckles and other devices.
The students also sat in on an actual juvenile court proceeding. During a break in the hearings, they had the opportunity to ask the judge and court bailiff questions. Among questions asked was what did it take to become a judge.
However, what appeared to be of greater interest were tours into two areas in which the public normally is not allowed. The first was the holding area, where prisoners are transported from the jail to holding cells to await their turn to appear in court.
The second tour was the evidence room. Before entering the evidence room, the students were instructed to keep their hands at their sides and not to touch or pick up anything. As they proceeded in single file, evidence of all kinds was present, including a number of firearms. Yet it was when the vault was opened that prompted the most response. The smell of marijuana was overwhelming. Fortunately, following the tour of the evidence room, lunch was next.