FORT THOMAS, Ky. — Since 18-year-old Highlands High School junior Sam Shelton was young, he's wanted to be mayor of Fort Thomas.
Recently, while sitting in one of his favorite classes, his United States history teacher, Jason Harnish, said that younger people need to start getting involved in government and politics.
"While he was talking, in my backpack was my application for city council," Shelton says.
The Fort Thomas City Council received 13 letters of interest and bios from potential candidates. Sam Shelton was one of them.
— Tony Mirones (@TMironesWCPO) December 29, 2015
"A few were strong enough to rise to the top in our deliberation," said councilman and wwner of Bowman's Framing Inc., Ken Bowman. "We were all surprised, but impressed to see one from someone still in high school."
Shelton has lived in Fort Thomas his entire life. His parents met while his mother was attending Northern Kentucky University. After marrying and looking at homes in the surrounding cities they ended up in Fort Thomas, loving the small-town environment and the school system's great reputation, Shelton says.
Shelton's interest in local politics grew when he attended a Junior Renaissance Camp started by Debbie Buckley, Fort Thomas Renaissance Manager and Economic Development Director. "There I continued to learn the history and culture of our great city," Shelton says. "I believe that the younger generation should take an active part in the community we live in.
“A younger voice in city matters can only strengthen the community as a whole and give better insight into the direction, ideas and future of our community,” he said.
Shelton read on WCPO media partner Fort Thomas Matters about the opening on city council, but he didn't know how to apply. A little digging on the city’s website led to an application form, which he emailed to Mayor Eric Haas and Councilman Ken Bowman. Shelton received an email from Haas saying that members of City Council would look over all the applications and make their decision at the December 21 council meeting.
"I personally think that it was admirable that he took the time to officially apply for the position," Bowman said. "His letter and bio was forwarded to full council in the same way as the rest of them for consideration, as it should have been."
Shelton said his parents were very supportive of his decision. "When I told them about the opening on City Council my mother asked if I applied yet for the position," Shelton says. "We talked about it, and my family agreed that I should fill out the application and give it a try. I didn't say anything to my teachers or friends mostly because I wanted it to be a surprise."
Even though he was not appointed to the council seat, Shelton said he still hopes to achieve a student perspective that seems to be missing not just from city council but local government right now. "There is so much for little kids to do in the city—Teeter Tots at the Fort and the Easter egg hunt to just name a few," Shelton says. "And the Friday walks in the center of town visiting local businesses are a great attraction for the adults of the city.
“But there aren't too many things that you can do if you fall between the two age groups,” he said. “I think one area that the city needs to look at is something that would engage older kids, as well. Something that would keep the kids feeling connected to the city. And for that to be truly successful they need input from the target group — my generation."
Shelton said it was important for him to apply because it's uncommon to see people his age going out and getting involved. "The city is for everyone, everyone needs a voice," Shelton says. "The younger generations of today are the mayors of tomorrow. We need to learn what is working in our community now, what changes are coming and help plan for the future we want to see in Fort Thomas."
Bowman also said that he wishes more young people would stay informed about both local and national issues and politics.
"These days, that also requires a little fact-checking," Bowman said. "I fully expect to see [Shelton] involved in helping his community one way or another, as he did with Junior Renaissance."
Upon graduation Shelton plans to attend college. "I'm looking at Northern Kentucky University or University of Cincinnati to save money and stay local," he says. "I would like to study broadcasting and journalism, and government."
Kara Gebhart Uhl originally reported this story for WCPO media partner Fort Thomas Matters. Read her original report here.