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Asking the right questions

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By Katy Korkos

Despite the somewhat stilted pace of an official public meeting, the county’s Youth Advisory Board made strides toward filling the council’s role for them when they met Monday evening. The members grappled with the questions of how best to gather input from youth, as to what they like to do, what problems face their age group, and how the county and its police and justice components might help to better teens lives.All of the members of the newly commissioned board, which met for only the second time on Monday, are students at Los Alamos High School, but their focus group extends beyond the high school to include middle school and home-schooled students. The board will eventually have seven members, but only five young people have been approved so far.The two areas where the county currently provides programs directly targeted for youth are in recreation and in justice. The board is tasked with providing council with views from the youth perspective, and in order to gather that perspective, it is creating a survey.“Name the top five things you like to do,” was the jumping-off point proposed by the subcommittee formulating the recreation component of the survey. Ben Batha represented that subcommittee on Monday, as Ariana Rowberry was absent.Recreation programs director Dianne Marquez was invited to the board’s meeting to give board members an overview of youth-oriented programs. “You’ll see swimming, open gyms, the ice rink– we’d like to see more; we’re trying to work in more,” Marquez said.She added that there were three full-time employees (FTEs) working in youth programs at one time, but that when the teen center in the community building was closed, two of those positions were cut due to budget cuts.Senior Colin MacArthur chairs the Youth Advisory Board, and asked Marquez whether there was anything the board could do to prevent more cuts in youth programs.“We’re looking for more FTEs, specifically for youth” Marquez said. “We’re very open to partnering with anything brought to us.” Marquez added that the parks division was also interested in surveying youth to determine what programs might be successful.“We don’t want to duplicate services,” MacArthur said. The board voted 4-0 to invite representatives from Parks and Recreation to an upcoming meeting.The Juvenile Justice Advisory Board (JJAB), Teen Court, and the Juvenile Probation Officer are the components of the system, and sponsored by the county and schools.The subcommittee formed last month to look at questions for the justice side of the survey came up with several questions concerning the effectiveness of Teen Court, the JJAB, policing and drug prevention campaigns.Survey questions envisioned by the subcommittee comprised of Adrian Figg and Arianna Rowberry included the following:• Is there a problem with alcohol and drugs in Los Alamos?• How could the justice system be more effective?• If you could change the (Teen Court) process, what would you do?Capt. Kevin Purtyman of the Los Alamos Police Department, who is the county’s liaison to the board, represented the area of youth justice at Monday’s meeting.Purtyman would like to see the survey include the question, “What could the police do to be more effective?”As a result of the questions about juvenile justice that arose at Monday’s meeting, the board decided that they would invite representatives each of the entities involved in youth justice to a future meeting.MacArthur asked the board and public to help with brainstorming ideas to go into the board’s work plan, which must be submitted to council. He wrote down the ideas that were called out to him by the five young people who attended the meeting, as well as by board members. Collaboration, evaluating perceptions, soliciting input from youth, using the staff and council liaisons and addressing the underage drinking problem were the issues that will be addressed in the board’s work plan for 2008.“We should get our names out there,” MacArthur said. “We should hold an input only session, and further develop our website.”The board’s next meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m.  Dec. 3 in the upstairs meeting room in Mesa Public Library. The public is invited to attend.