NORTH PORT — The city of North Port may soon give teenagers the opportunity to voice their opinions on local government issues.
The North Port City Commission unanimously passed a motion to bring back an ordinance establishing a Youth Council at a special meeting Thursday afternoon.
“The youth are our message to the future,” Commissioner Jill Luke said. “You’re putting the future into their hands, so they become our message. The more you can teach them, the more experience you give them, the better.”
Commissioner Vanessa Carusone said a future Youth Council will need to have a staff personnel devoted to overseeing the teens.
The city previously had a Youth Opportunities Advisory Board, which dissolved in 2011 due to lack of membership and attendance at meetings.
Carusone said she witnessed the group succeed for nine years and understands why it ultimately failed. She said a commissioner and a staff personnel were devoted to the board, but once the commissioner left, then the city manager changed and the staff personnel no longer had the opportunity to work with the teens.
“You add all that up and then it floundered, essentially, so in preventing a future outcome as we saw I think that you need to have someone that is with that Youth Board consistently because this (City Commission) changes every two years and we’re not all going to be here in four years or eight years and that’s what happened, is that 2010 I was gone, 2011 the board was gone.”
Commissioner Pete Emrich said some teens on the Youth Opportunities Advisory Board felt like they weren’t doing anything for the city because they would attend meetings and weren’t asked if they’d like to be involved.
“It sort of just ran its course and ran out and it was disappointing for the children,” Emrich said. “I mean, my kids were involved, Vanessa’s kids and numerous kids throughout the community and they looked forward to trying to make change for other students in classrooms. They were gung ho and then it just, it failed.”
Luke said she would like to create a Youth Advisory Council ran by the city manager rather than a Youth Advisory Board ran by the commission, so that the teens are not subject to Sunshine Laws.
Sunshine Laws require certain meetings where officials are discussing public issues and making decisions to be open to the public.
Carusone disagreed with Luke, mentioning that the city’s previous Youth Opportunities Advisory Board was subject to Sunshine Laws.
“I don’t really see what the big deal is with them being in the Sunshine,” Carusone said. “They were in the Sunshine before, some of them were as young as 12 years old. They were trained on Sunshine, they had parliamentary procedure training, there really was not a problem at all.”
Luke said by not subjecting the teens to Sunshine Laws, it would allow them to have discussions on their own.
“I just kind of like the idea if they’re in a school or somewhere in a group, they can talk to each other,” Luke said. “That’s where ideas generate is when they’re outside of their meeting, otherwise they’re bound to the same things that we are and they can’t talk with one another unless they’re in their meeting.”
Mayor Chris Hanks said it would gives teens the opportunity to understand how local government works.
“I would also assume that part of the concept of this is education too,” Hanks said. “Learning these processes and deciding whether or not this is something that they may want to do for the rest of their lives.”
The ordinance will be brought back for commission approval at a future meeting.