City looks to add youth voice

October 3, 2014

By Christina Corrales-Toy

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Newcastle teen leads charge to get peers involved in city government

The Newcastle City Council explored the possibility of adding a youth voice to its government structure at its Sept. 16 regular meeting.

The discussion comes after Newcastle teen James Ricks approached Mayor Steve Buri about the feasibility of creating a youth advisory board to the council.

“I want youth to care about Newcastle,” Ricks said. “Whether that’s evident in service projects, involvement in planning activities or tutoring, I want youth to be involved because they care about the city they live in.”

Ricks met with Buri, City Manager Rob Wyman and Community Activities Liaison Wendy Kirchner in July to hammer out a vision for the city’s youth involvement.

It’s not yet clear how exactly it would look — some suggested a youth spot on the Community Activities Commission, others mentioned a separate youth advisory committee — but all council members agreed there was value in hearing from the city’s adolescents.

“I think it’s terrific when we have young folks that really want to participate and get involved,” Newcastle City Councilman Rich Crispo said.

Buri and Kirchner also talked about somehow partnering with the already established Teen Leadership Board jointly facilitated by the Newcastle Library and the Coal Creek Family YMCA.

A few obstacles remain. For instance, the four-year term that Community Activities Commissioners serve isn’t ideal for a youth representative that will most likely graduate and leave home at some point.

That rule could be changed, though, Buri noted, reducing a youth seat term to one or two years.

Deputy Mayor John Drescher suggested an internship-style appointment, wherein a youth representative would sit in on Community Activities meetings and participate, but not serve as a full-voting member.

Councilwoman Carol Simpson said she was concerned about the length of service requirements and the breadth of students’ involvement, but overall applauded the suggestion.

“Our education system and our youth are the future,” she said. “If we don’t have you sitting in the seats here, finding out about your government and being a part, we are not grabbing the future.”

The discussion was particularly relevant as two vacancies on the Community Activities Commission opened due to term expirations. Longtime Commissioner Angela Ursino and Commissioner Vicki Hupf elected not to continue their service.

Ricks, a junior at Liberty High School, said he’s flexible in how a youth voice is added to the city.

“I think it’s just good to let the youth in our community know that they can make a difference if they feel so inclined,” he said.

The Newcastle City Council made no final decisions on the matter, electing instead to send the issue to the Community Activities Commission for discussion and final recommendation.

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