At 16, Venice resident Dexter O’Connell already has a diverse list of extracurricular activities to add to his college applications — playing goalie on his high school’s lacrosse team, debating on the school’s mock trials team and even writing for the school newspaper.
Now, the Palisades High School junior can add serving on the Venice Neighborhood Council to the list of extracurricular activities.
Yes, the teenager is one of the newest members of his community’s certified Neighborhood Council Board of Officers.
He was elected along with 20 other community members to a two-year term September 16th. Not only was O’Connell elected as one of 14 community officers on the council, but he racked up the most votes for a community officer at 66, besting such incumbent Neighborhood Council members as Stan Muhammad, who was nine votes behind.
“I was very happy to be elected, but I was also very surprised to see that I was first,” said O’Connell, a lifelong Venice resident.
It is currently unknown when the new elected members will take their seats on the Neighborhood Council.
Taking an active role in the community is nothing new for O’Connell. Aside from his various extracurricular activities at Palisades High, he referees youth soccer games and is the scorekeeper for basketball games at Penmar Park in Venice.
What may come as a surprise is that while he was elected to the Venice Neighborhood Council, O’Connell is not involved in student government at his school.
He decided to run for the Neighborhood Council because it was just another way to be active in his hometown.
“I thought it would be a great way to get more involved in the community,” O’Connell recalled.
Although O’Connell goes to school outside of community limits, he says he does everything else in Venice. When he saw that candidates needed to be only 16 to run, O’Connell, who has volunteered at previous council elections, chose to jump at the chance.
“The election was there and the opportunity presented itself, so I took it,” he explained.
When it came to campaigning, the young candidate enlisted the help of some friends to hand out fliers throughout the community, and it was those same people O’Connell said he knew he could count on to cast a vote for him in the election.
But even with those virtually guaranteed votes, he said he never thought he’d become the top vote-getter for community officer.
Neighborhood Council president-elect Mike Newhouse, who received the second highest votes for an executive officer at 329, said he was not surprised to see O’Connell’s vote tally, given how “energetically” he campaigned.
The incoming council president welcomed the new teenage council member and praised his election victory.
“I think it’s fantastic and I wish we had a lot more involvement by stakeholders his age,” Newhouse said. “He’s really motivated and he has good energy.”
O’Connell isn’t the first in his family to be elected to a community position. His grandfather served as the mayor of a small town in upstate New York.
Some might have had difficulty taking O’Connell seriously as a candidate because of his age, but he said that never became an issue after he laid out his goals.
“People didn’t seem terribly concerned about that,” he said of his age.
If anything, Newhouse views O’Connell’s age as a positive for the council, as he may be able influence other young residents to get involved and bring a point of view that’s “really underrepresented” on the council.
“I always thought it was too bad that other young people were not involved,” Newhouse said. “I think he will do a good job of making sure the issues that are important to younger people are brought to our attention and addressed.”
Even with the number of activities O’Connell takes part in, he said he still felt that he had too much free time. He doesn’t anticipate that his council duties will get in the way of his school and extracurricular responsibilities, saying that his council role will motivate him to complete the other work first.
During his campaign as a candidate, O’Connell focused on addressing three primary issues — pacification, beautification and rehabilitation. He said he will listen to all sides of issues, support community art projects such as murals and work on getting certain streets repaired.
O’Connell also noted that he is a strong supporter of the Venice Specific Plan, an issue that received recent attention with the Hotel Ray project that was rejected by the West Los Angeles Area Planning Commission.
A primary goal for the incoming council member will be working on efforts to improve use of community recreation facilities, such as the Oakwood Recreation Center.
“The most important issue is revitalization of our parks facilities,” he said.
As O’Connell prepares to take his seat on the Neighborhood Council, he expects to face his share of challenges as a newcomer, particularly getting people to trust him at his age.
Not surprisingly, the high school student is unsure about his future career, or whether he intends on pursuing politics.
But for the time being, O’Connell can surely brag to his friends that he’s the only one of them who can put the words “Neighborhood Council member” on a college application.