Crystal Thom made history on Thursday.
The 17-year-old Portage High School junior, who won’t be old enough to vote until November, became the first high school student to be appointed to a city board or commission, when the Common Council voted 6-1, with one abstention, to appoint her and three others to the Historic Preservation Commission.
With the appointments of Thom, Fred Galley, Kyle Little and Anna Krause to the commission, the panel — which didn’t meet this month because it didn’t have a quorum — now has the full complement of seven members, as designated by city ordinances.
Thom’s appointment, proposed by Mayor Rick Dodd, generated intense discussion among Common Council members.
Mark Hahn, who cast the lone “no” vote, said his decision wasn’t a reflection on Thom’s ability or maturity. Rather, he said, he was concerned about the possibility that she might be the swing vote on an issue in which the commission is sharply divided — and the people affected by such a close vote might not want their fate depending on the judgment of someone who is not yet old enough to vote in an election. The voting age is 18.
“I just think it’s generally bad practice to have a non-adult making decisions for the city,” he said.
Council member Doug Klapper, who is chairman of the Historic Preservation Commission, said the commission’s main function is to determine whether a particular site or property should be included on the city’s registry of historic places.
Whether the decision is “yes” or “no,” Klapper said, the Common Council — composed entirely of voting-age adults — is the body to which an appeal can be filed.
Council member Mary Hamburg said maturity is not something that magically happens the moment a person turns 18, and the city would do well to benefit from the perspective of a teen.
Council member Jeffrey Monfort had a similar perspective.
“I think exceptional young people should be allowed to do exceptional things,” he said.
Council member Bill Kutzke, who abstained from voting, suggested allowing Thom to sit on the Historic Preservation Commission, but not allowing her to vote until she turns 18.
By city ordinances, Dodd said, this isn’t possible, because there is no provision for appointing “non-voting” members to any board or commission.
Voting for the appointments were Klapper, Monfort, Hamburg and council members Martin Havlovic, Rita Maass and Mike Charles. Dennis Nachreiner had an excused absence from the meeting.
For Galley, this is the third city body to which he is currently appointed. He is also a member of the Ad Hoc Canal Committee and the Business Improvement District Board.
This is Little’s first city government assignment, but he is president of the group promoting the Portage Family Skate Park in Goodyear Park.
Krause is an artist from North Freedom who is currently working with the Historic Preservation Commission on a coloring book of historic Portage homes, to be released in May for Historic Preservation Month.
Klapper said her presence as a voting member of the commission should pose no conflict of interest, because the commission has worked with, and compensated, past members for their work on historic projects. No money has changed hands, he said — and when the time comes to make decisions on anything related to the coloring book, Krause will be expected to abstain from voting, and may be asked to leave the room during discussion.
The city’s ordinances also allow people who do not live in the city limits to be on boards and commissions if they have strong ties to Portage, such as working in the city.
Before Thursday’s appointments, the membership of the committee was down to three people — Klapper, Jessica Lamb and Kristin Droste — with the resignation of member Erin Foley. A minimum of four members need to be at each meeting for a quorum to exist that would allow the commission to conduct business.
Dodd noted that Thursday’s appointments will only last until April, when all city boards and commissions will be reorganized.
“You have about two months to prove yourselves,” he said.