Meet New Zealand's youngest politician and high school drop-out

NZ's youngest community board member, 19-year-old Ryan Jones.
NZ's youngest community board member, 19-year-old Ryan Jones.

As a high school drop-out and teenage parent, Dunedin 19-year-old Ryan Jones has not followed the most conventional path to politics.

His Facebook page tells a story not of drunken selfies and memes, but political aspiration.

Photos of council agendas, links to local government documents and snaps with politicians fill his page.

As a newly-elected member of the West Harbour Community Board, the lifelong resident of the area unwittingly claimed the title of youngest community board member in New Zealand.

But the fresh-faced University of Otago bachelor of arts student is taking it in his stride.

"Election day was actually my son's third birthday.

"I spent the day with family who came over for cake and presents.

"I got the phone call [confirming election to the board], took a moment to think about it, and then went back to be with my son."

He says that his teenage experiences, and those he will gain as a community board member, do not mean he is missing out on the experience of being young.

"I feel like my experience is pretty unique and special in its own right.

"It is a different experience, but I think it's just as good as any."

Mr Jones' political career began last year when he placed himself at the forefront of a campaign to stop Foodstuffs withdrawing its New World store from Port Chalmers.

The battle was lost, but he was left looking for more ways to help.

"I just wanted to find the best way to serve the community and work in the community."

The young campaigner's drive was recognised by former Dunedin city councillor Andrew Noone and West Harbour Community Board chairman Steve Walker, who both encouraged him to run.

University assignments for his politics major and Maori studies minor were completed early so he could fully take to the campaign trail.

What followed was the delivery of 20,000 leaflets, and the usual palm-pressing and policies, including one for a West Harbour dog park.

"From Ravensbourne to Aramoana and up the coast to Purakaunui, there are almost 1000 dogs; one in every second house.

"Yet the nearest dog park is over the hill in Forrester Park [Northeast Valley]."

His promise to deliver "fresh input, fresh ideas and dynamic ways of interacting with people" won him 291 votes.

He estimates the closest board member to him in age is 30 years older.

"Obviously, I don't have the experience of some of the incumbents but I don't think that's a big deal. I'm a fast learner."

Having just completed his final exam for the year he will swap textbooks for community board agendas.

"I'm looking forward to it. It will be a new experience, that's for sure."

- Otago Daily Times

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