WL youth board votes to remove Cummings
Tension surrounding the West Linn High School parking issue boiled over at the most recent Youth Advisory Council (YAC) meeting April 4, as the group voted 7-2 in favor of removing Teri Cummings as its City Council liaison.
Created in 2016, the YAC is a City-sanctioned advisory board made up of 10-to-20 high school students who are appointed each academic year. The group advises the City Council on issues that affect the city's younger population — and in late 2017 and early 2018 that meant taking an extensive look at solutions to the student parking problem near West Linn High School.
The YAC appeared at a March 5 City Council work session to present its proposal to modify the residential parking zone — which has existed on most streets near the high school for the last 20 years — to allow for public parking on one side of each street in the zone.
At the YAC's next meeting April 4, group members felt Cummings spoke for too long and violated a City Council rule prohibiting councilors from "attempting to lobby or influence boards, commissions and committees."
"(Cummings) said she wanted to clarify remarks she made at the (March 5 City Council) meeting," said WLHS junior Noah Juarez, who made the motion to remove Cummings as liaison. "It turned into her — we thought — attempting to lobby us ... (suggesting) maybe we leave our proposal behind and move on.
"It definitely felt, the way she was speaking, that she was attempting to sway our opinions for how we should move forward."
Cummings said she was surprised by the vote.
"No one gave me any warning," she said. "There was no surprise among the students. It looked like they had already made their mind up. ... Even though there were two dissenting votes, there was no discussion about the pros and cons of doing something like that."
Cummings added that when she spoke to the students at the April 4 meeting, she was simply asking if they would join a task force the City hopes to form to further evaluate the parking problem.
"They were upset with me for inviting them to join a broader committee of people with all different perspectives on this," Cummings said. "It's surprising that they didn't understand that meant we're still in the process (of making a decision). They said they think the council has made up their mind, and they didn't want me to be a liaison because they thought I had made up my mind, along with the rest of the council."
Juarez said part of the YAC's frustration also stemmed from what they perceived as Cummings' lack of familiarity with their proposal.
"She didn't seem to have read through it, because we had to clarify almost every part of it," Juarez said. "So we felt like she didn't really know what we were requesting, and that alone was frustrating because we worked so long to come to a proposal."
Juarez added that YAC members have at times sensed a lack of respect from city councilors — perhaps because of their age.
"We've always been a little frustrated with the councilors — definitely I did and I can speak for a few other members," Juarez said. "They were speaking a little condescending to us, and not taking us as seriously as they should. But I definitely noticed it more with Councilor Cummings ... it wasn't just this most recent incident."
Cummings said those feelings are misplaced.
"They say, 'We don't think you're taking us seriously because we're kids,' and I said, 'No, that's not it at all. You guys are very important, and we understand this is a difficult situation for you,'" Cummings said. "We're just trying to figure out what we can do to help, and the kids are frustrated. And we're frustrated too."
The day after the vote, Cummings sent a letter to the City Council asking how to move forward. City Council liaisons to advisory boards are chosen by the mayor and approved by the council. Cummings said further action has not taken place since she sent the letter.
"It would need to be on an upcoming meeting agenda," Cummings said. "Our schedules have been pretty booked."
For the time being, however, Cummings said she won't attend YAC meetings.
"They seem to be upset, and I don't want to upset them any more," Cummings said. "I saw what they were doing as their way of voicing their opinion."
Mayor Russ Axelrod said he would bring up the issue with the council at some point in the near future.
"I'd like to insert myself in process, work with the youth council a little, get things back on track and get them engaged and excited," Axelrod said. "I don't know all of the details (about the vote), but know enough that I think I can help ... I think it's really important that the youth council is engaged and interested and working on things they want."