Youth Commission: An Effort Wasted on the Young?

According to a recent news article, the Mayor wants to retool the Propel Pittsburgh Commission, which is aimed at ensuring young people have a seat at the City’s table. In April of 2007, when the Commission was formed, the City’s youth policy director at the time rhetorically asked in a news article "what better way to talk about those issues than having young people at the table, talking about issues that are important to us, and moving forward with aggressive agendas on the city government level?"

The whole moving forward part seems to be where the Commission got hung up and why changes are now being pushed.

Currently the Commission has 35 members, one appointed by each Council member and 25 appointed by the Mayor with the Council’s approval. The Mayor is the chair of the Commission. Members are not paid for their service, have to be between the ages of 20-34, and a City resident at the time of the appointment. The two changes slated to occur include first, a reduction in more than half of the membership to 15 members total (since it was noted in the February 2011 article that "organizers repeatedly struggled to get all 35 members to a meeting, even though they applied for the slots, went through interviews and promised to serve"), and second, the cessation of the Mayor’s role as chair and the chairmanship coming from within the Commission’s reduced membership.

There is hope that the changes will help revive the moribund Commission. The same newspaper article in April of 2007 that announced the formation noted that "it will meet six times a year and will submit quarterly reports to the mayor and council on policy matters important to young professionals". Nearly four years later the Commission’s page on the City’s website shows all members’ terms expired as of August 1, 2010 and the most recent downloadable recommendations issued as of September 2008. The more recent news article on the proposed changes quoted a member of the Commission (who cannot be reappointed since the member has moved from the City to the "south suburbs") saying that Propel Pittsburgh has not met in at least six months and, absent the changes, "I don’t see the success of Propel happening."

It is unclear if the Commission costs the City much: it is not listed as a separate line item the way the Equal Opportunity Review Commission or the Personnel and Civil Service Commission are, and it is staffed out of the Mayor’s office, which is in total a $1 million portion of the entire budget.

At least the new youth policy director is bullish on the prospect, echoing the director as of April 2007 in asking, "How many young adults can say they have an opportunity to engage the mayor about relevant issues?" If the changes go through the answers will be "fewer young adults" and "not much" since the Mayor won’t be chairing the Commission.