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Teens' mock council session a true-to-life primer for their futures
By Matt Stone

January 21, 2006

It was what some might consider your run-of-the-mill city council session: The appearance of a rubber ducky, the testimony of a father of 25 and a schizophrenic member of the public arguing his case first as a country bumpkin, then as a ditsy teen.

Ah, the stuff of which city council meetings are made.

This time, there was one minor difference: the make-believe session was comprised of teenagers from an assortment of Tempe high schools.

The mock Tempe City Council session, held Jan. 11, represented the high point of a day during which students were given the opportunity to learn more about government by looking over the shoulders of local officials.

“(It was) a great way to learn how the city works,” said David Coon, a sophomore at Corona del Sol High School.

Hosted by MYAC, the Mayor’s Youth Advisory Commission, Student Government Day gave 43 kids the opportunity to follow a number of city officials through their daily routines. Participants from the city included the mayor, department heads and council members.

“They seem to really like it. They really enjoy the career-shadowing component. (They) gain insight on how to address issues,” said Kim Bauman, sponsor of MYAC and supervisor of the event.

Getting a backstage pass to the city’s workings helped to instill values of leadership and teach the importance of community involvement to the youth.

“Makes me want to get involved more,” David said

The day began with a selection of a mayor and vice mayor, chosen by the kids to represent them, leading to a series of presentations. Those who spoke were MYAC chairperson Taylor Walton, Tempe Mayor Hugh Hallman and Student Government Day Chair Katelyn Murphy.

Kids participating in the shadow portion then accompanied their staff counterparts to job locations. The midway point was the luncheon for students, city council and the city manager. Later, as the day began to wind down, the students prepared for a mock council meeting.

The conference, held in council chambers, was designed to place the students in a real-life situation with a topic based on one that had been covered by the council recently.

The subject of this meeting was the Cosmo Building, a proposed 16-story high-rise that would include a grocery store, above-grade parking, additional commercial space and residential condominiums, to be located at the northwest corner of University Drive and Ash Avenue.

While students put their own spin on their parts, many fusing comedy with the seriousness of the issue, their arguments were anything but farcical.

“Bad things happen to tall buildings,” one student said of Cosmo.

Building off this statement, the teens posing as residents argued the new structure would increase traffic, reduce the feeling of a community and cost too much. Supporters countered by saying the project would bring a much-needed grocery store to the downtown area, as well as offer new jobs and attract people other than students to the area.

With a relaxed atmosphere, those presenting were able to be asked questions and be unafraid of giving the most common of answers: “I’ll have to get back to you on that.”

In the end, the students proved to see eye to eye with their real council counterparts, voting to approve the project.

The council, with members chosen by their respective schools and designed to represent each of the five Tempe high schools, were kept in the dark about the real council’s ruling.

“We try not to let them know that (how the council voted),” Bauman said. “No one had been told.”

With the meeting closed and the project approved, the students shed their disguises and returned to being teenagers. Many of them said they came away with more than they’d expected.

“It helps (us) see if that’s the career (we) want to go into,” said Katelyn Murphy, a freshman at Marcos de Niza High School.

“You get the background and not just what you see (on the outside),” added Jordan Messacar, a sophomore from Corona.

The kids observed that city officials were able to get something out of the experience, too.

“They’re obviously interested in the youth,” said Taylor Walton, a junior at Corona; “being here means something.”

“They enjoy it, spending time with the kids,” added Bauman. “They all show up and they all seem to enjoy interacting with them.”

Both kids and council members seemed to agree: Supporting activities like this is important, as it helps ease the transition of the older generation leaving and the younger stepping in.

It may be strange to think of it now, but that same rubber-duck-wielding teen may be someday’s fire chief and the dual-identity student a prospective mayor.

“Some of these kids will be our future leaders, I do believe that,” said Bauman.


Photo by David Stone













































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