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City advisory boards allow citizens to impact local government

Published 5/2/2012

By SHAJIA AHMAD

sahmad@gctelegram.com

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Laurie Sisk/Telegram Susan Soldner has served 10 years as a member of the Traffic Advisory Board.

Laurie Sisk/Telegram Susan Soldner has served 10 years as a member of the Traffic Advisory Board.

When Susan Soldner first joined the city's traffic advisory committee about a dozen years ago, her teenage sons were just getting behind the wheel.

Today, the Garden City resident said the role she first volunteered for in 1998 — a position she still holds — has been both challenging and rewarding over the years.

"If you live in the community, I think you need to be involved in whatever area you like. I kind of have some road rage from time to time, so I thought, what a great committee for me to be on," Soldner said and laughed. "At the time, I waned to help make Garden City a better place, and my boys were just starting to drive. I thought, 'this could be a good connection between them and I.' Since then, we've had a lot of discussions about traffic ... at the dinner table."

Created in the early 1990s, the traffic advisory committee is one of about 15 boards and commissions comprised of volunteers who meet periodically to review citizens' requests or other community concerns and serve in a advisory role to city departments and elected city commissioners.

Soldner, a legal assistant by day to her attorney husband, said when she first joined the five-member committee that advises city officials on vehicle and pedestrian traffic control, the big issue was about the city's school zones.

"There was no continuity between the school zones. One might have this huge school zone, and people would complain because they'd have to slow down three or four blocks away from the school," she said. "We made it our goal to make sure they were all consistent."

The mother to four and grandmother to five more said most of the requests that come before the advisory board are safety-related: requests for stop signs, speed bumps or law enforcement control for speeding, and more.

One particularly tough request that often comes from residents is for "child-at-play" or similar signs that alert drivers to children playing in the area.

Last fall, the traffic advisory board received a request for a sign alerting drivers about an autistic child in the neighborhood, and another request for a deaf child in a residential area came from a citizen earlier this year.

Soldner said denying those requests to erect signs along city streets has been difficult.

More and more municipalities across the country are moving away from installing those signs for a variety of reasons, including their inability to alter driver behavior or do anything to improve the safety of children playing in a traffic area. City traffic officials have stressed that drivers should be alert for children at all times, especially in residential areas.

"We know, based on studies, that people don't pay attention to those signs, and so it gives parents some false security, and so we've denied that," Soldner said. "And that was hard because I can understand the parents' concern that they want their child safe. On the other hand, we didn't feel it was the best decision to make for the child's safety even though it was contrary to what parents wanted."

Soldner said she anticipates new traffic challenges and concerns from residents in the year ahead, especially with the opening of the new Garden City High School at 2720 Buffalo Way Blvd., in August.

Now in her fifth, three-year term, the Garden City resident said she's enjoyed her time on the advisory committee, where she's served as chairwoman and vice chairwoman some years. Working with citizens who give "invaluable input" and the manageable time commitment — about half a dozen hour-and-a-half-long meetings per year — make the experience worthwhile, she said.

"We have really good staff that we work with at the city, and they're really good about getting us all of the facts, speed studies and all of that, for before we make decisions," Soldner said. "A couple of times I've said, 'I'm done, I'm served my time. Let me give someone else a chance.' But every time, they'll ask me whether I want to serve one more term, and I always give in. ... I feel it's something I need to do for my community."

City advisory boards and commissions

The city is always looking for volunteers to serve on city advisory boards and commissions. Those groups include:

* The Airport Advisory Board

* Alcohol Fund Advisory Board

* Building Safety Board of Appeals

* Cultural Relations Board

* Environmental Issues Board

* Golf Board

* Landmarks Commission

* Lee Richardson Zoo Board

* Local Housing Authority

* Parks and Tree Board

* All-Area Planning Commission

* Police/Citizens Advisory Board

* Recreation Commission

* Traffic Advisory Committee

* City Zoning Board of Appeals

For more information about each board or to volunteer for a vacant position, contact Ashley Freburg, city communications specialist, at 276-1160.

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