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The Case for an “Underage” Council Member

The last time when I wrote about the proposed changes to lower the minimum age requirement for our next council candidate, I received an email from one of my neighbors. She wrote:

The brain is not fully developed until you are 25 years old. We should move it to 25 years old not 18. Maybe this explains some of the problems with our council now. YOU THINK?

To support her claim, she also sent me a link to this WikiAnswer webpage, titled “When is a brain fully developed?

I have a lot of respect for this particular neighbor, so I decided to dig a little deeper into this interesting scientific matter. During my search, I came across this Washington Post article that relates the teen crash rate to the brain maturity.

Findings such as this aren’t above criticism. What most scientists agree is that the actual maturity of brains happens at the age of 12, and then the growth slows down heavily until the age of 25, when the brain stops developing completely.

Does it mean that we’ll be taking a risk if we consider 18 as the minimum age of our future council candidates, or as my neighbor said, even 25? As a matter of fact, the District 4 council member Marcus Afzali was elected when he was 24. I wonder if the 73% of people who voted for him knew he only had a semi developed brain because he wasn’t 25 yet?

Frankly speaking, there hasn’t been any solid study showing the risk of having an 18 year old making important decisions. Risky and stupid decisions can come from folks of all ages – be they 18 or 81. It is no wonder why so many old and so-called experienced council members lose their seats for their past acts of stupidity.

But the matter of age is only a small part of opposition against this proposed change. The bigger argument we hear is the “lack of experience”. This is based on the case that an 18 year old is too young to gather enough and necessary knowledge about the city matters.

I’m not quite convinced. Let’s get to the basics.

The tasks of a council member can be divided into two parts. The first part is about sitting in the Council Chamber every Tuesday night and voting on a slew of matters with other council members on the bench. Most of these “matters’ are fairly simple, and one does not need to be a rocket scientist to make a decision on these matters. There are a few issues that might need some studies prior to making decisions on them, but the good thing is that the City sends a packet on those matters to all council members a few days earlier of the council session, so that the members can do their homework. I think young council members would rather quite enjoy such study, which isn’t quite different from their school’s research work that they are quite used to.

The other part of the council work is about serving the constituents. These council members often get calls from the residents they serve. The subjects of these calls can be anything and everything about the neighborhood – crime, electricity, trash collection, street repair – you name it. I’d argue that if someone has the right amount of passion for doing the job, an 18-year-old can do such jobs in a more efficient and timely manner than their older counterparts. We’re talking about a generation who knows how to connect to others on a constant basis. Often times, you will actually find them to be more creative than the older generation in getting in touch with others and addressing problems.

If approved, the 18 yr old requirement won’t be the first in our area, our neighboring Greenbelt and Hyattsville also allow candidates as young as 18. There are numerous countries, such as Germany, Canada, Austria, where an 18 year old can become a candidate for any public office. 
 
I know that not all 18-year-olds will be the same and that not every one will have the same level of smartness and intelligence. But look, before the elections, they will have to come to you, they will have to knock your doors. You will then have plenty of time to get to know where they stand on various city matters, about their I.Q., and yes, maybe the exact stage of their brain development.

Until then, it’s only fair to give them a chance to compete.

[The City Council will have a public hearing on this tomorrow]

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