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Area students get firsthand look at county government

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HARTINGTON — How old is the oldest record in Cedar County? What do the county commissioners do? What’s the difference between the district and county courts?

More than 100 high school juniors spent last Wednesday at the Cedar County Courthouse for County Government Day to learn these things and more.

Students from Laurel-Concord-Coleridge, Hartington-Newcastle Public, Cedar Catholic, and Wynot schools had the opportunity to see firsthand how their local government works in the program sponsored by the American Legion.

“I hope they realize how much the government offers them,” said James Kaiser, teacher at Cedar Catholic High School. “There were bits and pieces of each part that they thought were pretty interesting. And, I feel like I learned stuff, too.”

Students broke into groups and were guided into informational tours of the courthouse including stops at the sheriff’s office and also the county commissioners’ meeting room with Commissioners Craig Bartels and Chris Tramp on hand to answer questions.

Students also heard presentations from the Nebraska State Patrol and the National Guard.

The day culminated with a mock trial in the Cedar County district courtroom in which the fictional Vegan Val, played by Sally Opfer of the Cedar County Attorney’s Office, faced charges stemming from a break-in at the Bobby “Bugs” Benson’s Bunny Barn.

Through the humorous mock proceedings, students learned about the role of the judge, prosecutor, defender’s office and the procedures of an actual trial.

Che Cameron and Aida Lammers of Hartington-Newcastle School agreed that the mock trial was the best part of the day.

The duo also enjoyed hearing from the county’s road superintendent, Carla Schmidt.

She showed students a device used for studies on intersections that records traffic data such as direction of travel, type of vehicle and speed.

“They were intrigued by some of the speeds we have recorded,” Schmidt said.

While some information was more interesting than others, all of it was helpful, Lammers said.