By Cady Inabinett
Tensions between the Montevallo Junior City Council and the Montevallo City Council remain high after Junior Mayor Olivia Gilbert was prevented from taking her usual seat on the council dais at the group’s Aug. 27 meeting.
In the past, the MJCC, represented by the Montevallo Junior Mayor, has had a seat on the dais alongside the city council during the bimonthly city council meetings. The MJCC representative did not hold any voting power during these meetings, but was able to offer input on topics and act as a liaison between the MJCC, and the city’s youth population and the council.
However, Gilbert stopped attending council meetings in person, “soon after the new mayor and council were sworn in,” and instead, “began attending the city council meetings virtually because of COVID-19.”
The city council meeting on Aug. 23 was Gilbert’s return to the in-person meetings, but she found herself, in her own words, “unable to take my seat on the dais.” Gilbert did not disclose exactly how she was stopped from taking her seat, but she did deliver her usual MJCC report to the council from off the dais.
This led Gilbert and other Montevallo residents to address the City Council later at the same meeting. In her address to the council, Gilbert referred to the MJCC as, “the best part of Montevallo,” and spoke on their status as a nationally recognized body—having won an American Civic Collaboration Award in 2018.
Gilbert ended her address by saying the MJCC, “has been an inspiration to youth in cities across the country, and I hope that I can return to my seat on the dais and continue to represent my friends and my peers.”
Sarah Hogan, executive director of Impact Montevallo, an organization that focuses on discouraging drug usage among the city’s youth, spoke in favor of the MJCC’s return to the council dais, requesting that Gilbert’s statement “be acknowledged” and called on the council to make a public statement “on behalf of our youth.”
Greg Reece, Gilbert’s parent, spoke in favor of the MJCC’s seat as well, advocating for the civic growth the MJCC promotes among the city’s youth and pleading with Mayor Rusty Nix for the seat to be returned, saying, “Let them have this seat. Come on, Rusty. Let’s be adults about this. Let them have this seat.”
Nix only made one comment on the issue at the meeting, saying, “I appreciate what the MJCC does. I think that they, you know, bring a voice to the community, but, you know, I’ve always been a stickler that behind the desk up here is elected and appointed officials.”
He went on to say, “You still have a voice here in the council chamber that you can address the council with any problems or solutions that you have,” seeming to want to maintain a collaborative relationship with the MJCC.
Reaching out to Gilbert after the events of the Aug. 23 council meeting, she elaborated on her point of view. She says that MJCC’s representation on the dais, “sends a message to young people in Montevallo. It represents their seat at the table and lets them know that their voices are important.”
Gilbert went on, saying, “Past mayors and council members have seemed to like having a youth representative with them at meetings so that they can get the youth perspective on the issues that they are addressing.”
When asked about what she thinks of the claim that it’s unfair for her to hold a seat on the dais since she is not an elected official, Gilbert pointed out that, “there is already a seat on the dais that is not held by an elected official,” referring to the role of city clerk, and that, “The Junior Mayor is elected by his or her peers on the MJCC.”
She said she doesn’t “really understand why those ‘rules’ can’t apply to the Junior Mayor.”
Overall, Gilbert believes that, “By removing the seat on the dais, the City Council is weakening their relationship with youth in Montevallo and removing the coolest thing Montevallo has to offer. They are sending a message, intentional or not, that youth concerns are not important to city government.”
When asked to elaborate on his perspective on the issue, Nix responded, “The MJCC is allowed to speak at City Council meetings just like Department Heads. No department heads or board members have a seat on the dais. The City Council and Mayor were elected by the citizens of Montevallo to sit on the dais.” He did add that, “I believe that the voices of our youth need to be heard.”