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Non-U.S. citizens can’t be youth councilors, says council

Of the Keizertimes

A new provision in the Keizer City Council’s rules of procedure effectively bans non-U.S. citizens from serving as youth councilors.

A line requiring students be eligible to vote were they 18 years of age was part of a new package approved in a 5-0 vote Monday night by the council. The language prevents any immigrants who have not obtained citizenship – be they in the country legally or illegally – from serving in the role, as only U.S. citizens may vote. Councilors Jim Taylor and Joe Egli were absent.

The youth councilor does not have voting power, and in practice has rarely been involved in policy discussions. Their role has more typically been keeping councilors informed on upcoming school activities and milestones while observing local government at work. They are selected through a Salem Chamber of Commerce leadership program.

The move comes just more than a year after Hugo Nicolas, now 19 years old, finished his term as youth councilor. He was brought to the country from Mexico without documentation when he was 11 years old, and has been open with numerous media outlets about his immigration status.

Councilors held a work session last month on the new rules, and Monday night only debated whether the student must be a Keizer resident. The provision regarding voter eligibility was not discussed.

Kathy Moore, director of leadership and workforce development at the Salem Chamber of Commerce, said she learned about the rule change when contacted by the Keizertimes.

“This is quite surprising, and I’m a little shocked,” Moore said.

Nicolas was among about 30 students chosen each year to participate in the chamber’s two year program, where in the first year they spend a day each month learning about government, education, history and more. In the second year they’re assigned to various boards, councils and commissions throughout the area.

Moore said many of the students selected are “diamonds in the rough” – they may be sacrificing social development to achieve academically, or perhaps a school staffer saw potential for leadership in that student.

On Tuesday, Mayor Lore Christopher said students who seek out such positions harbor political ambitions.

“We felt if you’re able to run for office and you want to be involved in policy settings, you should be able to vote,” Christopher said.
She said it was nothing to do with Nicolas’ performance, which she called “excellent, but I’m telling you these kids are all excellent.”

“It’s not a direct issue about immigration, but it’s an issue of why have someone in that position gaining that experience if they could never run for the city council?” said Councilor David McKane. “… Hopefully they’ll want to run for the city council.”

“I want to use this as another opportunity of succession, that we pass the baton, so to speak, of our political volunteer process through experience rather than a spectator role,” added Councilor Cathy Clark.

The rules do not dictate a procedure for determining citizenship.

Under the new procedures, councilors are also banned from voting via telephone or other device. On a few occasions, councilors had used the phone to attend meetings while out of the area. The rules would have to be suspended in the future in order for councilors to vote via phone.

Decorum and order procedures were also tweaked, requiring a council vote whether a particular event or action is considered appropriate. This stemmed from Christopher’s assertion a couple of months back that participating in a dunk tank fundraiser could be a breach of said decorum.

Agendas for meetings will officially be distributed no later than five days prior to the meeting, and will be sent to councilors, media, neighborhood associations and those who have requested the agenda.

A new section allows councilors to change their vote after a count has been taken with unanimous consent from the council – a practice that could allow issues that did not receive a unanimous vote initially to pass without second reading.