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Council votes to approve youth commission bylaws without requiring school enrollment

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The Bemidji City Council on Monday voiced concerns with a request from the Bemidji Area Youth Advisory Commission to waive the requirement for potential members to be enrolled in a high school or a post-secondary institution.

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Leslie Rith-Najarian, an incoming senior at Bemidji High School who will serve as the president of the commission this coming term, presented the proposed BYAC bylaws for council approval.

Rith-Najarian said the three individuals who served on the bylaws committee supported including the requirement that potential members be in school, but the membership of the entire commission asked that it be removed.

Without the requirement, Rith-Najarian said the commission could retain a more diverse membership.

Members must be between 14 and 19 years old.

City Attorney Alan Felix said deleting the requirement would allow a recent high school graduate, who is not now in college, to take part in the commission.

"I think it's kind of far-sighted ... (the commission is) not just focused on one group," he said, explaining that either way, home-schooled youth would still be eligible because they typically are associated with a grade.

But Councilor Nancy Erickson said she thought the requirement should be included. She supported wording that would require high school-aged youth to be enrolled in school; those who completed graduation requirements still could be members.

"Education is everything. It's their future," she said. "Success in life is based on your education."

Erickson also said the council would not be looking out for the best interests of its minor constituents if it voted to condone membership of those students not in school.

"Maybe I'm too rigid," she said, but without a high school education "you're going nowhere."

Rith-Najarian said the commission did have a 17-year-old member who was not in school and he did a good job.

Mayor Richard Lehmann said he was a little uncomfortable voting to not require youth members to be enrolled in school. But, he said, the City Council directed the commission to revisit its bylaws, and this is what it wants.

Lehmann said that since the commission can have up to 14 members, the majority of its members would likely be enrolled in the school system.

Nothing requires potential City Council members to have graduated form high school, said Councilor Barb Meuers.

Meuers said the youth commission should be able to pick its own members.

Councilor Jerry Downs said he supported requirements in which potential members would be required to undergo a criminal background check.

But Felix was not in support of doing criminal background checks. Youth commission members are not in a position of authority over other children or money, he said.

Felix also reminded the council that commission members do have adult supervision as the city manager, mayor and one council member also serve as ex officio members.

The vote to approve the bylaws without requiring ninth- to 12th-grade youth to be enrolled in school passed unanimously; Erickson momentarily paused before voting to approve.

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