Nameplates for representatives of the Liberty Lake City Council have been part of the arrangement at City Hall for over a decade now. This year, considering the transition of leaders around the dais, the engraved placards have been critical to matching names with faces on the governing board.
With the departure of veterans like Mayor Wendy Van Orman, Mayor Pro Tem Dave Crump and Council Member Judi Owens, last November’s general election brought a different look to Spokane County’s easternmost jurisdiction. Dan Dunne and Shane Brickner both emerged victorious on the ballot, while former Mayor Steve Peterson defeated Council Member Josh Becket in a bid to replace Van Orman.
In January, Keith Kopelson was appointed to take the chair once occupied by Ryan Romney who stepped down in December, citing work and family obligations.
After the turbulence had subsided, three of the seven delegates to the council were new and Mayor Pro Tem Odin Langford – appointed in 2008 – was left as the old-timer.
Peterson, who served as mayor of Liberty Lake from 2001 through 2007, recalls a time in the early days of the city when municipal experience was at a premium. One of the chief entities he and city staff relied upon was a group known as the Association of Washington Cities.
Part lobbying faction, part educational resource, part networking entity, AWC has been a staple of government in Washington state since 1933. All 284 towns and cities belong to AWC, even though membership is not compulsory.
“AWC is a wonderful source of information,” said Peterson. “It’s a nonpartisan group whose goal is quality government. They want what’s right for a city.”
In January, AWC hosted a conference in Spokane titled “Elected Officials Essentials” that provided a summary of everything from basic policies and procedures to a review of the Revised Code of Washington.
“It was invaluable,” said Dunne who ran alone on the November ballot and won a four-year term. “I found it valuable to network with other elected officials and understand the environment of other cities.”
Dunne said he has already incorporated some of the training from AWC during council meetings at City Hall, specifically an emphasis “on order, decorum and parliamentary procedure.”
“I thought we needed to step up the formality,” Dunne said.
Brickner, who defeated Kopelson by a narrow margin in the general election, said clarification of meeting etiquette – from voting policies to ordinance readings – shed light on some of the technicalities of government.
“There are a lot of procedural aspects to it,” he said. “This made it simple.”
After his appointment to the council, Kopelson attended the AWC Elected Officials Essential conference in Tacoma last month. He described AWC as “an awesome resource” and said the two-day seminar provided valuable insight and instruction.
“They taught us how to be effective leaders,” Kopelson said. “I learned how to be a better citizen and to be more involved in the community.”
Ben Wick – who was elected to the Spokane Valley City Council in November – attended both the Elected Officials Essentials conference in January and a two-day economic development seminar in Olympia sponsored by AWC. From details about the latest bills to the mechanisms of parliamentary procedure, Wick said both events provided valuable education.
“The citizens of Spokane Valley elected me,” he said “I feel it’s my duty to go out and do the best I can.”
Michelle Harvey, a spokesperson for AWC, said recently elected officials face “a significant learning curve” when the join a town or city council. AWC sends each new council representative a packet of information after the election containing a basic overview of municipal government as well as resource and contact information.
Harvey recounted a recent training conference on effective board leadership in Wenatchee that was originally intended solely for the City Council. Ultimately, board representatives from the museum, community center, public facilities district and other groups attended the meeting.
Peterson said AWC support, particularly the help of former AWC chairman Stan Finkelstein, was vital to building the foundation of the city after the vote for incorporation passed in November 2000.
“I would call Stan twice a month,” Peterson said. “Whether it was a legislative issue or something else, AWC has always been a valuable resource.”