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City sets higher goals for summer jobs

A city-sponsored summer jobs program should focus on providing job skills to older teenagers, rather than just trying to keep them off the streets with busywork, city commissioners said Monday.

The program, entering its third year, should try harder to match participants' career interests with the jobs they are given, commissioners said.

"We want the career-advancement concept, not just cleaning the streets and picking up garbage," said Mayor Rita Garvey.

The commission has earmarked $130,000 for the program, which will try to find jobs for about 90 to 100 young people starting in mid-June, said Eleanor Breland, the city's human relations director.

Monday's discussion was intended to focus on a review of the past two years and how the program might improve. The city is drawing up plans for this summer's program.

Commissioner Fred Thomas was a dissenting voice in the discussion, saying the city shouldn't try to pretend it can advance a young person's career through a $130,000 program during one summer.

"The state has a multi-billion-dollar industry and they can't do it," Thomas said. "I don't see how we have anything to show for what we've done."

The city should "call it what it is," Thomas said.

"We're trying to keep kids off the streets with some pocket change and out of trouble," he said.

Young people would be better served with jobs cleaning up neighborhoods, where they can see tangible results of their labor, Thomas said.

All of the commissioners were disappointed with a report on last summer's effort, which placed 124 young people in jobs coordinated through the Pinellas Private Industry Council. The report, conducted in the past two months, consisted of phone calls to only 27 people. That is not enough to evaluate the worth of the program, commissioners said.

"But we have to continue to try to help (young people)," said Commissioner Art Deegan.

The city's effort started in 1992 as a fast response to concerns about racial tensions following a disturbance involving young people in the North Greenwood area.