Sunday, August 31, 2008

More on Youth Commissions

In March 2006, two ordinances were passed forming youth commissions with two different purposes. At an Aug. 26 community forum, mayoral mentor and Assemblyman Jerry Green declared youth involvement a “top priority” of his, apparently unaware of the legislation already on the books. Only one of the commissions received appointed members and only four of 15 possible at that. The commission received and spent public money, although a meeting schedule was never published as required by law.

Now that it is 30 months later and youth involvement has been labeled a top priority, Plaintalker is offering details of the two enabling ordinances so that action may be encouraged. At the time of passage, there was some confusion, as both new groups were called “Plainfield Youth Commission” and one was alternatively called a “youth council.” For that reason, Plaintalker will refer to each by ordinance number.

MC 2006-10 was intended to foster “greater participation of the Plainfield’s youth community in the social, economic and political development of the city” by having youth liaisons working with city boards and commissions. Each board or commission could permit up to two high school students to become non-voting members giving input from the youth perspective.

Requirements:
Youth appointees must be public or private high school students residing in Plainfield.
Terms: One calendar year, maximum three terms.
Written parental consent required.
Application must be filled out based on timelines of each board or commission.
A minimum of two volunteer hours per month required, with a certificate issued each January for hours served.
The commission is to produce an annual report on its activities.

For example, a young person wanting to be a liaison to the Planning Board or Board of Adjustment would most likely have to apply and be appointed in advance of the board’s annual reorganization in January. The land use boards meet monthly and meetings run several hours, but young people need only put in two hours.

The ordinance does not indicate any requirement on meetings of the commission itself nor are there any limitations on numbers of members.

MC 2006- 13 calls for youth participation “in the social, economic and political development of the city” and “encourages its youth to become more involved in Plainfield’s government and political process while improving the civic responsibility of all youth in the city.” The mission is to provide youth input on government policies, recommend and foster initiatives “for and by youth,” and to be a link between Plainfield government and city youth.

The commission is empowered to request a budget of up to $20,000.

Membership was to be as follows:
Fifteen members, 11 being city residents between the ages of 15 and 19 and four from the public at large, ages 21 years or more, seated by mayoral appointment with advice and consent of the City Council. Adults include two City Council members and two at-large from the public. Youth members include two mayoral appointments, seven recommendations from the City Council and two at-large mayoral recommendations. Most terms were to run concurrently with that of the mayor.

Commission members were to advise the mayor and council on youth concerns, based on visits to community centers and other means of eliciting youth input. The commission was to report annually to the mayor and council. Service on the commission was meant to provide young people with experience in the workings of city government and leadership opportunities, among other outcomes.

Only four members were ever appointed to this commission. They were The Rev. Shannon Wright and her two children, as well as Devon Walcott, son of Democratic activist Johnny Walcott. Plaintalker has questioned a budget expense of more than $3,000 incurred one year, despite no public notice of meetings. Councilwoman Linda Carter has been the council liaison.

The administration of Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs, with Green as mentor, took office in January 2006. Both ordinances were passed during a hubbub of activity in March 2006, but obviously there has been little follow-through or even acknowledgement of the intention to involve youth. A close look at the two ordinances reveals flaws, such as a missing portion of MC 2006 -13 on establishment of staggered initial terms. However, they are on the books and provide a matrix for youth involvement. Given that the school year runs from September through June, appointments could be made under MC 2006 – 10 for youth liaisons to serve through December, with reappointments in January.

As for the Youth Commission established by MC 2006- 13, it could be fleshed out with additional members. The mayor’s term ends Dec. 31, 2009, but at least the commission could get going with its purpose to immerse youth in civic education and leadership opportunities. Its current status should be revealed and any past activities should be documented, especially those paid for with public funds.

The school board has had student representatives for several years. They sit in on meetings and are given time to speak at meetings. These links benefit not only the individuals, but the school community at large. Since July 1, new Schools Superintendent Steve Gallon III has also set a precedent of showcasing student talent at board meetings, as a reminder that the district’s 6,600 students are its raison d’etre.

Students also are eligible for summer employment in city offices, where they gain exposure to the workings of government.

Parents or students are welcome to comment here on the Youth Commissions and are encouraged to check with elected officials on how the commissions can be put in working order.

--Bernice Paglia

2 Comments:

Blogger me said...

Out of how many young people in this city, 75% of the MC 2006-13 Commission are from one family??? Does this strike anyone else as inappropriate?

6:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bernice,

The set up of the commission was pure public relations and politics. That is why Shannon Wright and Jonnie Walcott families were put on there. They were big supporters of Robinson-Briggs. The $3,000 that was spent needs to be accounted for. If Councilwoman Carter is the liaison to the commission, she would know how the money was spent. She is a former financial professional so she can force them to give a full accounting if they haven't already.

1:50 PM  

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