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Youth should get chance to participate in local politics

More often than not, in any level of government, the people who run for and assume public office do not come from the teen-to-20-something crowd.

This probably stems from a number of reasons, from a lack of interest on the part of the youth to a lack of experience in civic affairs, either of which could preclude young, energetic citizens from seeking public office.

This in turn could create the false perception among citizens that young adults are not ready to handle the demands of public office and the diverse concerns of citizens.

Ultimately, this could leave Crook County and other communities throughout the country with a large sect of apathetic young people who either don’t care or don’t believe that they can make a difference.

That should not happen and doesn't have to happen if community leaders work together with young citizens and engage them in the process early. Such an effort is under way between a group of motivated and civically engaged Crook County High School students and the Prineville City Council.

The two groups are considering the creation of a youth advisory council that would plug high school students into city government. While they wouldn’t have a final vote on any city business, they could sit on city committees, participate in council discussions, and provide their unique perspective on the issues the city faces.

We applaud the students for their proactive approach to launching this potential committee and hope that it is only the beginning of students taking an interest in, and role in, local government. This doesn’t have to be limited to city government. The Crook County Court and its departments could very well benefit from the input of the younger population. So could the local school board, parks and recreation district, and other public bodies.

Prineville Mayor Betty Roppe hopes that the collaboration they are trying to form would not only bring diversity to the decisions the city makes, but prompt young citizens to consider local government once they are eligible to run for office. Just because few young adults run for office, doesn’t mean they are not able and ready to handle the job. Many bright individuals graduate from Crook County High School. Why not make civic service an option? Who knows what the community could miss out on if potential young leaders rule out local government because of a disconnect between students and elected officials.

Of course, with any collaborative effort between students and professionals, the city must find a way to make the process engaging and worthwhile for teens. City Councilor Steve Uffelman expressed concerns that students may not participate if the program is not set up properly. He’s right. Any student and local government partnership, city or otherwise, should take time and attention to details to function properly.

Hopefully, this idea sees the light of day and spawns similar actions among other local government entities. Let’s help the future leaders get an early start and hopefully reap some rewards in the process.

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