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Old enough to serve?

The O’Fallon City Council recently voted down legislation to place an item on the April ballot to amend the city charter to allow 18-year-olds to serve in public office.

The bill stemmed from a proposal made by the Mayor’s Youth Advisory Council, who wanted the minimum age requirement lowered from 21.

In a discussion prior to the council’s vote on Jan. 22, Councilmember Jeff Schwentker (Ward 4), the council liaison with the youth council, voiced his support of the bill. Schwentker was not alone in his support; however, other councilmembers had concerns regarding the legislation.

Councilmember Jim Pepper (Ward 2) said that although he admires the people on the youth council and believes they are all “sharp and attentive,” not all 18-year-olds are as responsible. Pepper added that college might present another difficulty for a young person seeking public office.

“I have a problem (with) someone running for office, for council, and deciding to go off for college,” Pepper said. “They can make it here for meetings, maybe, but how are they going to serve their constituents?”

Councilmember Mike Pheney (Ward 5) said that residents from his ward had contacted him with concerns regarding the legislation and that those residents felt 18 was too young and that 20 years old may be a better age for a potential candidate.

Councilmember John Haman (Ward 3) said the residents should be the ultimate deciding factor in the debate.
“Would I vote for an 18-year-old to be a city councilman or mayor?” Haman said. “I don’t know, let me meet the young man or young woman, I’ll make my decision then. But until then, if we have an opportunity to let the residents make a decision, let them make the decision. This is the easiest vote I’ve ever had.”

The council’s final vote was 6 to 4, against the legislation.

“I’m disappointed that the citizens didn’t get a chance to directly voice their opinion, but I certainly understand that the council has a job to do,” Cameron Leahy, president of the youth council, said.

The youth council plans to rewrite the proposal and resubmit the issue to the council. Leahy said some changes to the proposal are being considered, such as limiting the number of elected officials under the age of 21, and including other recommendations made by O’Fallon’s councilmembers.

“I trust the judgment of O’Fallon citizens and hope that someday soon they get to vote on this issue themselves,” Leahy said.

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