Northfield mayor looks to get more teens involved in government

  • Article by: ERIN ADLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 4, 2014 - 3:25 PM

Mayor Dana Graham is proposing a junior city council and student positions on the city’s boards, among others.

Northfield’s mayor, Dana Graham, is looking for some teens who aren’t afraid to shake things up at city hall.

Next week, Graham will present a formal proposal to the City Council detailing his plans to get more youth involved in local government by forming a junior city council, offering summer internships at City Hall and appointing two teens to serve on every board and commission.

It’s all part of an effort to get more “authentic youth civic engagement,” he said, allowing students’ voices to be heard and challenging the city to move in new directions.

Teens are “not afraid to ask why, and that … forces us to defend our position or our approach to something,” he added.

And the move will promote youth leadership and help students build their résumés, he said.

It could also make Northfield a model in the state. “This thing could really turn into something special,” he said.

Like some other cities, Northfield has a Mayor’s Youth Council (MYC) that has existed for six or seven years, Graham said.

The council of 16 high school juniors and seniors has “lost a little direction” over the years, he said, and he wants to give the students the chance to be more actively engaged.

The group is popular — just this year, 50 kids applied for seven open positions, he said. That level of interest convinced him he needed to find a way to allow more kids to be involved.

Graham would like to see the current MYC transition into a junior city council, he said, and include younger students — freshmen and sophomores. Eventually, some students might also serve on a junior school board as well, he said.

Another group of youth would serve on each of the city’s 18 board and commissions, with one able to vote and the other in an ex officio role. On some boards, students wouldn’t be able to vote, but could still be members. Students would also receive mentors.

“With this, Mayor Graham is really saying, ‘We truly want you to have a voice in this and you’ll be treated equally to the adults,’ ” said Erin Hahn a junior and a MYC member.

A third initiative would provide six unpaid internships at City Hall so high school students could learn more about the inner workings of city government and build their résumés, he said.

As someone with an interest in business, Jenna Scheffert, a junior and MYC member, said she’s interested in the city hall internships this summer. “I love that Northfield has this opportunity, as it will really help me when I get older,” she said.

Zach Pruitt, executive director of the Northfield Healthy Community Initiative, said he’s heard a lot of excitement about the ideas. “I generally think young people want to have their voice heard,” he said.

The Healthy Community Initiative provides staff members to work with the MYC, and will also support the new initiatives, Pruitt said.

There may be some issues with having students serve and vote on the boards and commissions, Graham said, especially surrounding “putting these students out on contentious issues … and how they’re going to handle that.”

But that’s no reason not to do it, he said.

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