The Youth Advisory Commission (YAC), composed of youth ages 14-22, represents and advocates for the youth of Anchorage in our local government. Some of YAC’s work focuses on the youth mental health crisis—through the creation of the Mental Health Advocacy Program. YAC also crafts resolutions that represent the youth voice of Anchorage and creates community centered projects. YAC has the ability and sole responsibility to appoint a youth between the ages of 16-19 to the Youth Representative seat on the Anchorage Assembly as mandated by municipal code. The youth representative is an active, non-voting ex-officio member of the Anchorage Assembly who is present and participates at regular meetings and work sessions of the Anchorage Assembly. This seat is crucial to representing our younger generation’s voice in local politics.
Recently, Anchorage Assembly Chair Suzanne LaFrance sponsored an ordinance, AO 2022-69, removing the power of the Youth Advisory Commission to nominate a youth to this seat. The code change vests the power of nomination wholly with the Assembly. Currently, the youth representative is nominated by vote of the Youth Advisory Commission. The commission, made up of only youths, has the ultimate power to nominate other youths. As it stands, once the YAC nominates an individual, they are sent to the Assembly for confirmation.
Under the ill-conceived changes of AO 2022-69, the ordinance would grant the Assembly the power to nominate and confirm the youth representative. This action would bypass the YAC, the voice of Anchorage Youth, entirely. As the code currently exists, the Assembly already has the power to confirm nominees proposed by the commission—but LaFrance seeks to expand the Assembly’s power to be the sole voice when it comes to choosing the youth representative.
Notably, neither the Assembly nor member LaFrance have consulted or communicated with the Youth Advisory Commission on AO 2022-69. Instead, they are bent on snatching the nomination powers of the YAC, silencing the youth of Anchorage. During the most recent nomination of the current youth representative, the Assembly took over five months for confirmation. The YAC believes that the youth representative should be nominated by youth rather than members of the Assembly, as the youth representative represents only youth voices. This would allow the Assembly ample time to concentrate on their confirmational role and do so in a timely manner.
The diverse and collective voices of young people in Anchorage deserve to be heard. I thank those on the Anchorage Assembly who stand with us. People who fight for the voices of youth should not be in the minority in our city. Every voice should be heard, and substance elevated above procedure. YAC represents all Anchorage youth. The proposed ordinance would exercise a power the Assembly does not and should not have in an attempt to silence the voice of our youth.
Pursuant to current municipal code, the Assembly can choose not to confirm the youth representative nominated. This already allows for significant oversight of the youth representative, while allowing the youth of Anchorage to participate in the political process. If this were to change, the Assembly would be able to selectively nominate, approve, and confirm a single youth, and in doing so, the Anchorage Assembly would be diminishing the diversity of voices it chooses to hear.
The sponsorship of this retaliatory ordinance by LaFrance is disheartening to the youth of Anchorage. Anchorage youth were given a seat at the table so they could share their thoughts and ideas. With her demeaning ordinance, LaFrance now seeks to replace those voices and opinions with her own.
AO 2022-69 will only silence the voice of diversity in Anchorage and discourage the civic involvement of Anchorage’s youth.
I urge you to stand with the Youth Advisory Commission and the Anchorage youth to preserve the youth representative seat as a youth nominated seat. Please email the Anchorage Assembly at: firstname.lastname@example.org and Assembly member LaFrance at Suzanne.email@example.com and request they deny AO 2022-69. It is scheduled to be heard and voted on at the Assembly meeting of June 21.
Andrew (Andy) Duryea is a member of the Youth Advisory Commission. He is the Chair of the Mental Health Advocacy Program (a subcommittee of YAC) and the founder of Andy’s Bears and Cares a 501(c)3 nonprofit. He is a junior at Stanford Online High School and a fifth-generation Alaskan.