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Op-Ed: STOP Disregarding the Youth and Restore the Youth Commission and Youth Council!

Youth Advisory Council meeting on St. John in 2014. (Source file photo)

Dear Editor,

I write this Op-Ed not only as a Virgin Islander but as a Voice for my fellow peers in our community. I have the distinct pleasure of serving as Youth Chairperson on the Legislative Youth Advisory Council, however, my members and I have been unable to convene as we are now in the 35th Legislature. I have been in this fight to get the Legislative Youth Advisory Council restored, so the members and I can continue to work on behalf of our peers. To fully understand my level of disappointment and frustration, let’s go back to the beginning of this journey.

Early June of 2021, Advertisement regarding the Reinstatement of the Legislative Youth Advisory Council was shared via newspapers and social media news outlets, along with the Official Facebook page of the Legislature of the Virgin Islands. Many individuals including myself applied to serve, got appointed on September 30, 2021 by then Senate President Donna Frett -Gregory and met on Thursday, October 21, 2021 at the Respective locations in the Territory.

The Members and I met, introduced ourselves and were ready for the next step. As weeks passed by, COVID-19 cases increased, and our meeting for December was postponed, and rescheduled for a virtual meeting in January 2022. That meeting occurred on Tuesday, January 4, 2022. This meeting allowed us to recap what was discussed from the last meeting in October. As more Weeks passed by, we received an email scheduling a meeting for Sunday, March 2, 2022 to meet and recap the last meeting’s agenda and to complete new business. In this meeting, we heard nominations for the leadership positions of the council. The meeting concluded and the next one was scheduled for Sunday, March 13, 2022. At this meeting, we talked about the standing Committees we were considering having in the Council and who might be the chairpersons of each one. After this meeting concluded, we scheduled our next meeting for Sunday March 20, 2022. In this meeting, we unofficially voted for the leadership of the council, and I became Youth Chairperson. The following week, a meeting was held to unofficially vote on the Chairs and Vice Chairpersons of the standing Committees of the council.

Throughout the next scheduled meeting days, Sunday, April 3 and Sunday, April 24, 2022, we went over Parliamentary Procedures and preparations in anticipation for our Pinning Ceremony.

As Weeks went by again, we finally received an email for a scheduled meeting on Thursday, June 2, 2022 to go over finalized changes and updates for the Pinning Ceremony scheduled the following Tuesday. June 6, 2022 came, and we were officially pinned as Council Members and officially voted on the leadership and standing Committees of the Council. After this ceremony, our next meeting was scheduled and held on Thursday, June 16, 2022 to discuss the ceremony and for the first meeting of the Economical, Environmental and Industrial Development Committee.

After this meeting, the Legislative Youth Advisory Council hasn’t met as a group in a meeting since. That was Two Years and some days ago, and haven’t even fulfilled the requirements of the law that created and established this organization. I have sent letters and emails requesting updates, former Senator Genevieve Whitaker has sent letters on behalf of the youth as well to current Senate President Novelle Francis and Senator at Large Angel Bolques. I decided to create a petition to get signatures to Reinstate the Council. However, the lack of attention for the youth from both the Legislative and Executive Branches are concerning, because the Governor, Albert Bryan Jr., has failed in this area as well. He has the duty to reinstate the Youth Commission and has failed to do so. He created the Millennial Council, but you hardly see or hear from any of them. When are we going to begin to follow the laws, because right now you are violating them. The Sections of the VI Code which speaks to the establishment and creation of Youth Council and Commission are listed below;

  •  27. Virgin Islands Commission on Youth

(a) There is established within the Office of the Governor, the Virgin Islands Commission on Youth, hereinafter referred to as the “Commission.”

The Commission is a nine member governing board appointed by the Governor with the advice and consent of the Legislature. At least five of the members must, at the time of appointment be between the ages of 14-24; at least two of the members must be regularly enrolled, full time students at the University of the Virgin Islands who are United States citizens; four members must be residents of the island of St. Thomas, four must be residents of the island of St. Croix; and one must be a resident of the island of St. John or a person with a disability who shows interest.

(1) Of the members first appointed, three shall serve terms of two years, four shall serve terms of three years and four shall serve terms of four years. Terms thereafter are four years, except that each member shall serve until the member’s successor is appointed and qualified in the same manner as original appointments are made.

