Merced council asks young people to meet again

tmiller@mercedsunstar.comNovember 19, 2013 

— Another meeting of young minds will take place in January to mold Merced’s youth council after urging from the City Council this week.

Council members voted unanimously Monday to hold another meeting of the youth task force, this time asking specific questions of panel members and other young people.

Councilman Tony Dossetti said the first meeting established that young people want to be involved in the city decisions that affect them, but many questions remain unanswered. “I’d like to see a proposal that articulates the role of the youth council, and what they want to see,” Dossetti said.

He also said “there were way too many adults weighing in” during the first meeting.

Of the 57 people attending the Nov. 2 meeting, 21 were of high school age. However, only 18 young people voted on the best way for their peers to be heard by the City Council. The youth council idea received the most votes with five.

“It had the most votes, but it was clearly not a majority of the votes,” said city spokesman Mike Conway, who was present to run the meeting.

Some other ideas that received votes included polling at area schools, the appointment of youth delegates and organizing a game night with members of the City Council, among other ideas.

Adults at the forum were allowed to vote, but their count was kept separate from the youths’ tally. The youth council idea also got the most adult votes with five.

Mayor Stan Thurston said the next meeting will need to make some basic youth council-related determinations, such as the age limits for members, the selection process, number of members, and frequency of meetings.

Thurston said there are two “inflexible” attributes of the youth council: It would answer directly to City Council, and it would be run by young people.

Merced has been without a youth council since 2009.

The Merced City Council in October established a youth task force made up of five adults and seven high school-age locals. The panel has been charged with setting up the framework for a youth council. At a budget meeting in June, the council set aside $25,000 for such a panel, which could recommend uses for the money. The City Council, however, would have the final say.

Councilwoman Mary-Michal Rawling said the youth council should be vocal about long-term planning in Merced, and make recommendations on annual budget spending. “We certainly get recommendations from other commissions that we have set in place in the city,” she said.

Aside from policy issues, Rawling said, a youth council could raise awareness about social issues their peers face.

Councilman Josh Pedrozo said the City Council needs to set parameters of what is expected in the youth council, as opposed to leaving all up to the youngsters. Without that direction, he said, the young people at the meetings won’t know why they are there.

“You have to educate on what’s important, why it’s important and what it is that (councils) actually do,” Pedrozo said.

He recommended monthly meetings at Merced high schools for the youth council, and he encouraged student leaders to search out the next generation of youth council members.

The exact date of the January meeting has yet to be announced.

Sun-Star staff writer Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or tmiller@mercedsunstar.com.

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