Young people in Bothell are now able to serve on the city’s parks and recreation board and arts commission.
An ordinance expanding membership, which brings about amendments to chapters 2.44 and 2.45 of the city’s municipal code, was passed unanimously by the Bothell City Council at its Jan. 21 meeting.
Councilmember Tom Agnew was absent from the meeting.
The change, according to assistant city manager Kellye Mazzoli, is part of a first step by city staff to expand community engagement, specifically in the interest of amplifying youth perspectives.
The expansions collectively function as a pilot, as the additions affect two rather than all Bothell advisory boards.
Mazzoli said the pilot currently has no set expiration date but can be revised as it moves along.
Youth members are delineated as being between 14 and 17 years old at the time they apply. If an applicant gets the position, they will serve a staggered three-year term.
Applicants would not age out of the role, which means that if a member is 17 when they first apply, they would be able to remain on the board or commission until they’re 20.
Mazzoli clarified that the thinking behind having two youth members rather than one was to ensure that those selected have supplemental peer support.
Staff liaisons and the city’s executive office would provide further support.
Mazzoli noted that as youth members serve, they will be monitored and periodically reported on. She also said that in addition to the pilot, the city hopes in the future to have more youth voices on other boards and commissions, host a youth forum and potentially establish a youth commission. The latter idea was discussed by the council last year but was ultimately neither included for implementation in the 2019-20 adopted budget nor the adopted council goals for 2019-20.
City staff, according to Mazzoli, is currently drafting a community engagement strategy. Recommendations are on track to be presented to council in late March as part of its goal-setting session.
While the ordinance passed unanimously, some concerns were brought up before the vote. Councilmember Davina Duerr voiced uneasiness about the fact that the vote was taking place before the parks and recreation board and arts commission had been consulted by city staff — something Mazzoli said was a result of a shortened time frame.
“I have concerns just because we need to honor the boards and commissions and the members that are on there,” Duerr said.
She also noted that it seemed like a better idea to have board and commission liaisons supporting youth members rather than staff liaisons as outlined.
“To me, it seems more logical that they would be consulting with a peer mentor on the board than staff, because I know how busy staff is and their time is limited as well,” Duerr said.
Other councilmembers invoked the positive changes the expansions have the potential to make a reality.
“By way of being on a commission, sitting at the table and being able to vote lets [youth members] believe that they do have that voice. And if we truly want to listen to them, we need to listen with an open mind…let’s let them be them so we get the true meaning of a youth voice sitting at the table,” Councilmember James McNeal said.
Councilmember Rosemary McAuliffe, who said she has spoken to staff from both the board and the commission, said that having student voices especially presented exciting opportunities for parks and arts.
“It also educates [youths] about city government and how city government works,” McAuliffe said. “It’s a really good introduction for them into contributing to the city and being a part of that.”
She added that she’s heard from young people in Bothell that arts activities, to their eyes, often feel more tipped toward wine-and beer-centric events and that the new membership rules could change that.
Mayor Liam Olsen had similar concerns to Duerr regarding board and commission outreach ahead of the vote. But he said he ultimately trusted that the right people would be selected for the positions and that the nature of it being a pilot allowed for any necessary tweaking.
“I’m looking forward to this,” Olsen said. “I’m looking forward to seeing who applies, and the kind of prospects we get there.”