March 18, 2013 10:13:40 AM
Caledonia High School students with political aspirations -- or just a desire to understand the underpinnings of government -- will soon have an outlet for their interests.
Caledonia alderman Bill Darnell is organizing a Mayor's Youth Council, an initiative taking place in cities around the nation as a way to foster leadership and civic-mindedness in high-schoolers while giving them the chance to become more actively involved in their communities.
The youth council will be open to ninth through 12th-graders, and Darnell is hoping freshmen and sophomores will join so they will have the benefit of serving in the council for several years before graduation.
Darnell, who serves on the Mississippi Municipal League's youth committee, said he returned from a recent youth council conference in Hattiesburg determined to start a similar program in Caledonia.
Though the town has not budgeted funds for the program this year, he hopes to obtain corporate sponsorships and plans to bring the issue up during budget planning sessions for the next fiscal year.
The pilot program will begin as soon as 10-12 students sign up, but Darnell said he is not limiting the group to any particular number. Members will attend board of aldermen meetings and help with events like Caledonia Day and the annual Christmas parade.
He has not yet determined the group's bylaws but said he may have the members participate in writing their own.
"It's their council, let them run it," Darnell said. "Let them be advised by us and just them go."
Town Attorney Jeff Smith will handle the legalities of the bylaws.
Earlier in the month, a parent filed an injunction against the Columbus Mayor's Youth Council, alleging that her daughter had been forbidden to attend the state conference due to missing too many meetings. Although the group had bylaws, the court ruled that in the future, the rules and regulations must be printed and signed by all members and their parents.
Darnell said Mayor George Gerhart and the other aldermen have been enthusiastic about the program, and one student -- Caledonia High School senior Christina Lemmermann -- has already expressed interest in joining. She is currently vice-president of the Columbus youth council.
"Maybe one day, when they want to run for office, they'll know what they're getting into," Darnell said.
Students interested in participating in the Mayor's Youth Council should call the Caledonia Town Hall at 662-356-4117.
Carmen K. Sisson is the former news editor at The Dispatch.
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