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UHV student wants 18-year-olds to be able to run for Victoria City Council

By Melissa Crowe
Feb. 10, 2012 at 6:01 p.m.
Updated Feb. 10, 2012 at 8:11 p.m.

Gilbert Servin, 18, sits in his friend Jesus Ruiz's room at the University of Houston-Victoria. Servin is seeking a change in the Victoria city charter that would allow people who are 18 years old to run for council.

What's Next?

The proposal will be added as an amendment to the second and third readings of the ordinance calling for a charter election. The council will vote on the ordinance and amendment Feb. 21. If approved, the ordinance and amendment will be on the May 12 ballot.

Age Limits for office

LocalVictoria City Council - 21

StateState Senator - 26

State Representative - 21

Governor of Texas - 30

FederalU.S. Representative - 25

U.S. Senator - 30

U.S. President - 35

Gilbert Servin hardly finishes his speech without a burst of nervous laughter.

Citing state laws and local codes, the 18-year-old University of Houston-Victoria student said he and his classmates feel excluded. They want to be part of the city, but more than anything, they want uniformity of election laws.

Although the political newcomer, who moved to Victoria in August from Killeen, is not seeking a Victoria City Council seat in the May election, he couldn't even if he wanted to.

Before his name, or any other Victoria resident younger than 21, can appear on the ballot, the Victoria city charter has to change. The task involves a charter amendment ordinance passed by the City Council and then approved by voters.

"To be a candidate, you have to be 21 or older," Servin said during Tuesday's City Council meeting. "We want that changed to 18."

According to article 2, section 2 of the Victoria City Charter, at the time of election, city council members must be at least 21.

Other qualifications include being a U.S. citizen and a qualified Texas voter. Immediately preceding the election, candidates must have at least one year residency in the city and at least six months residency in the district being sought.

While Victoria's charter requires the higher age limit, other cities in Texas have allowed teens to run for office. Many county offices allow teens to run, as well as a handful of state positions.

"This isn't about me - in my district. By the time I'd be able to run, I'd be 21," Servin said. "This is about all the 18-year-olds in Victoria who may want to run."

Servin's interest in government grew during a political science course he enrolled in last semester with Gino Tozzi.

"I encourage not only him, but all my students, to be active participants in the political process, especially at the local level where they have a much greater impact on politics," Tozzi said.

This semester, Tozzi organized an internship program with two local council members, Denise Rangel and Gabriel Soliz.

Servin paired off with Soliz with goals of helping organize a town hall meeting as well as assisting in Soliz's commissioner campaign.

Soliz said he and Servin came up with a charter amendment idea after seeing an item with charter proposals on the Feb. 7 council agenda.

"The charter is the basis of local law, so we pulled out the charter and started looking through it," Soliz said. "Sure enough, eligibility came up and it said the age to run for office was 21."

The issue was finding reasoning that prevented young Victorians from seeking office, Soliz said.

"The city of Corpus Christi, San Antonio, Austin, Houston all allow 18-year-olds to run for mayor," Soliz said. "Personally, I feel he has a strong case and a legitimate argument to let the voters make the choice."

He said turning away young ambition can be detrimental to society.

"Maybe you just turned away the next Kennedy," Soliz said. "To always assume you'll find someone 35 to 45 to take up the banner is not going to happen."

The council voted Tuesday to delay the second and third readings of the ordinance to call a charter election in favor of giving Servin's proposal a chance to make the ordinance.

City Attorney Thomas Gwosdz is adding language to Servin's amendment.

The City Council will have the second and third readings of the ordinance on Feb. 21.

The motion to delay the ordinance Feb. 7 was met with some concern, emphasized by a 5-2 vote, with Mayor Will Armstrong and Councilman Tom Halepaska, chairman of the charter committee, voting against it.

Armstrong said he was hesitant about the issue.

Generally, when people run for public office, they spend time attending meetings and to get a taste, Armstrong said.

"Those students who came before our group and asked to be able to run for office had never in their life attended a council meeting," Armstrong said. "I think that before people get involved where it really makes a difference ... they need to have a frame of reference that I didn't see in those young people who got up and left the council meeting."

Armstrong said the city's many boards and committees have no age restrictions, and he encouraged young residents to get involved in those before seeking office.

"There are civic clubs and school activities, and I welcome young people to be involved," Armstrong said.

Servin said the some-can -some-can't rule is unfair. "To exclude us in some parts and welcome us to others is to make us second-class citizens," he said.

"We're young, but we're adults," Servin said. "If someone wants to get involved, why stop them."

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