Teen-agers Gain Clout On Columbia, Village Boards

Money Budgeted Foryouth Coordinator

February 06, 1991|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Staff writer

Before last year, teens had little say in Columbia and village association meetings other than to come forward at the "resident speak-out" times.

That was then. This year, notes 18-year-old Leonard Feldman, all you have to do is look at the latest Columbia Association budget to see that the teen voice has acquired some clout.

Specifically, he points to the $60,000 in this year's budget to hire a teen coordinator who will organize weekly dances and social programs for young people at a teen nightclub. The teen club will rotateamong various Columbia centers and clubs.

Getting that money approved was "one of the great victories" for the young people serving onthe boards, Feldman said.

In 1989, Feldman and other teens began to lobby vigorously for all villages to appoint a teen to their boards. When they began, only Harper's Choice allowed a teen member a voteon its board.

Since May 1989, teens have gained membership, although no voting rights, on seven more village boards. And Kings Contrivance, whose board members thought appointing a teen member would be discriminatory, opted to create a standing committee for teens.

So far, 14 appointed and one elected teen-age representative have helpedpush through the nightclub plan and are working on other programs toprovide community services in addition to social events.

Unlike afizzled teen committee created several years ago, the new standing committee has the authority to propose a budget and create its own bylaws. It can expect financial support from the adult board, says KingsContrivance board member Sunny McGuinn.

McGuinn believes the new authority granted to younger Columbia residents has grown out of the realization that "adults telling teens what to do and how to have fundoesn't work."

When teen representation was first being considered by village boards, some members and village managers expressed doubt about teen-agers' willingness to serve on village boards when school activities are competing for their attention.

But even in the smallest village, Town Center, the village board has managed to stir up interest in the idea, and appoint both of its teen applicants to the board. In only one village, Hickory Ridge, is there a vacancy, which was caused when its student representative decided not to reapply because of a lack of time.

Although they are generally included in all board discussions, teen representatives in Dorsey's Search, Long Reach and Oakland Mills would be excluded from meetings not normally conducted in public, which include discussions of lawsuits and confidential personnel matters.

In Harper's choice, still the only village to grant full voting membership to a teen-ager, the board also received two applications last year to replace its first teen member. Itappointed one student to the position and named the second student as an alternate.

"I guess they felt sorry for me, so they gave me aspot as well," joked alternate Dan Oppenheim, 16, a junior at Centennial High School.

Instead of the feared lack of interest, Oppenheim reported, student member Charles Stewart has had annoyingly perfectattendance.

"I haven't got a vote in yet. . . . With Charlie playing on the basketball team, I'm hoping that I can get in there at least to approve the minutes," Oppenheim says.

Even though they don'thave a vote, teens in other villages seem to be having an impact on their adult counterparts' thinking.

Samantha Marks, 16, who represents teens on the Dorsey's Search village association board, says board members have taken her seriously when she has spoken out in behalfof teens.

She has let board members, as well as her village's Columbia Council representative, know that teens need more activities; they would use the town's bus service more if its schedule were simplified, and they would like to see the Columbia Association build a skateboarding park.

While action is being taken on the first two issues, she concedes that liabilities associated with a skateboard park make it unlikely.

Feldman, who along with 18-year-old Hong Park were appointed by the Wilde Lake board in May 1989 to serve as non-voting board members, has managed to become the second voting teen by his own initiative.

Last April, Feldman, who is also president of the county Association of Student Councils, took advantage of a lack of adult interest in board membership and ran unopposed for a voting position. He now represents the village's adults, as well as his high-school peers.

After a fistfight between two students at Wilde Lake High School in September, Feldman and Park began working on a plan to start a village-sponsored mediation service to solve disputes between village residents. Feldman presented a videotape on the idea to his board and plans to present it to the Columbia Combined Boards, on which he represents Wilde Lake village.

"The wonderful surprise we've had with from this group is the concern they have for their fellow students," and not just planning social events, McGuinn says.

Kings Contrivance's five-member Student Advisory Committee, now nearly a year old, is chaired by Hammond High School sophomore Kerri Ruttenberg,15.

"Our main objective at this point is we're working on severalseminars," she explained, the first being a transition seminar to help quell middle schoolers' anxieties about going to high school.

Unlike the program given by schools for that purpose, the village's teen board will have a smaller group, and high school students, not teachers and administrators, will share what high school has in store for freshmen, Ruttenberg says.

Then the group will tackle a similar program for high school students headed for college, and a seminar featuring students in county schools' mentor program.

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