For the past six months, I have been working with the Youth Commission and staff as the Youth Commission Council Liaison. I have been impressed by the talent, dedication and passion with which our Youth Commissioners work. As part my work as a liaison, staff and I conducted a survey of the commissioners to gauge how well expectations were fulfilled, their interests and identify any challenges.
When looking at the results and practices in other cities, it was clear that by making some governance changes to the Youth Commission, we could improve their effacacy and impact on the City.
From Service Project to Work Plan: Unlike other commissions, the Youth Commission has a service project, not related to the city. However, one of the key reasons students apply for the Youth Commission is because they want to understand the work of local government and decision-making. Reinforcing what seems to be a disconnect is also the fact that the Youth Commission has not completed this service project for the last three years. Therefore, staff and myself suggested moving away from a service project to contributing through small work groups to larger city projects.
Increasing accountability, decreasing size: Several years ago the City Council allowed up to 20 Youth Commissioners to be appointed. This decision had the unintended consequence of creating collective action problems. If no one really feels responsible for an action, it is easy for each person to think someone else will do it. This is a typical challenge of large groups. Several comments in the survey reflected this as well as the low turn-out at the 2017 Youth Summit. Analyzing other cities, no other city has such a large Youth Commission and our other commissions are maximum 11 people. Therefore, staff recommended moving with the next appointment cycle (in June 2018) to 11 commissioners.
Setting realistic expectations, increasing diversity: Everyone knows that teenagers these days have a tough schedule, many obligations and little time and our Youth Commissioners are no different. To help with setting realistic expectations of the Youth Commission, we added an addition to the application that a minimum of five hours of service is recommended. 14 out of 15 Youth Commissioners who took the survey said they would be able to invest that time. On a separate note, the selection process next year will also try to include better representation from a wider diversity of schools, including private, home and charter schools. It was suggested in our Council meeting that as part of the Youth Commission work plan they could incorporate outreach to other schools, which I welcome.
These improvements, along with making the absence policy consistent with other commissions, is setting up our Youth Commission for success. It was passed 4-1 (Muir voting no) by the Council.
We have one of the few Youth Commissions in North San Diego County and the energy, talent and passion of our Youth Commissions is really inspiring. I look forward to their first meeting on September 6 at 4:30 PM at City Hall and learning which City projects they would like to tackle this year.