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Youth Participation in Local Government

This page provides examples of cities and counties in Washington State that have established youth councils, youth commissions, and other programs to encourage teenagers and young adults to participate in local government.

Practice Tip: When establishing youth or student positions, think about the impact of the academic calendar. High schools in Washington generally start in late August or early September, ending around mid-June.

Youth Commissions and Councils

Some jurisdictions have established dedicated youth commissions or councils to increase youth participation in local affairs and provide input on issues of importance to youth. Below are selected examples.

  • Clark County Youth Commission - Thirty youth members, 11 to 19 years old, who advise the county. Website includes application forms, youth achievement nominations, and a number of reports and policy recommendations produced by the commission.
  • Colfax Municipal Code Ch. 2.26 - Youth Advisory Commission advises city council, boards, commissions, and staff on youth issues. Six voting members and one alternate appointed by mayor and confirmed by council. Any high school student in good standing is eligible; two-year terms.
  • DuPont Resolution No. 12-413 - Youth Council consists of up to 20 high school students under the governance of the park agency. Members may serve until they graduate from high school.
  • Federal Way Youth Commission - 12 voting members and three alternates appointed by council; members must be sophomores or juniors and serve two-year terms. See Federal Way Municipal Code Ch. 2.60.
  • Seattle Youth Commission - 25-member youth commission, with 13 members appointed by the mayor and 12 by council. Members must be 19 years old or younger at time of appointment. One-year terms. See Seattle Municipal Code Ch. 3.67.
  • Snohomish County Children's Commission - 25 members, of which at least two must be under 18 years old, to advise the county on issues affecting infants, children, and youth ages 0-18. Youth members serve one-year terms, other members serve three-year terms.

Youth Participation on Advisory Boards and Commissions

A number of cities provide seats for youth members on various advisory boards, especially boards related to parks, libraries, human services, and the arts. However, some jurisdictions also provide for youth participation in other areas such as planning or transportation commissions.

Youth members often (but not always) have full voting rights and responsibilities, although they might not count toward quorum requirements and they usually serve shorter terms (one to two years). Below are selected examples.

  • Auburn Municipal Code Ch. 2.45 - Planning Commission includes nonvoting high school senior member with a one-year (June-to-June) term.
  • Centralia Municipal Code Ch. 2.22.020 - Parks and Recreation Advisory Board should "preferably" include a youth representative 18 years old or younger at the time of appointment. Youth appointments last one year; if youth position is vacant, it may be filled by a citizen at large.
  • Edmonds Municipal Code Ch. 10.03 - Any city board or commission may appoint a high school or college student as a nonvoting member to a one-year term.
  • Kirkland Municipal Code Sec. 3.08.110 - One "youth-specific seat" on the Human Services Advisory Committee, Library Board, Park Board, and Transportation Commission. Youth members must be sophomores or juniors at time of appointment; term lasts two years.
  • Lacey Municipal Code Sec. 2.42.020, Sec. 2.44.020, and 2.46.020 - One youth member each appointed to the Historical Commission, Park Commission, and Library Board. Youth members must be sophomores or juniors and at least 16 years old; term is one year and youth member may be reappointed to a second term.
  • Redmond Boards and Commissions - Teenagers are encouraged to be "youth advocates." Arts Commission and Parks and Trails Commission each appoint one youth advocate to a one-year term. (See application form.)
  • Renton Boards, Commissions, and Committees - One youth representative under the age of 21 appointed to the Human Services Advisory Committee, Municipal Arts Commission, and Parks Commission.
  • Seattle Get Engaged Program - Cooperative program between the city and the YMCA places young adults, ages 18-29, on advisory boards and commissions. YMCA recruits the participants and provides training and support, while the city offers special one-year positions on the boards and commissions and partially funds the YMCA support work. (See Seattle Municipal Code Ch. 3.51.)

Youth Volunteers and Student Internships

Many jurisdictions provide some form of internships or volunteer opportunities for teenagers and college students, which can be a great way to interest youth in local government and begin to develop their skills, knowledge, and professional networks. Below are just a couple examples of larger internship and volunteer programs.

Youth Representation at City Council

A few cities (typically smaller jurisdictions) have created positions for student representatives or liaisons to city council. In the examples below, the youth liaisons are often invited to attend city council meetings and speak on youth and school issues, but they may not vote or sit in on executive sessions.

  • Quincy Municipal Code Ch. 2.20 - Student representative is invited to attend council meetings, may sit with council, and must comply with council rules of procedure. Also provides for an alternate, who also serves as the student member of the Recreation and Arts Commission.
  • Sequim Resolution No. 2006-04 (2006) - Creates two student liaison positions and states that each liaison "shall attend each evening council meeting." Program was discontinued because students were unable to commit enough time.
  • Sultan Municipal Code Ch. 2.21 - High school liaison may be appointed by mayor and approved by council, or alternatively multiple students may serve on a rotating basis as approved by the high school principal.

Other Youth Participation Programs

Below are other selected programs that aim to engage youth in local government and the community.

  • Bellevue Youth Link - Youth leadership program sponsored jointly by the city and the school district. Includes a governing council, committees, and a board that advises city council and the city manager on youth issues.
  • Lacey WIN! Youth Program - City-sponsored grant program encourages youth participation in projects that foster community pride; pays youth groups up to $300 per service project.
  • Union Gap Resolution No. 654 (2007) - Provides for a student delegate to travel with city representatives to the National League of Cities annual meeting

Recommended Resources

Last Modified: June 24, 2016