New teen forum to seek members soon, city says

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published August 16, 2019

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STERLING HEIGHTS — As a teacher, Sterling Heights resident Jonathan Matthews said he is happy to see city officials’ efforts to make students more motivated, engaged and active in politics and in the community.

“A majority right now, studies have shown of millennials and post-millennials, have this very dystopian view of government as a whole. … But if you ask them questions about government, they say, ‘Well, there’s nothing I can do.’ They feel there’s no way they can effect change,” he said. “And you can change that perception by putting this together.”

Matthews spoke at an Aug. 6 Sterling Heights City Council meeting after the City Council voted to create a Youth Advisory Board. The council passed the motion 6-0, with Councilwoman Maria Schmidt absent.

According to Assistant City Attorney Don DeNault Jr., the advisory board will be set up to accept high school teens, whether they are public, private or home-schooled students. The Community Relations Department will be in charge of handling the application process, which will involve a “media blitz” and an outreach to local school districts. Community Relations Director Melanie Davis is expected to either oversee the group or appoint a designee to do so.

“The goal is to have this up and running really soon,” DeNault said.

The City Council will appoint Youth Advisory Board members to serve for a year, though members who fulfill the requirements may get council reappointments. The teen board members are supposed to meet at least once per month during the school year, as well as have an annual public meeting.

According to DeNault, the advisory board will spend its first year in operation working on a three-year plan for the city, covering various topics. He said the teens could use the experience to study youth initiative programs, as well as the intersections of youth and politics, recreation and more.

“All of those things are certainly on the table, and there’s really no subject that would be off limits for this board to consider and talk about and then prepare a recommendation for the council,” DeNault said.

While the City Council initially heard the teen board idea and voted to introduce it in July,  DeNault said the proposal has had a few tweaks. The new version boosted the board’s maximum size from 15 members to 20. It lowered the minimum requirement for a teen’s academic grade-point average from 3.0 to 2.5, and it altered a quorum to mean one-third of all serving board members, not necessarily one-third of 20.

At the July meeting, city officials said the council had a similar teen advisory board sometime in the 1990s, but the group faded away due to lack of interest. During the Aug. 6 meeting, Mayor Pro Tem Liz Sierawski said she was glad to see the idea resurrected.

“There are so many young people that do want to become involved, and they finally feel that they have a voice,” Sierawski said. “We need to give them that opportunity to use it appropriately and to use it so that it would help us and our community.”  

Councilwoman Deanna Koski also praised the idea. She wanted to know if teen board members might get chances to accompany the mayor at a conference, or if there would be some other incentives to get them to apply. DeNault said those are things that the board can explore or suggest when it convenes.

“Mrs. Koski, you’re sort of creating their very first agenda for them,” he said.

Mayor Michael Taylor said he is very excited about the upcoming panel.

“I certainly am going to be paying very close attention to this board and hope that it produces a lot of great results and helps encourage civic engagement,” he said.

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