Arkansas City Middle School seventh-grader Annicka Hernandez recently visited Topeka as a guest of the League of Kansas Municipalities.

She was the 2017 winner of the League’s essay competition, in which she proposed a city project plan to enact “If I Were Mayor.”

This essay contest is open each year to all seventh-graders in the state. Each student submitted an essay in the form of a typed memo.

Hernandez’s memo highlighted the need for additional sidewalks in Arkansas City.

In particular, her memo addressed the safety of students who walk to school on busy roads that don’t have sidewalks.

“As mayor, I think it would be best for our community to have more sidewalks to ensure the safety of our citizens,” Hernandez wrote.

Annicka goes solo

Annicka Hernandez

Courtesy photo

Hernandez’s father, City Manager Nick Hernandez, was excited that ACMS would participate in the competition.

But when Annicka asked her teacher if they were going to participate, he said no. So she took the initiative to participate on her own.

“Two or three days before the competition ended, I entered,” Hernandez said.

“He didn’t even know that I was writing it until I revised it,” she said of her father.

“I am so proud of my daughter,” said Nick Hernandez.

“She is an amazing young lady and I look forward to seeing what she can accomplish in the future.”

Franchise fees

Annicka chose the sidewalks as her focus for practical reasons.

“I have friends that live close and are always late because their parents don’t get up on time to take them, but if they had sidewalks, they could walk to school,” she said. “I always hear my dad talking about franchise fees and stuff like that.”

Franchise fees are annual fees charged by local government to private companies that provide services such as cable television and internet as compensation for using public property as right-of-way for their cable. Although they are paid to a government, they are not taxes.

The memo Hernandez turned in proposed raising Ark City’s franchise fees by one-half percent to cover the costs of improving the sidewalks.

The first sidewalks she would like to address would be on the most common routes taken by students who walk or ride their bikes to school.

“Then (routes) to grocery stores and after that some of the main roads,” Hernandez said.

Topeka bound

Annicka Hernandez

Courtesy photo

Hernandez was one of six regional winners chosen and she was selected as the overall winner of the competition to represent the entire state.

The other five regional winners of the competition received a cash prize of $125, but she received a $250 cash prize.

The winning memos will be published in the Kansas Government Journal, a publication of the League.

Hernandez and her parents traveled to Topeka on Jan. 24 to receive her award.

“We went to a little business center, where we ate lunch. I went up to the podium and read my memorandum,” she said.

“I don’t really get nervous in front of people. The KAY Club helped me get over that fear.”

Moving forward

The money she received as a prize might go toward the cause of the sidewalks she proposed, Hernandez said.

But there is a process she will have to follow in order to see the project come to fruition.

“I’d have to go to a lot of the commission meetings they have on Tuesday. I’d have to talk to them about what I want to do,” Hernandez said.

“Then I would have to go to school board meetings and tell them why they should support this idea.”

At least one person has no doubt Hernandez can accomplish her goals if she sets her mind to them.

“Since the age of 3, she has come to recognize and observe items which most people … wouldn’t even give a second thought,” said her father.

“I remember her telling me about street lights that needed painting and how the city should fix that pothole.”