If counties really are the most invisible of all governments, as the cliche goes, then Hennepin County's new Citizens Academy ought to help shed a little needed light.

The County Board last week approved creation of the academy, which for six to 10 weeks will offer about 30 selected residents an inside look at the range and depth of county-level activity.

"People do not understand what the county does,'' said Commissioner Jan Callison, who sponsored the idea. "It's a great opportunity to communicate better with them."

Numerous cities and suburbs offer academies, often focused on police and fire, to build community relations.

Brooklyn Park holds one for new immigrants, and the Minneapolis FBI office has two a year. Minnetonka and Hopkins are among cities with academies that focus broadly on local government. The Hennepin County Sheriff's Office sponsors a biannual Law Enforcement Academy that covers subjects such as crime lab operations, jail procedures and patrolling.

The academy envisioned by Callison would offer sessions on such county esoterica as solid waste disposal, the medical examiner's office, transportation and public health. Participants might tour county facilities and hear from county officials on how and why things work the way they do in the state's most populous county.

Officials expect mutual benefits. Citizen academies "are a great tool for communicating with citizens about what the county does and for getting feedback from citizens, so that we know what citizens might expect of the county," Callison said recently at a board committee meeting.

County Commissioner Gail Dorfman suggested that a Citizens Academy curriculum could be posted on the county website to broaden education about Hennepin beyond the program's participants.

County Administrator Richard Johnson estimated the academy at first might cost the county $10,000, mainly in staff time.

The county's Public Affairs department is working on putting an academy together for fall. No applications are being taken yet. For more information and updates, watch the county's website at www.hennepin.us/.

Kevin Duchschere • 612-673-4455