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Council, citizens split on age proposition

By Melissa Crowe
Feb. 22, 2012 at 6:04 p.m.
Updated Feb. 22, 2012 at 8:23 p.m.

Gilbert Servin, 18, a  student at University of Houston-Victoria, has worked to   amend  the city charter to change the age to qualify for a city council seat from 21 to 18.

The wording

If approved, Article II, Section 2, Qualifications of City Council Members would read:

Each member of the city council at the time of election to office shall be at least 18 years of age, shall be a United States citizen and qualified voter of the state of Texas, shall have resided in the city for not less than one year immediately preceding the election, and if elected from a district shall have resided in the district from which elected for not less than six months immediately preceding the election.

If any member of the city council shall cease to reside in the city during their term of office, or in their respective district, their term of office as a member of the city council shall terminate immediately.

Election day

The city council and city charter election is Saturday, May 12.

Victorians will decide for themselves on May 12 whether they want 18-year-olds to seek city office.

In a 4-3 vote Tuesday, the city council approved adding a proposition to the city charter election that would lower age restrictions from 21 to 18 to campaign for a city-elected office.

Councilman Gabriel Soliz submitted the amendment to Article 2, Section 2, of the charter, which he researched with his intern, 18-year-old Gilbert Servin, a University of Houston-Victoria freshman.

During public comment, Servin reiterated his case for the proposition.

"When you turn 18, you are now legally an adult, you have the right to vote, sign contracts, are considered mature and old enough to be tried as an adult and even have the right to serve your country and die for it," Servin said. "However, you do not have the right to run for city office in Victoria ... We want the option to be there."

Soliz said the issue was not a question of participation, but was a question of allowing citizens to decide who will represent them.

A lunchtime poll Wednesday in downtown Victoria showed voters are divided. Many said if 18-year-olds can vote or serve in the military, they should be able to run. Others said the maturity is not fully developed.

Matt Syverson, of Victoria, wants the age lowered.

"Since they're old enough to vote, they're old enough to run," he said.

Another Victoria resident, Patrick Strauss, agreed.

"The precedent has been already been set in larger cities," he said.

Conversely, others said they would not support the measure.

Salome Chavarria, of Victoria, said 18-year-olds do not have the maturity level to run a city.

"They are just learning how to work on their own budgets," she said.

Mary Ann McAdams, of Victoria, said although there are probably some people younger than 21 capable of holding office, there are not enough to warrant changing the charter.

Council members gave passionate arguments for and against young adults in office before the 4-3 vote.

Mayor Will Armstrong said although 18-year-olds can join the Army, you take extensive training before making any contribution.

"I'm opposed to this and I'm going to be opposed to it if you put it on the ballot," Armstrong said. "I'm paid to vote. The people ... entrust us to make their voices heard."

Councilman David Hagan called to attention the age benchmarks in life: 16 to drive, 18 to vote, 21 to drink.

While he said the proposal came from a good heart with good intentions, he voted no.

"There's a certain amount of maturity that takes place" between 18 and 21, he said. "It allows for work experience or getting out of one's parents' home."

Speaking from personal experience of having an 18-year-old living at home, Councilwoman Denise Rangel said most 18-year-olds lack the life skills to run a city. She voted for the measure.

Teenagers need "opportunities to experience government first-hand before running for office," she said.

Many city boards and committees allow for that opportunity by not setting age requirements.

Others, including councilmen Joe Truman and Paul Polasek, said the issue was better left up to the voters.

Truman said he had his own opinions about the issue, but "would rather everyone express theirs" on the ballot.

Polasek said he did not "have a problem with letting the voters decide."

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