Split Shawnee City Council establishes task forces for public art, community input

Shawnee city council

Shawnee is accepting applications for two newly established task forces to address public art and community engagement opportunities in the city. Above, the public art display “Chief Blackfish”, a tribute to Chief Blackfish on the south side of Blackfish Parkway near Summit Street. File photo.

Shawnee is establishing two new task forces to enhance community engagement and public art opportunities in the city.

The Shawnee City Council was divided last month on whether to set up the task forces.

On the one hand, half of the council spoke in favor of any initiatives that draw the public further into conversations with the city’s future, as well as initiatives for public art to enhance their experiences living here.

But some councilmembers opposed the two task forces’ creation, arguing that they lacked real purpose or goals.

Some also suggested the task forces could cost money for the city at a time when Shawnee is on the tail end of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and should focus its finances on other issues.

After some deliberation, the council voted 5-3 to establish a Community Engagement Task Force, with councilmembers Eric Jenkins, Mike Kemmling and Tammy Thomas in dissent.

The council voted 5-4 to establish a Public Arts Task Force, with Jenkins, Kemmling, Kurt Knappen and Thomas in dissent.

Mayor Michelle Distler broke the tie in support of the Public Arts Task Force.

Distler, who supported setting up both task forces, said the city has a chance to counter its history of city leaders making the public feel left out of the conversation.

“There was a feeling in this community of you can’t fight city hall; they’re just going to do what they want, they don’t want to hear from us, they don’t care about us, and as a lifelong resident of this city, I was one of those people that felt that way,” the mayor said, explaining her vote

“That is why I feel so strongly that we do anything and everything in our power to get as much public input and community engagement as we possibly can. Yes, while we are doing things now, I don’t think we can ever do too much when it comes to getting this community involved in its future,” she added.

A look at the two task forces: The two task forces are designed to provide direction and recommendations to city leaders on areas of community engagement and public art.

Areas of focus for the Community Engagement Task Force include public communications, engagement opportunities, diversity and inclusion and employee recruitment/retention.

Areas of focus for the Public Arts Task Force include providing strategic direction and recommendations to city leaders on public art.

The city is accepting applications for potential task force members for both panels. Click here for more information.

Takeaway quotes:

  • Tammy Thomas, opposing Community Engagement Task Force: “I think we could gain a lot from the community with what we’ve done this far, and let’s see where it goes before we start putting on another task force.”
  • Lisa Larson-Bunnell, supporting Community Engagement Task Force: “Our community members are the ones that have been telling us that there is something broken with our system of communication. If we needed further evidence of that, we can look no further than any of the projects that have gone on in the city, and we see inconsistent information in the community.”
  • DeAnn Gould-Lancaster, 7-year Shawnee resident supporting Public Art Task Force:  “I can tell you that we’re set up for success; we just need to give it a chance.”

Below is the video recording of the meeting. Discussion begins at 24:40: