Youth Town Council engages younger constituents
This month, voting residents in the Town of Warrenton elected a new Mayor and filled two at-large seats on the seven-person Warrenton Town Council. Less than one year ago, in the fall of 2017, local students also held general elections to fill seats on the newly formed Youth Town Council.
At the National League of Cities Conference held in Nashville this past year, council member at-large, Sean Polster attended a breakfast with Youth Council representatives. He addressed the group and asked if the best way to communicate with them was through Facebook. His question was met with laughter and he was told their parents have Facebook accounts, not them. This quickly led Polster to the realization the vehicle being used to reach community members with town information, namely Facebook, was not reaching the student population.
When he returned from the Nashville conference, Polster approached Superintendent Dr. Jeck about forming a Youth Town Council to engage the community’s younger constituents. Dr. Jeck directed him to Fauquier High School (FHS) Principal Burton who connected him with Mr. David Smith, a long-time social studies teacher and 1971 graduate of the high school.
Smith opened his advanced placement (AP) class to Polster who told students, “The council makes proposals for what the town will be like in 40 years, but you will be the ones running the town at that time. We need to hear from you today, to put the wheels in motion for what the town will look like then.”
The councilman concluded his presentation by suggesting the class form a Youth Town Council. Mulliss and several classmates rose to the challenge. Kevin Mulliss, a 2018 FHS graduate, was an AP student listening to Polster’s presentation. “We felt that the current Town Council members were too removed from their high school days to really recognize our needs,” says Mulliss. “Mr. Polster offered us a great opportunity to influence that,” says Mulliss. Students met with Polster following the presentation, and Mulliss says, “He explained to us what was expected from a Youth Town Council and reviewed models from other communities.”
The fall semester was spent organizing the council and drafting necessary paperwork, which included a set of bylaws that were then ratified and approved by the members. A general election followed, where Mulliss was elected Chairman. Mr. Smith says, “The students accomplished a process that generally takes two years in only two months with very little assistance.” Smith acted as the club sponsor but allowed the students to create the foundation for the council themselves. “They were the most motivated students I have ever seen,” says Smith.
In January, student members attended the Virginia General Assembly in Richmond where they watched Senate proceedings and met Delegate Webert and Senator Vogel. The council then conducted regular meetings held in Council Chambers in Old Town Warrenton. “We are modeled after the Warrenton Town Council and meet twice a month. One session is a work session and the following week we have our regular meeting. We welcome input from the community during Citizen’s Time during the work session,” says Mulliss.
One recommendation on the agenda to bring to the Town Council involves safety along the Fauquier High School walking path from Waterloo street to the Gold Cup community. “The path has no lighting and we have concerns about its safety, especially after football games when attendees use the path to walk home. We plan to make a resolution the Town Council to consider adding lighting for both student and resident safety.”
Eighteen students sit on the Youth Town Council who represent different segments of the local population. “The group formed at Fauquier High School, but we are not affiliated with the school and have representatives from Kettle Run. We are in the process of reaching out to the private schools,” says Mulliss. The council is open to all students in the community. Kettle Run representatives include students who work in the town of Warrenton.
The council has also identified four subcommittees focused on education, entertainment, environmental issues, and poverty. The chair of the poverty committee observed that while the school did a food drive in the fall for the Salvation Army that amassed 2,500 nonperishable items, they questioned how residents in need may access meals if they are not in walking distance of the Salvation Army and do not have reliable transportation. “It was an interesting observation and an issue they are looking to address,” says Smith.
Unlike the Warrenton Town Council, the composition of the Youth Student Council is primarily comprised of seniors who, upon graduation, will no longer be eligible to serve on the council. To make the council sustainable, Mulliss and other founding members are eager to establish a process to engage freshman students as non-voting members who can work their way into leadership roles. For Mulliss, who plans to pursue a degree in computer programming, rather than government, the experience has been eye-opening.
“Until the Walker Project, I didn’t know Warrenton had a Town Council. It felt very detached from student-life,” Mulliss shares. “The opportunity to create the council gave us a better understanding of what goes into government processes and how they are created. The mission of the group is two-fold: we aim to educate the students who serve on the Youth Town Council, and to advise the Warrenton Town Council on issues pertinent to high school students. Now, at the end of our first year, I think we are well on our way to achieving both of those.”
Any student interested in joining the Youth Town Council can contact David Smith at Fauquier High School at firstname.lastname@example.org. The club will reconvene in the fall. Follow the activities of the Youth Town Council on their Twitter page @WarrentonYtownC.