City council sees its shadow

Teenagers to solve 'bubble problem' by writing ordinance
by: Marcus Hathcock, The Sandy Shadow Council sits at the council table Monday, Oct. 16, during its first meeting to discuss their 'bubble bill.'

The term 'shadow government' often conjures up conspiracy theories and images of secret organizations plotting world domination.

There's a shadow city council in Sandy - but don't panic. The group - made up of 11 Sandy High School social studies students - doesn't appear to have any dictatorial ambitions. But it does plan to leave a permanent mark on the city.

For the first time in its 12-year history, the joint school/city program gives students the chance to draft an ordinance that most likely will become law in Sandy.

'There's learning about government, and then there's doing it,' said Fred Trosko, the social studies teacher who coordinates the Shadow Council members in class. 'This is a great opportunity for our kids to get in there and grapple around with government and get a first-hand account of it.'

This year's crop of mock civic leaders is larger than ever, City Manager Scott Lazenby said. 'We've never had this many express interest in this,' he said.

So many students volunteered for the program that not everyone could shadow a city councilor. Six of the students will be assigned a councilor. Joshua Logan will shadow Mayor Linda Malone, and Pat Fox works with Lazenby as shadow city manager. The other three students will shadow city department heads.

At a council meeting this summer, Malone said she was tired of seeing bubbles in the city's gateway fountain at the corner of Bluff Road and Highway 26, a prank that takes city staff hours to clean.

Although putting soap in the fountain is already illegal under city code - it's considered criminal mischief - Malone said she would like to see an ordinance on the books that would 'highlight the concern' and create special punishment for the crime. City staff decided this was the right kind of job for the Shadow Council.

Sandy Police Chief Harold Skelton told the teens it was important to move the crime from the state courts into the municipal courts because it would levy a punishment to fit the crime.

'A conviction of criminal mischief - vandalism - could keep a young person from getting certain jobs,' Skelton said. 'It would be a shame to penalize a young person for a five-minute act of stupidity.'

Plus, he added, the adult court system in Oregon City is 'overbooked,' and it's likely that the offender would receive no punishment at all.

'These are the things cities have to deal with,' Trosko said. 'It's not all front-page news all the time. Sometimes there's mundane stuff that has to be dealt with.'

Shadow councilors assembled for their first meeting before the council session Monday, Oct. 6, and listened to a presentation by Lazenby, who gave an overview of the municipal ordinance process and the fountain bubbles problem.

They also took the time to briefly discuss the ordinance, tossing around ideas about the wording of the law and the potential consequences for breaking it. Shadow City Manager Fox said he would distill their preliminary comments into a draft ordinance. 'We'll put it out on the floor and let them tear it apart pretty much,' Fox said.

The Shadow Council is expected to have its ordinance ready and up for a city council vote before the end of the first semester Jan. 25. Trosko also requires each participant to give an informal presentation after every council meeting to relay what happened and what he or she learned. They also have to write a summary report at the end of the semester.

In exchange for their time and effort, Trosko awards the students with extra credit or assignment waivers. 'I make it worth their while,' he said.

'(Students) often do mock United Nations, U.S. Senate where they talk about how to get a bill through Congress, 'Lazenby said. 'This is a real good opportunity to really pass something into law.'

Lazenby told the students they would be 'immortalized' by being a part of the city's permanent record.

Shadow Councilor Chris Wagner says he's thought about a career in politics before, and he's looking forward to the firsthand knowledge he'll receive in the program. 'I've always been interested in government - to know how it all works. I want a better understanding of how laws work and how Sandy works,' Wagner said.

His colleague, Katlyn Spitzengel, doesn't have any political aspirations but just wants 'to be well-educated about … what's going on' in local government. Both students are looking forward to the extra credit, too.

Trosko said he's anxious to see what the students learn over the course of the semester. 'Hopefully they'll feel pretty good about what they do and make a real contribution to Sandy city life.'