Youth can now serve on community boards.
Like it or not, and there are plenty of opinions, 16- and 17-year-olds can now be members of community boards.
The change comes after an amendment in state law regulating public officers passed in the legislature and was signed by Governor Cuomo recently, explained Councilman Ritchie Torres.
Torres championed Resolution 115, which passed the City Council on June 12 and called on the state to amend its regulations so that young people can serve on the volunteer boards, which deal with an array of local issues.
“With civic engagement rates among young people at critically low levels, we need to put forward every effort to replace apathy with enfranchisement, disengagement with opportunity,” said Torres, the youngest member of City Council.
With public education not teaching civics, community boards offer a good educational experience for civically engaged young people, he said.
“Learning how to be civically engaged is a little like learning a language: the best time to learn is when you are young,” the councilman said. “I feel that we have a crisis of civic engagement, especially among our youth.”
He added: “A community board is the most local unit of government and this is the best place to teach civic leadership.”
Torres was “District Manager for a Day” when he was a teenager and said it changed his life.
Young people adding diversity to the boards is a good thing in and of itself, he believes. Torres also feels that bringing younger members onto boards will create a more diverse set of opinions and provide young community members a say in issues like education and public safety.
He thinks that having youth on boards could bring about a shift in the focus of community activism towards education, an important concern that consumes a third of the city’s budget, he said.
When he first broached the idea of having youth sit on local community boards, Torres said that it elicited strong reactions both for, and against, the measure.
Community Board 11 chairman Tony Vitaliano said that he has no problems with youth sitting on community boards, but would rather they be non-voting members.
He believes that 16- and 17-year-olds may not have the experience necessary to vote on items like State Liquor Authority licence applications. In that case, they themselves cannot drink yet, he said.
“My concern is the youth voting on sensitive issues like housing, landmarks, economic issues, and licensing,” he said. “But as far as them being on the board, I have no problem with that.”