Mayor Stan Thurston proposed that a one-time expenditure of $37,000 be added to the $13,000 Youth Council budget proposed by the City Council. Only two people voted in favor of Thurston’s proposal, however, and the Youth Council’s proposed budget instead was boosted by only $500 more than last year’s $12,500.
Leaders of the Youth Council say the larger budget would allow them to hire someone to give them the sort of organizational training needed to make progress. The $500 increase won’t go far enough, according to supporters.
“That would be enough if they were trained,” Thurston told the Sun-Star on Friday . “We’re doing the same thing and ending up with the same result and a struggling bunch of kids. That makes me very sad.”
Thurston said his plan was to hire a professional to train the Youth Council in leadership.
Tatiana Vizcaino-Stewart, manager of Building Healthy Communities, said Youth Council members want basic training in leadership and help in building a strong vision and objective for their role in the community.
“We encourage elected officials to learn more about what a strong Youth Council could represent,” Vizcaino-Stewart said.
Merced Councilman Josh Pedrozo said the problem isn’t so much a lack of funding but a need for the Youth Council to figure out its focus and direction.
“Just throwing money at something doesn’t necessarily fix the problem,” Pedrozo said.
He added that the City Council needs to help provide direction and framework for the Youth Council.
“There needs to be more dialogue of what (their) expectations are,” Pedrozo said.
City Councilman Tony Dossetti also said problems in the Youth Council won’t be resolved with more funding. The group’s role, he said, shouldn’t be focused on policies and budget, but on parks and recreation, holding events and fundraising.
“I don’t want to slam the youth in the community,” Dossetti said. “At the same time, I think kids should be doing fun things to be kept out of trouble.”
Vizcaino-Stewart said many of the issues the Youth Council cares about intersect with policy decisions, and when the Youth Council was reinstated a couple years ago, the plan was to have it be a strong policy advising body.
“We want to understand the role of city government,” Vizcaino-Stewart said.
Dossetti said input and suggestions from the Youth Council are good and city leaders should take them into consideration, but policy and legislation should be the responsibility of the City Council, and the responsibility is too much for kids.
A broader basis of knowledge is needed for policymaking and is something kids don’t always have because of their young ages, Dossetti said.
“Let kids do what kids do,” Dossetti said. “We shouldn’t make them grow too fast.”
For kids who do want to participate in policymaking, Dossetti suggested they become involved in student government and other programs.
Thurston said he doesn’t want the Youth Council to be disheartened. “It’s not going to be like it’s been.”
So far, Thurston said a volunteer from UC Merced is coming to teach the Youth Council about leadership. He said he is working to make changes for the Youth Council, and it might be a different way than the Youth Council wanted but, “it’s going to get done.”
“We have been really building a strong network with the community,” Vizcaino-Stewart said. “It is clear that we are a hot topic that’s not going to go away because it dominates budget and policy meetings.”