Is 16 old enough to serve on a county conservation board?

Leslie County’s Logan Sizemore says ‘yes’ and is out to prove it, while some Kentucky lawmakers move to set a minimum age requirement of 18 or 21

By: - January 20, 2023 5:40 am

District Judge Henria Bailey-Lewis and Logan Sizemore at his swearing-in as a member of the Leslie County Soil and Water Conservation District board. (Family photo)

A Kentucky teenager made history last fall when he became one of the youngest people ever to win elected office in the state, gaining a spot on his county’s soil and water conservation district board. But his victory may become an electoral outlier if lawmakers pass a bill that would prevent other teenagers from doing the same. 

Sixteen-year-old Logan Sizemore, a sophomore at Leslie County High School, was able to run for and win one of the vacant supervisor spots on his county’s soil and water conservation district board because there’s currently no age requirement to be a conservation district supervisor in Kentucky. Other local elected positions, such as county judge-executive or a member of a city council, require candidates to be at least 24 years old and 18 years old, respectively. 

House Bill 116 would establish an age requirement of 21 years to be a supervisor, a prerequisite that the Kentucky Association of Conservation Districts (KACD) has been pushing for in recent legislative sessions. 

“What if a 12-year-old ran?” said Allan Bryant, President of KACD. “I would argue that a 21-year-old probably has way more life experiences and knowledge than a 12-year- old.”

Logan Sizemore, left, and John Ritterholz on Election Day in Leslie County. (Sizemore family photo)

Bryant said conservation districts often receive funding to conserve and develop natural resources in their county, either from appropriations from county fiscal courts or from an added property tax by the district. An adult, he said, can make better decisions than a minor on how to spend taxpayer dollars.

He said he’s heard “nothing but good things” about Sizemore, the Leslie County teenager who won elected office, and Sizemore would be exempted from the age requirement in the legislation as he’s already holding office. Bryant said youth are involved in some of Kentucky’s 121 conservation districts through junior boards and “envirothon” teams;, there are six junior boards and 40 envirothon teams across the state. 

States across the country established local conservation districts following the agricultural disaster of the Dust Bowl in the 1930s, and Kentucky saw the establishment of its own districts in all 120 counties in the 1940s and 1950s. The districts are charged with managing and undertaking projects related to the conservation and development of soil, water and other natural resources in a county. One district helped run an educational program for students about the environment and other districts have aided local farmers in improving their operations. 

Passion for agriculture, environment

Sizemore said he hasn’t been consulted about the age requirement bill, and he doesn’t believe it’s likely that a 12-year-old child would file to run for a supervisor position. He believes the floor should be a minimum of 18 years old, if not 16 or 15 years, because teenagers can have the necessary passion and interest, like himself, to be a supervisor.

Logan Sizemore puts out a campaign sign before the election. (Family photo)

“People are allowed to vote at 18, and they’re allowed to go into the Army at 18,” Sizemore said. “So I just think if there’s any age limit at all that it should be 18 because of the things that people are allowed to do at 18 also.” 

Sizemore said he was inspired to run for the office in last year’s general election because of his passion for agriculture and taking care of the environment. He’s grown a personal garden the past four years, handing out produce to small businesses and restaurants throughout his Eastern Kentucky community. A part of his campaign for the seat last fall was asking for votes from locals visiting his family’s small business in the county seat of Hyden and also taking time to put up campaign signs around the community. Sizemore won the most votes in the election among the four candidates — 1,366 — and won the majority of precincts.

He hopes to take up more water quality sampling in his community, a place where the local water district has issued several boil water advisories in the past year due to water main breaks, and he’s also working on establishing a Future Farmers of America organization at his high school. Promoting opportunities and skills within farming among younger people in Leslie County is a priority for him.

“I want to be brought back to a realization that people like myself, of my age group, they’d be able to be taught these things,” Sizemore said. “They can do it themselves once they get a little bit older, and just create more opportunities for people my age because there’s not a lot of opportunities within the county.” 

Seat at the table

Rep. Felicia Rabourn, R-Pendleton, one of several Republican sponsors of the bill and a member of the House agriculture committee, said there’s been discussion about whether the age requirement should be 18 years instead of 21. She said she considers Sizemore’s election to be a “phenomenal” story, and she believes teenagers can have the passion to serve on conservation district boards. 

“Anytime that you can have youth involved in politics, that’s simply amazing,” Rabourn said. “This position isn’t necessarily political, but it is a seat at the table.” 

Her concern about having no age requirement, or an age requirement below 18, is whether teenagers have the applicable life skills and available time to serve on a district board.

“Do they have the other skill sets that come along with that? Not just the knowledge, but the ability to communicate well with the public and those local farmers,” Rabourn said. “Do they have the time to carry out their duties as well, working with other board members to ensure that their seat at the table is, in fact, a solid voice for their community?” 

Rabourn said she’s hoping the bill will pass — with either the age requirement being 18 or 21 years old — through the legislature when it reconvenes in February. 

A similar bill was introduced in the Kentucky Senate in last year’s regular legislative session that would have made the age requirement for supervisors 21 years old. That bill was amended to have the requirement lowered to 18 years old before it passed out of the Senate. It then stalled in the House of Representatives.

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Liam Niemeyer
Liam Niemeyer

Liam covers government and policy in Kentucky and its impacts throughout the Commonwealth for the Kentucky Lantern. He most recently spent four years reporting award-winning stories for WKMS Public Radio in Murray.