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Of, by and for the people -- including teens

FARMINGTON — All politics are local.

In a town hall format crossed with a game show vibe, three local elected officials recently spoke to Farmington High ninth-grade students who asked questions about the city, school district and county government.

Robin Carlson, teacher at Farmington High School, said this civics lesson is a great way to engage students in each of the 10 sections of ninth-grade civics.

"We have the trifecta of trifecta with us today of local officials," Carlson said.

Farmington Mayor Todd Larson, Farmington School Board member Jake Cordes and Dakota County Commissioner Mike Slavik spoke to the students.

Carlson attended college with Slavik and she has built a relationship with Cordes and Larson who have been coming for a few years to chat with students. The three addressed students May 10 and 11.

"I give them a copy of the budgets and we have a Q & A session with the civic students, and the nice thing is these are all local officials and so everything they are saying is local," Carlson said.

Students queried leaders on when the city would see a new sheet of ice, will there be a new city pool or when will Hy-Vee grocery store open in Farmington. Students asked tougher questions based on their personal views of school safety.

"They all prepare questions and prior to them officially coming to learn about local government, they look at the local government and the community profile information and census data for Farmington and from the county," Carlson said.

Admitting they are friends and colleagues, the three elected officials each said they strive to do what is best for the city, school district and county. Each talked about what inspired him to enter government.

Larson shared he has been mayor for 10 years, serving two more years in his fourth term. Larson said he is serving in his last term and may be interested in running for a county commissioner in future years. Prior to becoming mayor, Larson served on Farmington Planning Commission for 13 years.

"Jake Cordes was a ninth-grader sitting in my classroom when he gave his state of class speech after President Bush gave his State of the Union address," Carlson said.

Cordes is serving his sixth year on the School Board; the Farmington native graduated in 2009 from Farmington High School. He decided to run for the board during his senior year of college and was elected at 21 years old.

"I first got interested in politics in high school when we were talking about building a new pool. It was pretty controversial and they ended up forming a committee and had seven residents from the community and they needed a youth perspective," Cordes said.

"For me, it was about giving back to Farmington that has given to me and means so much to me" Cordes said.

"I have always been interested in politics and government and even back in ninth grade I wanted to be the president, and I probably don't want to be president after watching the last election," said Cordes, smiling.

Elected in 2012, Slavik explained he represents Hastings, Farmington and the southern half of county, including 22 cities and townships.

Slavik explained the county oversees a $385 million budget this year with 1,900 employees at the county level. He said more than half the budget comes from social services.

"We are one of eight states where our social services are done at county level and not the state level," Slavik said.

"We try to find innovative ways and follow the law, and also find ways to be more efficient with those dollars and save taxpayers' dollars that way and we make decisions of what quality of life issues are for Dakota County," Slavik added.

Larson said the council looks to partner with the school and county to reduce the cost of doing business. "None of us are doing our jobs for a party, but to make our areas better," he said.

When asked if he will seek a higher office, Cordes said maybe someday but for now he is serving on the School Board and finds this work fulfilling.

Cordes said "For me, it is coming to these kind of events and interacting with students and parents — like last night at the district's art show and seeing all great work you all produce."

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