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Brighton youth put pressure on the City Council July 20 after council members criticized the funding that the Brighton Youth Commission is receiving from the city. Councilors who are acquainted with …
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Brighton youth put pressure on the City Council July 20 after council members criticized the funding that the Brighton Youth Commission is receiving from the city.
Councilors who are acquainted with adult-aged residents expressing frustrations during public comments were caught off guard when high school students were at the podium instead.
“I don’t know why we’re going through this scene right now. We haven’t made any decisions regarding the Youth Commission, but this is really out of line,” said Councilwoman Mary Ellen Pollack.
Pollack was one of several councilors who, during a study session the week prior on July 13, said that the city is giving too much money to an organization that she feels is serving too few youth.
The youth commission is comprised of 22 youth commissioners and six adult commissioners who study the needs of youth in the city and plan events to address those needs. Youth commissioners also sit on other Brighton boards and commissions, provide city council with input and attend national conferences with youth commissioners from other cities across the country.
During a study session discussion about contributions the city makes to local organizations, Pollack said the youth commission is receiving too much money compared to the Boys and Girls Club, which received $82,000 from the city this year.
“It (youth commission) should not be paid for with tax dollars for a select few because they do select who can and cannot join. I don’t understand it. And who does it benefit?” Pollack said at the study session. “We have the audacity to say that $82,000 is great for a Boys and Girls Club that serves the whole darn community and then some?”
Mayor Pro Tem Matt Johnston echoed Pollack and specifically called out the city for paying two full-time employees to oversee the youth commission.
“I would like to remove those positions and dump that money to the Boys and Girls clubs,” Johnston said.
Kayla Barber-Perotta, the city’s budget manager, clarified that the two employees have other responsibilities with the city.
Councilman Clint Blackhurst pushed back in the study session, saying the youth commission and the Boys and Girls Club serve, “different purposes and neither one should suffer at the cost of the other.”
Few community members were at the study session, but the conversation gained enough traction to draw a crowd to the meeting on July 20. Eight current and former youth commissioners spoke during public comments on July 20.
“Auntie, you told me I should be able to use my voice,” said Pollack’s niece Giana Rocha, chair of the youth commission. “So, I’m using those teachings that you once taught me as a young girl in front of you right now.”
Rocha said she once considered herself at a “disadvantage” growing up in a small town, but that the youth commission changed that. Now, she’s in her fourth year on the youth commission, which has resulted in two consecutive annual appointments to the National League of Cities’ Council on Youth, Education and Families.
Rocha and other commenters attributed their successes on the youth commission to the staff who oversee it, especially its director, Tawnya Russell.
“As you can see, I’m not `one of the select few’ that the office of youth services has reached,” she said. “I hope next time that you all have concerns or questions, they can be resolved before being blown out of proportion.”
Manuel Ornelas, who served on the youth commission from 2010 to 2012, also pushed against claims that the youth commission is overly selective.
“I just want to address another comment that I heard from the study session as well, which is that the BYC (youth commission) focuses on natural leaders,” said Ornelas. “I disagree, the BYC is a lifeline for young people in this city that have a desire to be the best that they can be and the best that they know they can be.”
Johnston and Pollack stood their ground in response. Along with noting their financial concerns, the two council members alluded to “rumors” they heard about the youth commission being exclusivist. They didn’t provide details to back their claims, though.
Pollack and Johnston both stipulated that they don’t want to disinvest in Brighton’s youth, they just want to do it a different way. Council made no formal decisions about the youth commission at the meeting.
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