If there’s still a seat available on the Portage Historic Preservation Commission — and, by all indications, there are at least three seats available — a Portage High School junior still wants one.
Crystal Thom, 17, attended Thursday’s Portage Common Council meeting because she said she wants to keep aware of local issues. But the issue directly affecting her – whether someone not old enough to vote can serve on a city committee or commission — wasn’t on Thursday’s agenda.
The Historic Preservation Commission, which is supposed to have seven members, is in danger of having its membership drop so low that it would lack a quorum, and therefore could not meet, take action or continue with its plans for Historic Preservation Month in May.
The commission currently has four members, but one of them, Erin Foley, has said she’s stepping down, although the Common Council has not received a resignation letter.
If the committee’s membership drops below four, it no longer has a quorum.
Thom said she doesn’t want that to happen.
That’s why, she said, she told Council Member Doug Klapper, chairman of the Historic Preservation Commission, that she’s still interested in being appointed.
“Honestly, it seems like fun,” she said.
The initial proposal was to appoint Thom as a “non-voting” member of the commission, but city officials determined Portage’s ordinances have no provision for anyone to be appointed to a committee or commission without the right to vote on matters that come before the panel.
And, there are no provisions in the ordinance requiring committee or commission members to be qualified electors, which entails being at least 18 years old.
Thom said her interest in local government was piqued largely by the situation comedy “Parks and Recreation,” which ran from 2009 through 2015 on NBC. The show portrayed the ins and outs of a municipal department in fictional Pawnee, Indiana.
“It really makes you think,” she said, “that people like President Trump aren’t the people with real power, but local officials are.”
Thom admits she’s not as much of a local history buff as the other Historic Preservation Commission members, although she has fond memories of touring the Museum at the Portage when she was a student at Rusch Elementary School, located just across MacFarlane Road from the museum.
But she’s fascinated by local government – which is why she’s participating this year in Columbia County’s Future Leaders Active in Government program, in which selected juniors and seniors from Columbia County high schools get hands-on experience with county and state government.
“I’m learning,” she said, “that if you want something to happen in government, you have to stand up for it, and not give up.”
Thom said she plans to study cyber-security, possibly at Madison Area Technical College, and that her passion for net neutrality has prompted her to contact both of Wisconsin’s U.S. Senators, Republican Ron Johnson and Democrat Tammy Baldwin.
“I think information should be free,” she said, “And censorship is not something I believe in.”