Salt Lake City Councilman Stuart Reid thinks teenagers should be seen and heard, particularly when it comes to problems of the city for which they'll some day inherit stewardship.
Now, Reid is making sure teen-agers not only have the opportunity to voice their opinions but to see firsthand how local government works.At Reid's behest, the City Council this week agreed to support creation of a Youth City Council that could involve as many as 350 teen-agers in a shadow government that parallels the city's.
"I think the youth know the answers to their own problems, and their input has been ignored too long," Reid said. "If they have ownership and feel like they belong, they'll contribute rather than undermine their community.'
Pam Pea, 18, is one teen who's heard about the program already and is considering getting involved. She doesn't hestitate a second when asked what problems she might want to tackle as part of the council.
"Staying in school has to be very important," Pea said. "Gang problems. Graffiti - it's getting worse now than it was a long time ago."
Earlier this year, Reid proposed a similar idea to the council to allow youths to learn about local government. There wasn't much support for the program Reid outlined at the time.
Then Reid heard about the Youth City Council program, which started in Hyrum in 1972 and has since spread to more than 80 cities and towns in Utah. Apparently, before Reid came along no one had an interest in starting the program in Salt Lake City.
The Youth City Council program introduces teens to leadership skills and helps them understand what makes local government tick. It also strives to improve communication between youth and adult community leaders, according to Gary Sessions, president and executive director of the Association of Youth Councils.
For some teens, involvement in the Youth City Council program makes a permanent impression. Take, for example, Tom Herrin, who served last year as youth fire chief in Provo. Herrin is now enrolled in the fire science program at Utah Valley State College.
One of the program's most notable graduates is former Lt. Gov. Val Oveson, who served as the youth mayor of Orem.
Salt Lake City's Youth City Council program, which is also backed by the Salt Lake City School Board, is in its formative stages. A 13-member steering comittee, lead by Colleen Minson and State Rep. Pete Suazo, is seeking adults to serve as mentors to youths in the program.
"We're recruiting people who have an interest in youth and local government who can guide these young people with whatever projects they want to take on," Suazo said.
The committee also wants to hear from teens interested in serving in the youth government. In particular, the committee hopes to involve at-risk teens.
Adults and teens interested in participating in the Youth City Council program should contact Misty Hitesman at 535-7607.