Students aim for city council seats

A bill introduced Monday may allow city councils statewide to have student members.

by James Nord

Student government could take on a lot more meaning in Minnesota.

Sen. Kathy Sheran, DFL-Mankato, introduced a bill Monday that would give city councils across the state the power to install an “ex-officio” student member from a higher education institution in the city.

The student member would not be allowed to vote on the council under the legislation.

“I think itâÄôs a great idea,” said Sen. Sandra Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, a co-author, noting that the measure is meant to increase communication and provide a voice for students âÄî a significant population demographic that typically goes underrepresented in many cities.

Senate Higher Education Committee Chairwoman Michelle Fischbach, R-Paynesville, supports the bipartisan legislation, Sheran said.

The Minnesota Student Association began working with Minneapolis City Councilman Cam Gordon, Ward 2, on a similar measure but shifted priorities after Gordon said it would be difficult to pass.

Adding an “ex-officio” member to the council would require a charter change, which some council members might have resisted, said Nick Saab, MSA legislative affairs director.

The student association started work on an informal student advisory committee to the council, but MondayâÄôs legislation could refocus priorities again.

“I donâÄôt see at this point why we shouldnâÄôt be pursuing at full steam what the bill intends,” Saab said.

MSA will likely begin meeting with city council members in March to work on the measure, Saab said.

Minneapolis City Council President Barbara Johnson said she is “certainly open to looking at more participation by young people in city government,” but expressed concerns with the legislationâÄôs practical implications.

Johnson, Ward 4, questioned whether a student member would get an office, attend meetings and join committees.

The billâÄôs language is purposely vague to allow cities leeway in how they institute the measure, Sheran said.

The billâÄôs current language contains many provisions the lawmaker plans to change using a “delete all” amendment, meaning she would completely rewrite it. She decided on the alterations after consulting with organizations including the League of Minnesota Cities.

Included in the changes is lessening the council vote margin to institute the move from two-thirds to a simple majority.

Two Minnesota State University-Mankato students brought the idea to Sheran after running into the same problem as MSA.

“I want to give them the forum here at the Senate to present their case to the Legislature,” she said.

After Sheran introduced the measure on the Senate floor, it was referred to a committee on local governments.