May 29, 2024
The Liberty Lake Splash
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Liberty Lake, WA 99019
Phone: 509-242-7752
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City commissions offer chance to serve, enhance community

When Danetta "Dg" Garcia's bid for a Liberty Lake City Council seat fell short, she didn't give up on the idea of serving the city she calls home. 
A former member of council, Garcia pivoted quickly and threw her name into the ring for a Planning Commission seat. 
"After the election, the mayor mentioned there were other opportunities to work on behalf of the city, so I thought, ‘Why not?'" Garcia said. 
Garcia is one of dozens of citizens who have found fulfillment volunteering their time as a commission member. Such opportunities have become more plentiful in recent years with the addition of the Parks and Arts and Community Engagement commissions as well as the revival of the Civil Service Commission. 
"I appreciate the energy, time and attention these commission members provide," said City Council Member Dan Dunne. "These are bite-sized ways to participate and contribute to the city." 
Before he joined council, Dunne spent three years on the Planning Commission, the grandfather of the city's advisory groups. Planning and Civil Service were both established in December 2001, just four months after Liberty Lake's incorporation date. 
Dunne said his time on the Planning Commission prepared him for the variety of duties on the governing board and gave him increased appreciation for the importance of approaches to development that preserve the aesthetics and integrity of Liberty Lake. 
"One of the biggest obligations the city has is how property is developed and land use development codes are the key to that," Dunne said. "It's how the city is poised for the future."
As with other city commissions, the Planning Commission serves in an advisory role, offering recommendations to City Council which has the final say. Dunne said the input offered by each group should not be taken lightly. 
"I hope these recommendations are recognized and given merit," Dunne said. "I love the notion that we're charging a set of community members to really take the time and energy to help determine what's going to happen in the city." 
A visit to under the "My Government" tab shows seven current commission/trustee/committee opportunities, including the Library Board of Trustees, Parks and Arts Commission, Lodging Tax Advisory Committee, Planning Commission, Salary Commission, Civil Service Commission and the newest member of the lineup – the Community Engagement Commission. 
Mayor Cris Kaminskas is responsible for interviewing each candidate for a commission and extending that appointment to City Council for confirmation. A staff liaison is also part of the interview process along with the commission/trustee/committee chair if available. 
When Kaminskas first joined council in 2010, only the Library Board of Trustees and the Planning Commission were actively participating in support of elected leaders around the dais. Kaminskas said the addition of volunteer-led groups has had a positive ripple effect on the ability of municipal government to get things done. 
"We just don't have the staff time to do all that," she said. 
The mayor points to the array of projects completed by the Parks and Arts Commission in just a few years of existence, including the mural at Pavillion Park, utility box art wraps, sculpture at Rocky Hill Park, waste basket art wraps and the new basketball court and skate park murals at Pavillion Park as an example of concrete achievements by a commission. 
"We probably wouldn't have all those things without that commission," Kaminskas said.
Kaminskas also said input from the Community Engagement Commission was one of the keys to the city securing ZenCity interactive software intended to improve channels of communication between City Hall and residents. 
Nancy Hill just began her second year as chair of Parks and Arts. Hill said she got involved as a way to make an impact after retiring as executive director of Spokane County Regional Animal Control Services (SCRAPS). 
"I was looking for volunteer work and more specifically something local that was different and where I could make a difference," Hill said. 
Hill read in The Splash that the city was accepting applications and interviewed with then-Mayor Shane Brickner. 
"It's a gift of time," Hill said. "I've enjoyed it. That's why I signed on for another three years."
Like many commissions, Parks and Arts meets once a month, typically for around two hours, Hill said. All seats in the group are currently filled along with two adjunct members and a student volunteer. 
"We're going strong," Hill said. "Everyone in our group is contributing."
Hill and her colleagues have more on the docket for this year, including an historical display at Pavillion Park and a pair of blank slates at the renovated Trailhead golf facility that have been set aside as dedicated art walls. Hill said the grand opening of the Pavillion Park court and skate park murals will likely take place this spring. 
Hill added that she is working with City Administrator Mark McAvoy to arrange a council workshop with Parks and Arts. The group will also be part of the master plan discussion for Twon Square Park. 
The origins of the Community Engagement Commission go back nearly four years when Garcia brought up the need for the city to be more engaged with residents. Council Member Annie Kurtz carried the baton and became the catalyst for the formation of the group which has become a respected liaison between citizens and City Hall. The commission will hold its second workshop with council on March 5. 
Commission Vice-Chair Summer Darrow said the group has had success at community events like the Liberty Lake Farmers Market where members chat with residents, some of whom may be reticent to appear at a council meeting and voice concerns or provide feedback during public comments. 
"I think when we're at local events, that shows people they can talk to us a little bit more," Darrow said. "We're just trying as many avenues as we can to engage people." 
Darrow said the commission directs residents to new opportunities to learn about municipal government and how they can participate, like the City Academy and city podcast. She also points to post cards and mailers that have been utilized as another route to reach households. 
"I like that we are trying other ways of communicating, even if it's an old-school method," Darrow said. 


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