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Youth Council provides elected officials with fresh perspective

By Staff | May 25, 2017

Cape Coral City Councilmember Rick Williams had high hopes when he proposed a Youth Council, a group of high school juniors and seniors who would discuss city issues and learn what it is like to be an advisory body.

The students have far exceeded his expectations as they have taken to working as a group.

“They picked up on this and they’re running their own meetings. We have three advisors and we have our hands folded and watch,” Williams said. “They are enthusiastic, looking to dig into the ideas and issues.”

Of course, this is still a new idea. The Youth Council only started in March and a new set of underclassmen has already replaced the graduating seniors. The Youth Council also hasn’t taken on any major issues, as its members are still learning and getting organized

Still, Williams hasn’t had to intervene very much if the group strays off course.

“We help them if they have a question about procedure or about the city. (Former mayor and governmental consultant) Joe Mazurkiewicz spends time with them on Robert’s Rules. We’re trying to give them instruction while we’re doing this,” Williams said.

Some members of the council could be seen at city council meetings. Brandon Pearson, a former member who graduated from Oasis High School, was a fixture at all meetings, and several others attended meetings at some point.

Among the things they are working on is a communication conduit so the council can get input from their peers. They all get name badges from the city so they can be identified as members.

Mazurkiewicz is also teaching the group how to create a budget and take it to City Manager John Szerlag. The ordinance that created the council will also be rewritten, with the youth council sending it through on their own to City Attorney Dolores Menendez.

Williams said in the coming months they’ll start looking at the important city issues, such as Bimini Basin, as a way to get their concerns to bring back to council. They are also looking at land next to Oasis High School where may suggest putting a boardwalk. It’s a matter of them learning the ropes.

“What can we do to make their lives better. That’s where we’re trying to get to,” Williams said. “We’re not at the point where they can give us input.”

Youth Council members have seen how much they have learned. Council vice-chairman Austin Wilson of North Fort Myers High School said it has gotten him more interested in city issues, bringing him to city council meetings he hasn’t attended in the past.

“I’ve been exposed to the aspects of government such as e-mailing people through the city’s e-mail server. I feel like one of those politicians in the way I handle things,” Wilson said. “We have to manage our time better because every session brings different ideas. I’m very excited because I can advocate for the youth.”

“It’s an amazing program giving us a path to a better future for Cape Coral. Having the youth have a bigger voice and representation is a smart thing to do,” said Oriana Troche of Oasis. “We’ve been learning more about our community and telling people what the council is about.”

The Youth Council is a group of 14 students – all Cape Coral residents – from the five Cape Coral high schools and North Fort Myers High School, with two at-large members who attend other schools. Each school has a junior and senior representative. All but the Ida Baker junior seat has been filled.

The current members are:

Juniors:

Carson Baxter: Cape Coral

Alecia Bernau: North

Kevin Bevan: Oasis

Cosette Dunkle: At-Large

Antonella Molfino: Island Coast

Kourtnee Saunders: Mariner

Seniors:

Riley Hare: Island Coast

Olivia Cerretani: At-Large

Malik Reid: Mariner

Helena Shawver: Ida Baker

Maxwell Slafer: Cape Coral

Oriana Troche: Oasis

Austin Wilson: North