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Open forums aim to boost involvement
by Garrett Valenzuela
Feb 26, 2013 | 8112 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Tribune file photo -- The Washoe County Board of County Commissioners will host a series of informal meetings designed to increase community involvement in the area. Sparks and Spanish Springs representative Vaughn Hartung will meet citizens at 10 a.m. Saturday in Spanish Springs.
Tribune file photo -- The Washoe County Board of County Commissioners will host a series of informal meetings designed to increase community involvement in the area. Sparks and Spanish Springs representative Vaughn Hartung will meet citizens at 10 a.m. Saturday in Spanish Springs.
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SPARKS -- The Washoe County Board of County Commissioners announced Tuesday their plans to interact with the community through a series of informal gatherings across the area.

Meetings will provide ample one-on-one time with County Commissioners from all five districts to discuss ways to strengthen community involvement in Washoe County. The county’s focus on increasing public input stems from its efforts on the Citizen Involvement Revitalization Project (CIRP), which will be recommended to the Board of County Commissioners on March 26.

Newly elected Commissioner Vaughn Hartung, who oversees Sparks, Spanish Springs and Wadsworth, will host his community forum from 10-11:30 a.m. Saturday at Lazy 5 Regional Park, 7100 Pyramid Highway in Spanish Springs. Hartung said guest representatives from the Regional Transportation Commission will accompany him and help answer any questions on the major upcoming projects happening in Sparks.

“Some people may want to know about the Pyramid and McCarran intersection and what is going to happen there,” Hartung said via phone Tuesday evening. “The SouthEast Connector might be another big topic. The nice thing about these kinds of forums is we are not bound by open meeting law issues, conforms or restraints. I can talk to people who want to have conversations with their elected officials.”

Hartung said the informal conversation is the first of many in gauging the public’s views on community issues and involvement. He said because there is no official agenda for the meeting. Sparks and Spanish Springs residents are not bound to prepare any sort of statement.

“I would hope that people would come out and ask questions about the issues that the local people can have an affect on,” Hartung said. “This is just a general discussion and I am not going to stress any one particular topic. I think it is going to be a real general, across-the-board conversation, which will be really cool. I am looking forward to it.”

Hartung said various issues such as free RTC fares for veterans, flood control, aiding citizens looking for jobs, senior services, the county’s involvement with the Reno Aces and a partnership with the City of Sparks Citizens Advisory Committee could possibly arise during the informal chat.

“Anytime we can get out and meet the constituents face-to-face it gives us an opportunity to get direct feedback that is not filtered from the citizen’s perspective,” Hartung said. “When they can talk to me directly they know they have had a conversation with me and it has not gone through some sort of board. People like to talk to their elected officials.

“I welcome that conversation. I can’t always solve the issues for every single person, but I do like to have conversations with the people I represent. That is what being elected is all about.”

Hartung said he plans to hold an additional meeting in Wadsworth following Saturday’s meeting.

According to Nancy Leuenhagen, community relations manager for Washoe County, the CIRP has been in the works since July of 2012 when the project team began seeking and studying ways to boost community involvement. After examining some national and local strategies, the project team hopes to gain more public opinion through the commissioner sit-downs.

The CIRP team identified a “suite of tools” catering to community involvement including one-on-one interaction, surveys, town hall meetings, community forums and advisory boards. Leuenhagen provided an update of the findings to the Board of County Commissioners during a presentation in January.

“We are focusing on providing services that enforce neighborhoods’ efforts to solve problems,” Leuenhagen said. “There are many different types of forums using active communications and we can use them to provide supplements to current communications.”

Leuenhagen added that using a neighborhood perspective and strengthening the feedback loop were two of the top suggestions for ways to heighten community awareness and involvement.

County Commissioners Marsha Berkbigler, David Humke and Kitty Jung will also be holding meetings in the coming weeks. For a full list of upcoming open forums call 328-2005 or visit www.washoecounty.us/bcc/district.
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