Wednesday afternoon, interns from Councilman Kriss Worthington’s office took over Berkeley City Council chambers to present and debate 21 items they researched and wrote this summer.
The agenda was a preview into some of what will come out of Worthington’s office this fall; topics ranged from a proposal to set up an annual review for the city manager, to a referral on socially responsible banking and a suggestion on how to include more Cal group housing residences in the “campus district” under discussion by the council in its plans for redistricting.
The mock council meeting was also a way to give interns some hands-on experience with how city government works, said Worthington staffer Alejandro Soto-Vigil. This summer, 17 people took part in the internship program, which has taken place throughout Worthington’s 16-year tenure.
“We believe in supporting the next generation,” said Soto-Vigil on Thursday. “If you’re going to pass on the torch from the baby boomers, the next generation needs to know how the system works.”
Interns began the process of crafting their agenda items earlier this summer with an idea about a problem in Berkeley that could be improved. While many of the proposals on Wednesday’s agenda came from community members or other suggestions, Worthington said some of the ideas were conceptualized by the students themselves. The interns then researched the problems and came up with draft agenda items. After getting feedback from Worthington’s staff, such as about how to adjust language so as to make proposals more palatable and more likely to win support, the interns came up with their final policy proposals, which they presented Wednesday.
Worthington said he hopes the program, and the mock council event in particular, empowers his interns at every level.
“It’s a lesson in how to actually take an idea and turn it into a policy,” he said. “We want them to learn how to edit their items to be practical enough that it’s not just an idealistic idea, but that it’s a practical policy that somebody, perhaps everybody, on the city council would vote for. We’ve heard from many of the people who participated over the years that it was a very affirming experience to be sitting in the same seats where city council members sit, and getting to be there and getting to vote and getting to advocate for their positions. We’re teaching people multiple skills in terms of how to get things done.”
Worthington said many of his interns this summer attend Cal, two are high-school students, and others come from other University of California campuses around the state. His office generally has five to 10 interns in the fall and spring, and a larger group in the summer. This summer’s group has been the largest yet, he added. (Some members of the internship program were not able to attend the mock council meeting due to other obligations, but their peers presented their proposals for them.)
In addition to the mock council event, interns have a range of other responsibilities, from office management and constituent services, to policy research, community organizing and more.
“Many of our interns go on to serve on city commissions, forge partnerships with local groups, and be actively involved in government later on in their lives,” said Soto-Vigil, via email.
Worthington intern Jennifer Welden, a Richmond native who is studying political science at UC Berkeley, said highlights from the internship included writing memos and presenting them in front of different city committees, and learning to deal with critiques on the fly.
Welden, a 19-year-old El Cerrito High grad who now lives in Berkeley, said she’s interested in perhaps getting a job in government down the line, and may aim for a position in Washington, D.C., next summer.
“This definitely just heightened my interest in working in government,” she said. “I don’t know on what level yet, but I definitely think I’m on the right track now that I’ve done this.”
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