Giving Lake Oswego's youth a voice
New Youth Council is designed to engage young people in City business, and its 10 members are eager to get started
Lake Oswego's Youth Council held its inaugural meeting at City Hall last week, giving the 10 members of the City's newest commission a chance to develop bylaws and work on establishing goals for the coming year.
"Our main goal is to morally educate the youth in our community," council spokeswoman Brooke Baker said after the meeting, "as well as to give the youth of Lake Oswego a voice that will be heard."
The idea for a Youth Council was originally proposed at the City Council's goal-setting retreat in January as a way to foster greater youth engagement in the community. Over the past year, Councilors Joe Buck and Jackie Manz have worked with Assistant City Manager Megan Phelan and Sustainability Analyst Jenny Slepian to develop the concept and interview an initial round of candidates.
"We laid out just a skeleton of what the council is going to be like," Buck told The Review in June, "(but) we want the first members to really lay out the rules of the council — what their mission is going to be, what their goals are going to be. We want them to play a big role in developing the council themselves."
The group was originally envisioned as a five-member body that could expand in the future, but Buck says City officials were overwhelmed by the number of enthusiastic applicants. The group will therefore start with 10 members right out of the gate — enough to fill all of the councilor and staff seats in the City Council chamber.
The initial councilors are Annie Choo, Renee Kozlowski, Sebastian Marin-Quiros, Michael Murray, Kyle Langford, Rhys Richmond, Isabelle Cullen, River Smith, Jensen Kaelin and Brooke Baker. The group includes representatives from Lakeridge, Lake Oswego, Riverdale and Jesuit high schools, and Slepian says home-schooled students were also interviewed.
City staff selected the first councilors, but the youth council will choose its own new members in subsequent years.
Buck says City officials were initially concerned that the applicants would be primarily high school seniors, forcing the council to essentially restart next year with mostly new members. But in another welcome surprise, the initial group features a mix of grade levels; seven of the 10 councilors are underclassmen who will be able to stay with the group beyond the first year.
The new councilors have already gotten to know each other at a series of unofficial meetings, but last week was their first opportunity to sit down and discuss plans for their bylaws and procedures.
After a crash course in parliamentary procedure from Buck, the council held an introductory meeting with Lake Oswego Police Chief Don Johnson. One of the biggest issues discussed was the use of drugs in high schools and ways the police and council can work together to discourage it.
Councilors also told Johnson they'd like to see more speed enforcement days at the high schools. And Richmond asked what the council and LOPD could do to better combat the issue of cyberbullying, citing the recent controversy over racist comments on a school Facebook group.
The discussion also focused on ways in which the police department can become more connected with the youth of Lake Oswego, and Johnson told council members to keep an eye out for opportunities to develop a mentorship program.
"We're looking as much as you are for ways to get involved," he said.
The council then turned its attention to developing a constitution based on discussions in prior meetings. Inclusiveness was a major theme — the council will feature two chair and three vice-chair positions, but co-chair Cullen stressed that the group intended to make sure every voice is heard.
"We're all equal members on this council," she said, "with equal opinions."
The council also unanimously approved a suggestion by Murray that the group consider inviting a City or community leader to speak at each meeting, similar to the discussion the group had with Johnson.
After some discussion, the group settled on its motto for the first year: "To open up channels of discussion, inspire action, and advocate for youth in our community." The group agreed that the motto could be changed each year to reflect the goals of the new council.
The meeting lasted for more than two hours, and afterwards Buck reiterated his enthusiasm for the group, saying he was impressed at both the size of the group and the councilors' dedication and engagement.
"They're taking the responsibility very seriously," he said.
The council will meet on the first Wednesday of each month. In January, the group will focus on a review of a draft constitution that will be created based on last week's discussion.