City Commission candidate Matthew Herbert answers your questions

March 23, 2015

This chat has already taken place. Read the transcript below.

Matthew Herbert

Matthew Herbert, one of six candidates for three seats on the Lawrence City Commission, answers reader-submitted questions in advance of the April 7 general election.


Hello everyone. I'm Journal-World reporter Chad Lawhorn, and I'll be moderating our online chat with city commission candidate Matthew Herbert. If you have questions for Matthew, please feel free to submit them in the space below. With that, we'll get started. Thanks for being here, Matt.

Matthew Herbert:

Thanks for having me. I've been looking forward to this opportunity all day and am grateful to those concerned citizens who have taken the time to send in some questions for us this afternoon



What can the city do to encourage homeowners to repair their sidewalks throughout the city? I have heard where some small city governments are willing to pay half the cost for sidewalk repair if so needed.

Matthew Herbert:

Since the start of this campaign I've told people that the job of a city commissioner and therefore the job of a city commission is two-fold; public safety and infrastructure. With respect to this ideology, I'm concerned with the way the city has transferred liability for sidewalk repair to individual homeowners. Particularly with such things as the "complete streets" program, where we are working hard to encourage biking and walking as an alternative to vehicle usage, I tend to believe the job of maintaining our city's sidewalk infrastructure is the job of the city. I'd like to see more emphasis therefore put NOT on the homeowner, but on the city.


This is a question I received via e-mail. It is from Tony: Do you support providing Broadband Fiber(1Gb) Internet to every home and business in Lawrence?

Matthew Herbert:

Excellent question Tony. Access to high speed internet may very well be my generation's version of the New Deal 'Tennessee Valley' initiatives where we made it a specific goal to get electricity to portions of our country that had been (pardon the pun) previously been 'left in the dark'. I have read the analogy made in other writings that high speed fiber is our generation's 'railroad tracks'. I tend to agree with much of this analysis. As I stated in the previous question, public infrastructure is a top priority and as such I definitely want to see this become a priority issue. Everyday I am hearing stories about businesses leaving town because they can't operate in a town where high speed internet is still a hope and not a reality. I am very familiar with this, being married to a woman who operates an online-based business and who routinely can be heard cussing through the living room when our internet connection prevents her from operating her business at its top capacity. I look forward to further discussions with individuals such as Mike Bosch of RG Fiber who have captured large amounts of private financing and are ready to roll out a wonderful product for our community.


Do you think it is about time to remove those damned fool roundabouts from our city street intersections? I ride every day on school bus as an attendant and the near misses and close calls at these stupid European devices by distracted drivers who do not know the meaning of "Yield" signs is very frightening.

Matthew Herbert:

Who would have ever thought that traffic circles could cause such great political strife in our community! But, indeed, as the wording of your question communicates "Yeoman2", there is indeed a large population of our community that has had enough with these roundabouts. My concern with roundabouts is two-fold. First, price. I'm a big advocate of fiscal responsibility and frankly roundabouts seem to be really expensive alternatives to a yield sign or a four-way stop. Secondly, and perhaps most importantly with regards to public safety is the fact that I have spoken to multiple fire fighters who have told me that some roundabouts, particularly those of the single lane nature, are very difficult to be driven through by fire trucks. If my traffic calming device ends up creating a slower response time by my first responders, I'm definitely NOT for it. As to whether or not they should be "removed", I'm not sure that's a prudent response, but rather, I think simply putting a freeze on any future roundabouts seems more appropriate and fiscally responsible.


We're still taking questions for this chat, so use the space below to submit your question. This one is submitted by e-mail. It is from Marcel: Do you support infill development and if so, what measures or actions by the city would you support to encourage infill development?

Matthew Herbert:

As land is a limited resource that will at some point undoubtedly 'run out', if we have any interest in growing our population and our community in a responsible way infill development is a practical solution. That being said, there are right and wrong ways to do infill development. At present, I believe, we have made a few mistakes. Notably, we are allowing infill development to occur WITHOUT mandating the creation of any additional parking. Take the Eldridge Hotel project, for example. In this project, the city allowed (and subsidized with a 15 year, 95% tax abatement) the expansion of this historic downtown hotel by 54 rooms. In doing this project, the plans call for the creation of NO new parking spots. That math, in my opinion, doesn't add up for the rest of downtown that has to operate a business while fighting for the same limited parking spaces. We are encountering the same possible conflict with the redevelopment of the Pachamama's building where we are growing vertically without allotting any additional parking. My top priority in 'preserving' and 'growing' downtown is to find a practical solution to the parking situation.


You have been somewhat critical of the commissions practices around the use of incentives. Would you please give two specific examples of incentives given to projects in the past 10 years that you would have not given and tell us why.