(2) Hereunder, provided that no member shall serve more than 90 days beyond the expired term and any action taken by the Commission wherein a vote was cast by a member whose term expired is void Ab initio. A member may be removed by the Governor for neglect of duties, malfeasance or for other good and sufficient cause. Any person appointed to fill a vacancy occurring before the expiration of the term for which the person’s predecessor was appointed shall serve only the remainder of such term.

(3) The members of the Commission shall, at the first Commission meeting, select a Chairperson from among their number. The term of the Chairperson is two years. A quorum for the purpose of conducting the business of the Commission consists of six members. The Commission shall meet at least once every three months, and more often at the call of the Chairperson or upon the request of at least six of the members.

(4) Each appointed member of the Commission is entitled to receive a per diem of $75 per meeting for each day or part of a day spent in the performance of official duties, and, in addition, each appointed member is entitled to receive actual and necessary travel expenses incurred in the performance of official duties; at the discretion of the Governor.

(5) Reference to the Commission in the remainder of this section must be construed to include any person authorized to act for the Commission, including the Director or any of his assistants.

(b) The Commission is the sole Virgin Islands governmental agency for the initiation, implementation, administration, supervision coordination and monitoring of programs, services and activities oriented exclusively toward “youth services” and which are publicly funded, in whole or in part, but excluding those programs or activities for which other provision is specifically made by this Code. The Commission has powers and duties:

(1) To monitor and evaluate all new and all existing youth programs, services and activities whether locally or federally funded, for the purpose of determining the effectiveness of same, and in connection therewith to submit a report to the Governor, the Legislature and the Director of the Budget by January of each year containing detailed results of those evaluations as well as recommendation for the alteration or discontinuance of existing programs, services and activities or the establishment of new programs, services and activities;

(2) To study, collect, maintain, publish and otherwise disseminate statistical data and pertinent information relative to all aspects of youth activities and problems, including social, economic, educational, employment, recreational and physical and behavioral health needs and opportunities for young people;

(3) To serve as the sole agency through which various public and nonpublic organizations concerned with young people can obtain and exchange information, coordinate programs and enter into joint endeavors;

(4) To provide consultation and assistance to other organizations which are concerned with or may be interested in providing programs, services, activities or facilities for young people;

(5) To coordinate all programs, services and activities under its jurisdiction with the programs, services and activities of other governmental and nongovernmental entities;

(6) organizations to permit the efficient and effective functioning of all such programs, services and activities in a manner which will promote economy and prevent duplication of efforts;

(7) To promote employment and training opportunities in cooperation and coordination with other public and private agencies as well as opportunities for the proper use of leisure time for young people, including opportunities for volunteer work by said young people;

(8) To identify research needs; encourage research; assist in obtaining funds for research and demonstration projects; and establish and participate in the establishment of those projects;

(9) To provide such special personnel training as is necessary to carry out the programs, services and activities of the Commission;

(10) To plan, implement, administer and supervise a summer youth employment program, undertaken in such manner as the Commission considers appropriate and pursuant to rules and regulation promulgated by it;

(11) To accept gifts, donations, contributions, bequests, devises or other monies for expenditure for the purposes for which they are provided or as the Commission sees fit in executing its duties under this section;

(12) To plan, establish, administer and supervise programs and activities providing special services for youth, including, youth centers, counseling and referral services, outreach programs, volunteer activities and those encouraging community involvement;

(13) To cooperate with the federal government, its agencies and instrumentalities and with other public and private agencies in establishing, extending and strengthening various youth activities, services and programs; and

(14) To perform such other functions and duties as the Governor may from time to time prescribe or may be required by law.

(c) The Commission constitutes the sole government agency of the Government of the Virgin Islands for participation in all federal programs and for receipt of federal funds for youth programs, when such programs relate exclusively to youth and require action within the Virgin Islands, and when such programs are not the specific responsibility of a federal agency located within the Virgin Islands.

(d) The Governor, upon recommendation of the Commission and subject to confirmation by the Legislature, shall appoint an Executive Director of the Virgin Islands Commission on Youth. The Executive Director must be a person qualified by education, training and experience in the administration, coordination and supervision of youth programs. The salary of the Executive Director is provided by appropriation. The Executive Director must be provided with such assistants, secretarial and other personnel, office space and equipment, subject to appropriations as is necessary for the proper performance of his duties pursuant to this section.

