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Commission aims for more inclusive language in charter for youth participants

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A charter on youth involvement in Amherst County Planning Commission proceedings and language to clarify inclusion has generated discussion among the panel.

The commission, an appointed body that makes land use and zoning recommendations to the Amherst County Board of Supervisors, has had a youth representative for the past three years. The non-voting role is for county youth ages 16 to 21.

Jeremy Bryant, director of community development, said in a 2020 interview the county feels having a youth perspective is a benefit.

Leslie Gamble, who serves on the commission, recently addressed the board of supervisors with concerns on the youth charter. Gamble said she brought the concerns forward as a citizen rather than a commission member.

Gamble said she objects to language that named Amherst County Public Schools’ superintendent as a resource for finding youth participants, which she feels excludes private schools and homeschool children as potential youth participants.

“In my viewpoint, private schools, homeschoolers, colleges and universities are not under [the ACPS superintendent’s] purview,” Gamble recently told supervisors. “If we identify one resource specific to Amherst County, it’s only fair we identify a resource for private schools and universities not under his purview.”

County Administrator Dean Rodgers said the language was not intended to exclude anyone and could be fixed, which the commission and Bryant are undertaking.

Gamble said she also favors changing a phrase, “political involvement,” to “civic involvement” since the commission is a panel that is apolitical.

“As far as I’m concerned the commission is developing citizenship involvement, not political involvement,” said Gamble.

She said the county has seven charters addressing youth participation that should have language to make sure all youth, including those home-schooled and in private schools, are included.

“That way we are ensuring equal access to all students residing in Amherst County between the ages of 16 and 21,” Gamble said.

The commission’s draft of proposed changes during its November meeting states commission members “should recruit youth participants using as many resources necessary to find candidates that interested in the long term planning and future of Amherst County.”

Supervisor David Pugh, who also serves on the commission, said youth participants are there to learn, observe how the local government process works and get engaged as future leaders. Supervisor Claudia Tucker publicly thanked Gamble for bringing the concerns forward.

“It doesn’t matter where they go to school, they should have an opportunity to be on these boards [that allow them],” Pugh said of youth participants. “We’ve got to make sure it’s inclusive for everyone.”

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