The city of Cortez plans to create a youth commission for local teens who want to get involved in government.
During a busy workshop on Tuesday, the city’s new management intern, Peyton Heitzman, presented research and a tentative plan for a commission, based on plans other cities’ programs.
In cities across Colorado, members of youth commissions organize local service and education projects in exchange for training in leadership skills and, in some cases, new scholarship opportunities. The City Council listed the creation of a youth commission among the goals in its 2017 strategic plan, and Heitzman said she hopes to make it a reality in time for the end of this school year.
Heitzman presented research on nine city governments in Colorado that run youth commissions, including Durango. Most of the groups act as advisory boards to the City Council and organize one or two big projects per year. For example, Durango’s Youth Engagement Program organizes an annual “Youth Expo” to teach other students about local job and volunteer opportunities.
All the towns Heitzman listed have at least one city staff member who works as a liaison with the youth commission, but she said the idea is to let high school students do most of the work themselves, just like members of any other city advisory board.
“Students can bring their interests to the table and work on projects that are important to them,” she said.
City Manager Shane Hale said Heitzman would lead the commission, but a few staff members might need to support it, especially since she only has a two-year contract with the city. He said he has spoken with several school leaders about the idea, but he plans to leave most of the details up to students.
“I don’t want it to be like, ‘Hey, look, there’s a youth commission, and we’ve figured everything out for you,’” he said.
He recommended city staff start by recruiting a charter committee of Cortez students. They would spend the summer putting together rules, meeting times, election policies, plans for projects and other details necessary for starting a commission. They could bring a plan to the council in August, Hale said, and the council could appoint the first members of the youth commission.
Council members at the workshop were mostly in favor of the idea. Bob Archibeque encouraged Heitzman to make the commission as diverse as the Cortez community.
“People who have money, people who don’t have money, Native Americans, Mexican-American kids, white kids ... so all their voices are heard,” he said.
Some council members asked how big the budget for the youth commission would be. Hale said the city likely wouldn’t decide that until the commission was formed, but he said “it would be nice” if the city could fund a few scholarships.
Heitzman said she hopes to have a group of students by summer.
It wasn’t the only discussion dealing with volunteers in education that evening. In the regular meeting after the workshop, Mayor Karen Sheek gave a proclamation honoring the AmeriCorps volunteers who run the Montezuma School to Farm Project and serve other local nonprofits.
Tuesday’s meeting was the last for council members Archibeque and Shawna McLaughlin, whose terms have ended. Hale announced during the regular meeting that the city will host an orientation for new council members at 5:30 p.m. on April 17.
Other actionDuring the workshop and the regular meeting that followed, the City Council also:
Discussed more details on hiring an interim manager to replace Hale during the search for a new city manager. Council members tentatively decided to hire Chris Burkett part-time, and told him about some of the projects likely to take up most of his summer, such as finalizing the city’s acquisition of the old Montezuma-Cortez High School property and starting the 2019 budget.Agreed to donate $2,500 to the Rural Philanthropy Days event later this year in Cortez.Awarded three General Services Department bids: one for fertilizer for the Conquistador Golf Course, one for bandwidth used by the city’s internet services and one for vehicles to be used by the police, water and planning and building departments.