Youth shall have its course at Fresno City Hall.
But will it happen before old age sets in?
The City Council in early June passed a law creating the Fresno Youth Commission, an advisory group designed to deliver a fresh view of key municipal issues to city decision-makers.
Here it is, a week before Thanksgiving, and the commission has yet to open its eyes, let alone take its first steps.
There are to be eight commissioners, one appointed by each of the seven council members and the eighth coming from the mayor. There are to be eight alternates, selected in the same way.
The City Clerk’s Office as of Monday has received just two applications. Staffers for several council members said more applications are rattling around somewhere in their desks.
But never fear, one top council staffer said, the Fresno Youth Commission will get here.
“It’s not slow,” said Gregory Barfield, chief of staff for Council President Oliver Baines. “What we wanted to do was make sure we had a qualified consultant or group in place to help us support the organization. We got everything right on track after Labor Day.”
The city has issued a “request for proposal” seeking a consultant or community group willing to staff and manage the Commission.
Barfield and Terry Cox, chief of staff for Council Member Esmeralda Soria, said things should unfold like this:
- The window for submitting consultant/community group proposals closes in a matter of days.
- City selects the winning consultant/community group.
- Consultant/community group hits the local high schools, colleges, community centers and any other place that captures the eyeballs of young people. Toss social media into the mix, of course. The goal — find commissioner applicants.
- Applications pour in.
- The eight voting commissioners and eight alternates are selected.
- The 16 get a crash course on the commission’s agenda and City Hall’s complexities.
- The first commission meeting is convened, maybe in early 2016, maybe by spring.
The Commission’s first-year budget is in the $50,000 range. The money comes from the general fund and is already in the budget.
“It’s going to work,” Barfield said.
DRIVER’S LICENSE ISN’T REQUIRED
The Commission’s rules are simple.
The members and alternates must be between 15 and 21 years of age. They may serve until age 23. The term is two years. No one can serve more than two consecutive terms. Members must live in Fresno.
The commission idea belongs to Baines and Soria.
“We’re trying to invest in our youth,” Baines said when the law was introduced on June 4.
Added Soria: “This will provide an opportunity for leadership development.”
The commission’s charge is to dig into any City Hall policy or service that touches in any manner the affairs of young people.
In a world of tight budgets, when to spend a precious dollar from the general fund on one thing is to deny that precious dollar to another, the Commission will have free rein to tackle everything under the sun.
And not merely tackle. The Commission will have a very public platform to grill city staff on the hottest issues of the day, hear public testimony from concerned citizens and issue official recommendations on the wisest courses of action for elected leaders.
Here lies what almost certainly will be a fast-growing public interest in the Fresno Youth Commission: It will be a shadow City Council, but with only indirect (through the council members and mayor) accountability to voters.
City Hall has had youth advisory groups before. But they have had limited scope, such as reviewing parks/recreation issues only.
City Hall currently has lots of advisory groups, also with a limited scope. For example, each council district has a citizens panel that reviews proposed developments in that particular district.
But, with the possible exception of the now-defunct (and often controversial) Human Relations Commission, Fresno has never had an advisory group born with the power and hopes of the Fresno Youth Commission.
Barfield said he doesn’t think the Commission will get politicized. He said the commissioners and alternates will meet with their respective council member/mayor to get the lay of the land at City Hall. A screening will occur, as well.
“We look forward to working with them and listening to what they have to say,” Barfield said.
TWO APPLICANTS KEEP BUSY
Who will apply?
The two commissioner applications at the City Clerk’s Office are public record.
Jose Antonio Jauregui lives in District 3 (Baines’ district). He is a youth health outreach worker for Fresno Barrios Unidos.
Jauregui’s educational background includes Duncan Polytechnical High School and Fresno City College. His professional/community affiliations include the Fresno Boys and Men of Color and the Prevention Action Team.
“I am interested in serving on this commission to play an integral part in the enhancement and forward progression of my community,” Jauregui wrote on his application.
