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'A monumental meeting': Cumming Youth Council gathers for the first time
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From left, Grace Gant, Mary Beth Lowe, Zach Furbush, Alana Murray, Jake Dutton, Riley Brumbalow, Caleb McWhorter and Jake Gant are sworn in by Cumming Mayor Troy Brumbalow during the first official meeting of the Cumming Youth Council on Tuesday, June 4, 2019, at Cumming City Hall. (Photo courtesy of Crystal Ledford)

Jake Gant had to close the first official meeting of the Cumming Youth Council on Tuesday, but he wasn’t exactly sure how. The rising senior from Forsyth Central High School had been elected mayor at an informal meeting two weeks before, so it was his responsibility to bring things to an end.

Gant saw a gavel nearby, hesitantly picked it up and struck the desk where City of Cumming councilmembers sit during regular meetings.

Gant and eight other high school students from Forsyth Central and the Alliance Academy for Innovation on the council had plenty of kinks to work through during their meeting in the Council Chambers at Cumming City Hall, but they, school representatives and city officials were nonetheless excited about the group’s potential to foster stronger ties between the city and the high school community.

“To me, it was a monumental meeting,” said Jim Blandford, the faculty representative for Forsyth Central’s members and social studies teacher at the school.

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Forsyth Central High School rising senior Jake Gant leads the first meeting of the Cumming Youth Council on Tuesday, June 4, 2019, at Cumming City Hall. (Photo courtesy of Crystal Ledford)

The Youth Council was the vision of Cumming Mayor Troy Brumbalow, who saw it as an opportunity for the city to better connect with its younger population.

Brumbalow found cities with similar groups and consulted them. Students at the schools applied to join the Youth Council and nine members – seven from Forsyth Central, two from Alliance – were selected to serve one-year terms. The students elected their own mayor (Gant), mayor pro tem (Caleb McWhorter), city administrator (Alana Murray) and city clerk (Gant’s sister, Grace.)

The council meets the first Tuesday of every month before City Council work sessions and their meetings mirror that of the real thing. This week’s meeting had a little extra formality – Brumbalow officiated a swearing-in of the Youth Council members – and then the group got down to business.

Gant guided the Youth Council through its agenda. They made motions, with the help of Brumbalow and City Attorney Kevin Tallant. They adopted a regular meeting schedule and went over the Youth Council Constitution and election guidelines. They even called on Cumming City Administrator Phil Higgins to give details about the recent lease agreement for a cigar shop to be operated out of the historic Sinclair Gas Station.

“We just want to make sure that exterior is protected,” Gant said after the meeting.

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From left, Cumming Youth Council City Administrator Alana Murray, Mayor Protem Caleb McWhorter, City of Cumming Mayor Troy Brumbalow, Mayor Jake Gant, and Clerk Grace Gant. (Photo courtesy of Crystal Leford)
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From left, Cumming Youth Council members Eva Sell, Riley Brumbalow, Mary Beth Lowe, Zach Furbush and Jake Dutton pose for a picture with Cumming Mayor Troy Brumbalow. (Photo courtesy of Crystal Ledford)

While the Youth Council has no formal powers, Brumbalow expects the group to be a meaningful experience for the students. They will get tours of city departments and facilities, he said, and learn the ins and outs of annexations, business licenses, zonings and more. He hopes they also bring constructive ideas to the regular City Council.

“This isn’t about them coming up with painting the town green,” Brumbalow said. “This is about learning how government really works, and then [thinking] ‘What can I see that might make my community better?’”

“I think it’s a really neat experience to get to learn what our local leaders are doing,” said Mary Beth Lowe, a rising sophomore at Forsyth Central. “We’re still learning, but we’re going to continue to improve and hopefully make a difference in the city.”