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Talk of Spokane youth commission’s demise stirs concern

Few City Council members support ending programs

At least one Spokane City Council member would consider closing the city youth department and Chase Youth Commission to help balance next year’s budget.

It’s an idea that the head of the youth department is quick to reject.

“The characterization of us has been that we are ineffective, do nothing of great value that isn’t being done by other city departments or youth organizations, and are not proactive,” Joanne Benham, director of the Spokane Regional Youth Department, wrote in a widely circulated e-mail Wednesday.

That’s City Councilman Bob Apple’s point.

“I can’t figure out what they do,” Apple said, adding that the department “provides absolutely zero benefit for the kids” unless you count passing out awards.

The Chase Youth Commission announced Wednesday that it was accepting nominations for its 24th awards presentation at the Fox theater on March 11.

Apple said the Spokane Arts Commission gets less than half the funding than the youth department receives and accomplishes much more.

In her 2010 budget, Mayor Mary Verner has proposed spending $225,000 on youth and $166,000 for the arts.

The city’s youth department has a staff of two and a half positions and is associated with the Chase Youth Commission, composed of children and adults appointed by elected officials to advise them on policies related to youth.

Apple said that the youth office was about to shed responsibility for one of its signature events, BOBFest, the annual “battle of the bands” competition.

Benham said that the city would work on that event with the YMCA, which will be taking “more of a leadership role” as a way to introduce teens to other YMCA programs.

“When we do things, we do it because nobody else wants to do it,” Benham said. “Now that somebody wants to do it, we let it go, which frees us up to tackle a new youth issue.”

Benham’s e-mail went to local social service agencies. Several, including Vanessa Behan Relief Nursery and Community Minded Enterprises, in turn forwarded it on to supporters and the media.

Other council members did not appear inclined to join Apple on Wednesday in his desire to cut the youth department.

“I think it’s a dumb idea,” council President Joe Shogan said. “The youth are our future and the majority (of council members) agree with me.”

Councilwoman Nancy McLaughlin said the youth department “adds value to the city, and it will be a sad day if the budget gets to the point of having to eliminate it.”

She suggested that “the city could work with some other organization to fold it in.”

Councilman Richard Rush said he would hate to see the youth department go, but he was “not going to rule anything in or out” at this point.

The city will have to make up more than $7million in next year’s budget, he noted, and the council will have to ask, “‘What is the value to the community of these programs?’”

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