Merlene Davis: Youth takeover of council chambers a good thing

Herald-Leader columnistMay 26, 2014 

  • IF YOU GO

    What: Youth in Government Day, a mock Urban County Council meeting conducted by the Mayor's Youth Council.

    When: 10:30 a.m. May 30.

    Where: Council Chambers, Government Center, 200 East Main St.

A group of high school students will take over the city council chambers Friday, and they mean business.

The group, with a designated mayor, vice mayor and 14 council members, will debate and vote on ordinances and resolutions they have devised as part of Youth in Government Day.

The event was conceived as a means of introducing the government process to young people — in this case, members of the Mayor's Youth Council — while familiarizing government officials with the ideas and opinions of young people.

"I am so excited to be able to show the city of Lexington what we are capable of and that we have a voice," said Meghana Kudrimoti, 17, who will serve as mayor. "We are going to be the future of Lexington and carry this on for generations to come."

Meghana came up with the idea of the special day after reading the mission statement for the MYC, which the faux elected officials joined when school started last fall. That statement said the group was formed to open a bridge between youth and the government and release the untapped voice of Lexington's youth, she said.

"That was the one thing we had not addressed," she said. "I was thinking about what we could do to fulfill that."

Meghana met her council representative, Harry Clarke, 10th District, and asked how the youth could be more involved in the work he does. They, along with Jodie Koch, community partners coordinator for Partners for Youth, the parent agency of the MYC, settled on the takeover.

The youth elected their own political leaders and then met with the real officials and their aides.

Ross Boggess, 17, the group's vice mayor, said the youth have met with several civic leaders throughout the year. "We got content we won't learn in public school," Ross said. "We had a pizza dinner with the mayor and (Superintendent) Tom Shelton from Fayette County Public Schools. That was something special, even if it was just pizza.

"And Mayor Gray asked us how we would make the Rupp Arena project more youth-friendly," he said.

Partners for Youth was the brainchild of former Mayor Pam Miller who founded the agency in 1995 a few months after the shooting death of Tony Sullivan, a black teenager, by Sgt. Phil Vogel, a white police officer in 1994. The shooting revealed the need for more interaction with the city's youth and the PFY was formed to give resources to organizations focused on young people.

Miller later created the MYC to give young people leadership skills and guidance from mentors and city leaders.

Koch said the group averages 20 to 25 students each year from both public and private high schools. This year, she said, the goal was to have more community service ventures and to connect with government. The takeover is "a great foot in the door," she said.

The government day will begin at 10:30 a.m. and feature both the youth and their elected counterparts. There will be time for commissioners to comment as well as the general public, just like regular council sessions. Fayette County has given students permission to attend the event as well.

"It is part of a civic education," said Stephanie Hong, director of the Division of Youth Services. "You start them out young and plant those seeds that their opinion matters."

While the council chamber takeover isn't hostile, it will be informative and quite serious.

Meghana said the group has written ordinances concerning prohibiting smoking in cars when children are present; the formation of citizen advisory committees for each council member; and creating three $10,000 college scholarships for graduating seniors. And there is a resolution honoring Vicki Reynolds, world languages department chair and Latin teacher at Tates Creek High School.

"At least for myself and, speaking for most of the rest of the council, (this experience) has helped me in becoming more active and in knowing how to advocate," said Ross, who voted for the first time in the recent primary because he will turn 18 this year. "It has been good being able to reach out to council members. I didn't know the difference between an ordinance and a resolution before."

Meghana, Ross said, deserves all the credit for getting the project started.

"I've always been interested in helping people," Meghana said. "Both my parents are doctors and they save lives. But you don't have to be a doctor to save a person's life.

"You can be a politician and make their life better," she continued. "I've definitely taken a turn in what I can do in the future."

After watching Koch and Laura Hatfield, PFY executive director, working with community programs, Meghana has been inspired. "I want to do something like that," she said. "I just want to be like them."

If the members of MYC are examples of our next generation of leaders, then a youth takeover is exactly what this city, this state and the country needs.

Merlene Davis: (859) 231-3218. Email: mdavis1@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @reportmerle. Blog: Merlenedavis.bloginky.com.

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