“I have an interest in local government and would like to one day serve on the city council as an elected councilmember.”
Michael T. Sley lives in District 6 (Council Member Lee Brand’s district). He is a student at University High School (located on the Fresno State campus).
Sley’s educational background includes classes at Fresno State in conjunction with University High and summer school at Fresno City College. His professional/community affiliations include the Fresno County Chamber of Commerce junior board, ICU floor assistant at Saint Agnes Medical Center and volunteer work as a music tutor in Clovis Unified School District.
“I am interested in pursuing my education in local government and politics,” Sley wrote.
“I have lived in Fresno for a vast majority of my life, and have found that I am not as involved as I would like to be. I have experience with working with children throughout the Clovis West and Clovis North area.
NOTHING BUT VOLATILE ISSUES
The Fresno Youth Commission raises two key questions.
First, what issues might be of interest to the commissioners?
For example, think back to the June budget hearings.
Mayor Ashley Swearengin wanted to make a bold move toward building the general fund reserve. The rainy-day pot of money had dwindled to almost nothing during the great recession. City finances were improving a bit. Now, the mayor said, was a good time to sock away some cash.
Soria liked the idea, but not the amount. Let’s slow the pace of restoring the reserve and increase the cash going to parks, another area hard-hit by the recession, she said.
Soria, with only five months under her belt as a council member, didn’t have the political clout to get her way. But she did get considerable support from many community activist groups.
Parks and young people are a natural fit.
Here’s another example of a possible Youth Commission issue.
The City Council in late October went ballistic when it learned (from City Attorney Doug Sloan) that Swearengin over a three-year span had paid more than $250,000 in bonuses and deferred compensation to top city executives.
These bonuses often were $10,000 at a time.
Some council members didn’t like the bonuses themselves, the size of the bonuses or the fact that the payments had, in some eyes, been kept a secret.
At the same time, it’s no secret at City Hall that leaders of the some of the city’s biggest unions are upset that their members have been making financial sacrifices for years, all in the name of helping the city’s bottom line.
In the wake of Bonusgate, it’s all but certain that some union leaders will soon head into contract negotiations demanding that their members, merely as a starting point, receive $10,000 annual raises.
Any raises or boosts to benefit packages will have a domino effect on either the general fund or enterprise department rates. If it’s the general fund, that will affect what City Hall can spend elsewhere. If it’s an enterprise department, that will affect ratepayers and, eventually, council politics.
Budgets and young people are a natural fit.
It doesn’t take a crystal ball to see how the work of the Fresno Youth Commission, both at the level of public hearings and at the level of public declarations, could shake up the politics of Fresno.
LOBBYING FINDS A NEW TARGET
Here’s the second key question concerning the Fresno Youth Commission.
What groups might be most interested in the commission’s activities? After all, it’s only natural in a democracy that outside parties try to influence the decisions made by public bodies.
City Hall last spring received a number of letters in support of the proposed commission.
Wrote Geoffrey Winder and Ginna Brelsford, co-executive directors of GSANetwork (Gay-Straight Alliance Network): “Such a commission would provide an opportunity for youth to have a direct input on major issues facing our city, such as: city budget, economic development, jobs training, legislative policies, parks and recreation, public safety, and public transportation.”
Wrote Sarah Reyes, central valley regional program manager for The California Endowment: “Such a commission that is being proposed would provide an opportunity for youth to have direct input on major issues facing the city, such as: city budget, economic development, jobs training, legislative policies, parks and recreation, public safety, and public transportation.”
Wrote Lue N. Yang, executive director of the Fresno Center for New Americans: “Such a commission would provide an opportunity for youth to have a direct input on major issues facing our city, such as: city budget, economic development, jobs training, legislative policies, parks and recreation, public safety, and public transportation.”
There are other letters from other groups posted on the City Clerk’s Website. You get the picture.
I didn’t see letters from the Chamber of Commerce or Building Industry Association.