(e) The Executive Director shall act in the name of the Commission, and has the following powers and duties:

(1) To administer all policies, programs services and activities of the Commission on a day to day basis, subject to such general guidelines as the Commission may establish, but exercising such discretion and making such management decisions as are necessary to the proper execution and operation of Commission programs, services, activities and policies;

(2) To attend all Commission meetings and submit such reports and make such recommendations with regard to youth programs, services and activities as may be requested by the Commission;

(3) To provide for the detailed administration and close supervision of youth programs, services and activities under the jurisdiction of the Commission and for the monitoring of other programs, services and activities with which the Commission is coordinating its programs, services and activities;

(4) With the cooperation of the Director of the Budget, to identify all funds, personnel, records, equipment and other resources of the Government of the Virgin Islands which provide services to youth and to report his findings in this regard to the Commission in order that steps may be taken, where necessary and appropriate, to obtain statutory or other authority to transfer funds, personnel, records, equipment and other resources to the jurisdiction of the Commission when such transfers are consistent with the intents and purposes of this section;

(5) To cooperate and collaborate with the Commissioner of Housing, Sports and Recreation, The Commissioner of Police and the Commissioner of Human Services in the administration, implementation and supervision of existing recreational programs, services and activities for youth, and in the planning, establishment and implementation of new recreational programs, services and activities for youth where considered necessary or desirable; and

(6) To perform such other functions and duties as may be assigned to him by the Commission.

Legislative Youth Advisory Council

  •   151. Duties

The Council shall perform the following duties:

(a) Advise the Legislature on proposed and pending legislation, budget expenditures and policy matters related to youth;

(b) Consult with study commissions, committees and task forces regarding issues related to youth;

(c) Conduct periodic seminars for its members regarding leadership, civic, government and the Legislature;

(d) Meet at least 3 times but not more than 6 times per year, including not more than 2 public hearings on issues of importance to youth in the legislative chambers, one on the island of St. Croix and one on the islands of St. Thomas. However the council may meet up to an additional 3 times in a year if the Executive Director of the Legislature determines that sufficient budgeted resources remain after paying all costs associated with the initial 6 meetings to pay any additional costs associated with any additional meetings; and

(e) Report annually to the Legislature on its activities by December 1st of each year. The council may submit proposed legislation as part of its report to the Legislature to implement its recommendations.

  • 153. Jurisdiction

The Council shall examine issues of importance to youth, including, but not limited to, education, employment, entrepreneurship, strategies to increase youth participation in Government, safe environments for youth, substance abuse, emotional and physical health, foster care, poverty, homelessness and youth access to services territory-wide.

2 V.I.C. § 154

Virgin Islands Code Annotated

TITLE TWO Legislature (Chs. 1 — 12)

Chapter 9. Legislative Youth Advisory Council (§§ 150 — 163)

  •   154. Membership

(a) The Council consists of 16 voting members who are Virgin Islands residents and appointed in accordance with this subsection. In appointing members, the appointing authorities shall consider geographic distribution. All youth and legislative appointments must be made within 180 days after the convening of each new term of the Council.

(b) All appointments are for the duration of the legislative term for which the members are appointed and expire upon the appointment of new Council members by the next Legislature.

(c) The appointing authorities shall select youth members from youths recommended by principals, guidance counselors or administrative heads of secondary or postsecondary school systems, representatives of equivalent instruction programs or other organizations having an interest in youth activities.

(d) Members may be reappointed to subsequent terms on the Council as long as they are eligible at the time of their reappointment.

(e) The Selection Committee shall appoint the following 20 members:

(1) Sixteen youths who have attained 14 years of age but not older than 23 years of age, and who are enrolled in programs that lead to a secondary school diploma or certificate of attendance or a general equivalency diploma, or enrolled at a postsecondary educational institutions located in the Virgin Islands with 8 being from the St. Croix District and 8 from the St. Thomas/St. John District provided that at least one member is a resident of the island of St. John; and

(2) Four members of the Legislature serve as non-voting ex officio members.

(f) Chairs. There is a legislative chair and a youth chair of the Council. The members shall elect one of their youth members to serve as the youth chair.

(g) Tie or Split Vote. In the event of a tie or split vote, the non-voting ex officio members of the Legislature, excluding the legislative chair, shall serve as the tie-breaker.

So, As I close, this is a public request to all that have the authority to change this ongoing process, to please do so, because the young people deserve it, and they have a fighter, me!

 

Anthony Mardenborough Jr. is a Secondary Education Teacher, Nonprofit Founder and Executive Director, and a Candidate for the Board of Elections.

 

 

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