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City Council considers creating Youth Leadership Council

Goal of the youth council would be to give high school-age residents a voice in the city government


BUCKThe City Council is preparing to move forward on one of the projects established at its 2016 goal-setting retreat: the creation of a Lake Oswego Youth Leadership Council as a way to encourage youth participation in the civic process.

The idea to establish a Lake Oswego youth council began with City Councilor Joe Buck, who said he attended national League of Cities conferences and was impressed by the work of the youth delegates that were sent from other cities. Several Portland-area cities feature youth councils composed of high school-age local teens, but Lake Oswego has been an exception.

“What’s good for the youth is good for the city,” Buck told The Review. “We have a 50+ advisory board — we listen to the senior population, to people interested in parks, natural resources, transportation. We also need to listen to the youth, because our decisions have a lasting impact.”

Buck began looking at nearby city youth councils to see if one could serve as a model for Lake Oswego. Once the youth council was added to the 2016 goals, City Councilor Jackie Manz and Assistant City Manager Megan Phelan joined the search. The group eventually settled on the Happy Valley Youth Council as the best example.

MANZ“We started out kind of fishing around for what sort of model would work for us,” Manz said. “We at first thought perhaps it would be a little more fluid, not quite as formalized with the one we ended up with. But I am absolutely delighted with where we’re at and the fact that we’re moving forward. I can’t wait to see who we’re going to get and how we’re going to move forward.”

Happy Valley Youth Council members Alexandra Mahler and Cassidy Scruggs were invited to address the LO City Council last week, along with Steve Campbell, Happy Valley’s director of community services and public safety, who helped found the council in 2010. Several other Happy Valley Youth Council members sat in the audience.

“If you really ask teenagers the questions, they have tons of ideas that they think can improve the city,” Mahler told the council. “So giving them a youth council is giving them a chance to speak and giving them a voice when sometimes it’s not heard.”

The Happy Valley council hosts an annual youth town hall meeting and organizes campaigns focusing on issues that affect teens, such as alcohol abuse and anti-bullying. The representatives also told the Lake Oswego council about a recent campaign to raise awareness among teens about the dangers of distracted driving, which led to a sponsorship from State Farm insurance.

“They’ve really lessened the impact on the City’s budget because of the partnerships they’ve formed,” said Campbell. “A lot of people like to help the youth of the community and they show that in financial support.”

Lake Oswego Mayor Kent Studebaker asked if the Happy Valley council ever had trouble finding enough applicants to fill its 11 slots, and questioned whether a similar program could be run through the school system. The representatives responded that they consistently had more applicants than open positions, and a high level of interest.

“There’s a possibility for you to do these activities in school,” Scruggs said, “but we find that with the help of the city, that it has more of an impact on the students.”

“People like to attend it when it’s not at the school sometimes,” Mahler added. “It’s kind of a different scenery.”

Lake Oswego’s youth council would initially be limited to five positions, but it could grow in subsequent years if more students show interest. Buck also noted that the Happy Valley council began with far fewer members, but quickly expanded.

The City Council is tentatively scheduled to vote at its July 5 meeting on a resolution to formally create a youth council, and then spend the summer recruiting applicants for the program. Manz said the selection process will encourage diversity by ensuring that both upper and lower classmen are represented, as well as teens who do not attend one of the city’s two main high schools. In subsequent years, the youth council would be responsible for selecting its own new members.

“The thought is to recruit over the summer and look at finalizing the recruitment process sometime in September or October,” Manz said. “Not immediately after school starts because everyone is a little busy at the beginning of the school year, but shortly thereafter.”

The program is anticipated to have a financial cost and require city staff to put in time to maintain, although the necessary staff time is expected to decrease once the council is established. In a report to the City Council, Phelan also recommended that the City set aside $5,000 to serve as discretionary spending for the council’s first year.

The report includes a draft leadership handbook for future youth council members, but many of the specifics of the council — such as meeting format and goals — are left for the future members to decide.

“We laid out just a skeleton of what the council is going to be like,” Buck said, “and we want to engage the first members of that youth council 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.”

Contact Anthony Macuk at 503-636-1281 ext. 108 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..