Council hears comments about Montevallo junior mayor’s seat
Published 4:11 pm Friday, September 17, 2021
By EMILY SPARACINO / Staff Writer
MONTEVALLO – Comments regarding whether the Montevallo Junior City Council should have a seat next to the members of the Montevallo City Council during meetings constituted a significant portion of the City Council’s Sept. 13 meeting.
Nearly a dozen students and adults spoke in support of the person in the MJCC’s highest officer position of junior mayor being permitted to sit next to the City Council members on the dais again.
Junior Mayor Olivia Gilbert spoke during the initial citizen participation section of the meeting, reiterating comments she shared at the Aug. 23 City Council meeting about reclaiming the seat previously designated for the junior mayor.
“The MJCC is a change-maker in the city of Montevallo,” Gilbert said. “While other communities search for ways to have youth participate in the civic life, the MJCC has brought these young people to the city’s doorstep.”
Gilbert said the MJCC’s 14 members meet at least twice a month in the Council Chambers, and participate in and organize various community events and projects, including drive-in movies, toy drives, mayoral debates and festivals.
The junior mayor has held a seat on the dais for the last five years, she said.
“One of the things that the Shelby County Legislative Delegation singled out for particular notice was the fact that, ‘The president of the Montevallo Junior City Council represents the voice of the area’s youth by sitting on the dais at City Council meetings,’” Gilbert said. “This seat represents the city of Montevallo’s commitment to its youth.
“I respectfully request and admonish the City Council to not only re-invite the junior mayor to the dais, but also to actively engage, and learn from and with, these civically minded youth.”
Mayor Rusty Nix thanked Gilbert for her input but maintained his stance on having only elected and appointed officials seated on the dais.
“The youth voice is very important, but there again, that’s why you have the opportunity to speak to the council,” Nix said. “I stand firm with elected officials and appointed officials on the dais.”
Abigail Heuton, who served as junior mayor before Gilbert, said she learned important lessons during her time in office.
“I do feel like it represents the council wanting the voices of the youth to be heard, and us not having the junior mayor sitting there does not show that the older generation wants the youth to be involved,” Heuton said. “We are going to be the ones sitting up there in 10 to 15 years.”
Councilmember Kenneth Dukes said he supports the junior mayor sitting with the council.
“I fully support the youth and their involvement and their role sitting on the dais,” Dukes said. “If we ever have an opportunity to vote as a council, I will support that.”
Montevallo High School government teacher Lee Pastor was among several adults who spoke to the council about the decision.
“The truth is that our democracy is dependent on it being continued through our youth,” Pastor said. “These are young men and women who are very committed to their community, and that is a gift. I just encourage you to consider that. Please don’t diminish their enthusiasm for being involved and passionate about civic involvement because they’re our future, and they’re the future of our democracy here in the city, the county, the state, the country, at a time when things are very divided.”
Jason Peterson, a former Montevallo City Council member, said the city’s Boards, Commissions and Committees Handbook, which the council voted unanimously to adopt on Sept. 28, 2020, reads in part, “The junior mayor shall serve in an advisory capacity to the City Council, and the junior mayor shall sit with the City Council at each council meeting.”
“That is part of your policy that’s currently in place, so it would take a vote of the City Council to change that policy,” Peterson said. “I encourage you all to please invite the junior mayor to sit with you.”
Greg Reece, Gilbert’s father, described the MJCC as a grassroots organization created by a group of middle school students many years ago.
“They created this as a way for themselves to learn how to become better citizens, a way to inspire other young people to get involved in civic life and as a way for those young people to practice democracy,” Reece said. “I can’t think of any better way of learning how to practice democracy than having the junior mayor sitting there with you on this dais as a non-voting member but as someone who has a stake in the life of this city.”