Lawrence City Commission candidate Lance Johnson to chat with LJWorld.com readers
March 26, 2009
This chat has already taken place. Read the transcript below.
Hi, I'm your moderator Chad Lawhorn. With us today is City Commission Candidate Lance Johnson. Thanks for being here, Lance. We have several questions already, but folks should feel free to submit more.
Thank you, Chad. I want to first thank the Lawrence Journal World for having me and all of you out there participating in this chat, thank you for your interest in this election. Hopefully, I can answer your questions.
How do we prevent companies, like American Eagle, from deciding against choosing Lawrence as their home for business? It would have been a great place, but we lost it to Ottawa (20 miles south). It is hard enough to attract businesses here with limited land available for development, but then for the city not to be able to "close the deal" with a company that wanted to be here, seems crazy.
That's a good question. We start by sending a message we are open for business. I have put forward a 5-point plan for job creation and that is my number one priority. Second, we adopt an economic development policy that is transparent and sends a message to local as well as companies looking at us that we will invest in them if they invest in us. Our actions with American Eagle did not send that message. We need to change that.
You were quoted in the Journal World last week as opposing the enhancement of Lawrence's anti-discrimination ordinance to cover the transgendered. Why do you oppose this ordinance, and what might conceivably change your mind about your position?
The quote came from a quick 30second answer I gave in a voter forum a couple weeks ago. At that moment I said if I had to decide, I would have voted against because I did not know enough about the situation and felt we as a city needed to be focused on bigger issues like Job creation, budget, infrastructure, etc. Moving forward, I want to educate myself more with the issue and am open to more discussion. Since the forum, I have contacted a person close to this issue and am in the process of learning more.
You are more than a civil engineer. Through your Peridian Group, you have designed and built many developments around Lawrence, often with variances and zoning changes. You are a licensed general contractor, have a real estate marketing license, and have real estate investments with other players in Lawrence. How can you serve as City Commissioner without having conflicts of interest due to the many projects, neighborhoods, and other developers that you have been involved with? Does Peridian Group intend to continue this work if you are elected?
I am invested in this community and will continue to be. I have invested money in projects, represented projects and I have invested a lot of my time with community involvement. I will continue to do so as long as I am lucky to be a part of this community. As a commissioner, I will most likely have to abstain from a vote with projects that I would be involved with. Most likely, I will see less work fo my company and I understand that is a sacrifice I'm willing to make to move this community forward.
I do not believe that the talents of the city staff and financial resources of the City of Lawrence are adequate to the task of acquiring and managing the environmentally damaged properties of Farmland Industries.
Do you support city acquisition of the Farmland Inds. properties? If so, why? Specifically, why do you think city staff is up to this management task?
Based on what I know at this time, which is limited, I feel the site makes sense from a strategic place for the community to invest in a business park. It is already a recognized industrial site and would most likely not need rezoning. It also is situated along K-10 highway with great access to the K-10 corridor and Kansas City. It represents a large piece of ground that has most of the infrastructure there. That to me, represents a good opportunity for a business park development. Now, as far as the cleanup and costs to do that. I need to get in to that and study that. There is a trade off of clean up costs on this site vs. going to another site further out and extending utilities, etc. I think with my background in civil engineering and development, I would have unique perspective and a good set of qualifications to analyze this project in the best interests of Lawrence.
On requiring companies that relocate to Lawrence (and receive a tax abatement) to pay a living wage and hire a certain amount of employees: Do you think this policy hurts or helps efforts to attract new jobs and business to the city? Why?
I think it hurts the efforts to attract new jobs and businesses. Whether we like it or not, the reality is we are competing with other communities for these busineeses and jobs. With a lot of things being equal such as quality of life, services, costs, etc., that potential company will go where they are not required to provide things like a living wage. I believe the best way to provide a living wage is to have enough jobs that provide choice to employees.
Do you support city financing for proposed library improvements in the existing facility? Do you support joint private and public financing of a new downtown library within the next 5-10 years?
First, I need to see what those proposed library improvements are. If you're referring to the short term things they need to do to keep pace with the services provided as shown on their website and as I've discussed with the library management, then generally, yes. However, this needs to be looked at in context of the overall budget. I am support of looking at building a new library downtown. At this point, I can't say whether a private-public is the best approach or not. I have encouraged the library (not the library and developers, etc) to come up with what they want a new library to be and then let's figure out how we can pay for it. I would like to accomplish this sooner rather than later. So, yes, preferrably in the next 5 years rather than 10.
A quote from the LJW: "Lance Johnson said he wanted to guard against making decisions at City Hall based on appeasing a “very vocal minority.” He said he believed city commissioners had done that in the past."
I assume you mean the Chamber of Commerce, if not would you be specific who you do mean?
No, I didn't mean the Chamber of Commerce or any particular group. I was referring to sometimes we (City Commissioners) react to who is in the room. I think City Commissioners need to understand and always keep in mind they are making decisions that effect the whole community and not always who is at the city commission meeting, etc.
The City Commission has considered two proposals for street renaming on an ad hoc basis in recent months. They were handled in inconsistent manners. Some municipalities allow "honorific" names only for "secondary" signage. Others prohibit living people from being considered. Virtually all having formal policies mandate formal notice to affected parties. Lawrence has no formal renaming policy.
Should Lawrence consider adopting such a policy.
In light of what has transpired over the past couple weeks, a "renaming policy" may be a good thing. I would be willing to consider it.
That will do it for this chat. Thanks to Lance and everyone who participated. At the moment, our next chat is scheduled for 1 p.m. Friday. It will be with candidate Aron Cromwell. As a reminder, the election is April 7.
Again, thank you Chad, and everyone that participated. Thank you for the questions. For everyone that particiapated, I am glad you took the time and are paying attention to the election. I would encourage you to vote and tell your friends to vote. Whether it is me or not, I think it is important for people to get involved, especially in a local election. If you want to learn more about me, please visit my website at www.LanceJohnsonForLawrence.com. I would appreciate your vote on April 7th.