Matthew Herbert:

Thank you for your question, grexroad. I'd be happy to defend my position on this matter and in fact would prefer to limit your time period to within the last 12 months so as not to play the 'hindsight 20/20 game' where we could look at questionable outcomes like the DST Systems abatement or the questionable use of an abatement for Prosoco, who was given an abatement in spite of promising only the creation of 75 jobs with an average wage of only $26,000. The first modern abatement that I have some disagreement with is the abatement given to 'Here at Kansas LLC' for the creation of the apartment project where Berkley Flats once stood. As an individual who owns a business in the property management sector, I can attest to the fact that you need NO incentive to set up shop in Lawrence. My incentive to run my business is the fact that this community provides me 26,000 college student renters in perpetuity as well as a 53% renter population. 'Here At Kansas' stood to make a mint at that location with or without tax incentives. The second project that I question is the abatement to the Eldridge. I question this one for a multitude of reasons. First, this project was done using the Neighborhood Revitalization Act, the language of which SPECIFICALLY mentions that it should be used at a maximum of 50% abatement and for a maximum of 10 years. We violated both by giving a 95% abatement for 15 years. Secondly, I believe the role of a city government is to create a level playing field, and as such, I have a hard time knowing how you justify giving such an abatement when a competitor to the Eldridge, Comfort Inn just invested $3.4 million into our community without asking for ANY tax subsidy. Now, Comfort Inn is thanked by our city commission by watching their competitor get to build a better, more competitive facility using subsidized funds.


Many people in the community are not happy with the job performance of a number of key dept. heads at city hall. With many of them being there for some time now, do you believe it's time to consider having a changing of the guard in city staff and leadership.

Matthew Herbert:

I believe very strongly in performance-based outcomes - believing that we should reward those who do a great job and fight to retain them by offering competitive wages and benefits, but that as a city we can compete to attract some of the best and as such should not settle for mediocrity. I'm a little bit old fashioned in that regard, I suppose. That being said, I'm also a believer in being forthright with people. If someone is underperforming at their duties, I would like to have a frank conversation with them and outline the expectation and where the shortcoming is occurring to give them ample opportunity to improve their performance. Firing someone should never be step 1, but ultimately I owe my allegiance to this city and what is in the best interests of Lawrence and not to a particular individual.


While I understand the practical problem of creating new businesses and housing downtown without adequate parking, it also seems impractical to add parking garages or more lots. What do you think about increasing public transit/adding bike lanes as a way to allow people access but waste less space on parking?

Matthew Herbert:

Adequate downtown parking is crucial to maintaining the ability of downtown businesses to compete and survive. I love the concept of creating solutions that allow us to get more people downtown in a more efficient, less congesting fashion. However, we also have to be realistic with how these services are currently being utilized. While offering bike lanes and public transit service to the community is certainly a noble cause and has all sorts of practical benefits to public health, the environment, etc.., I do not honestly believe one of those big benefits is going to be the preservation of downtown. The simple reality is that the "T" is massively under-utilized and does not operate 'round the clock' whereas many of our downtown businesses are in the entertainment sector that do the bulk of their business after "T" hours. In addition, I just don't see a huge volume of people riding their bikes to go dine at Merchant's, for example.


This is an e-mail question from Melinda: If elected, how would you use social media to enhance communication with the residents of Lawrence?

Matthew Herbert:

Thanks for your question, Melinda. I have attended a large number of candidate forums over the past month while campaigning and at all of these events I keep hearing the word "transparency". I've even said it a few times myself. This word is being used by virtually ALL of the candidates, including our two incumbent candidates. And yet, actions speak louder than words and the simple truth is that in the 21st century one of the greatest and simultaneously easiest ways in which transparency can be achieved is by opening the public up to our proceedings through the use of social media. I have watched Vice-Mayor Farmer make several great strides in this respect through the use of Facebook as well as weekly emails to the public. I admire his efforts to reach the public in this capacity and would hope to both emulate and expand upon these efforts should I be fortunate enough to join him on the commission. However, this level of transparency is absent with the other four sitting commissioners. A 5:45 Tuesday night meeting does not fit the schedule of the entire community and yet their feedback is equally as valuable as those of us who are fortunate enough to be able to make time to attend. Internet access has created a whole new ballgame and we had better be prepared to play.


Here is an e-mail question from Shawn: Do you see a dysfunction in the travel routes within Lawrence? Is there anything the city commission can do to make inner-city travel more functional?

Matthew Herbert:

Thanks for your question Shawn. There are two possible things you could be asking about and to avoid not answering your question, I'm going to answer both. I suppose ignore the part of the answer that doesn't apply to the intent of your question. In doing my door to door campaign work, I've had more conversations than I can count regarding the inefficiencies of the public transit. Folks are telling me that it can take them over an hour to get across town, while simply driving their own car might only take them 10 minutes. This of course does away with any incentive people might have to make use of public transportation as an alternative to their own automobile. In this regard, it is highly important that we take a close look at redesigning the "T" route maps in an effort to maximize efficiency. This may very well include moving the 'hub' from its current location downtown to a more 'centralized' location in the city. If your question however was simply addressing congestion for day to day traffic, I think we are going to see great improvement in this regard when the SLT is finally completed here soon. I've lived in Lawrence 21 years and feel like the SLT has been a project we have either been considering or working on actively that entire time. I am thrilled to see that I may actually live to see it be completed! When this project is completed, the beltway it will create around the city will relieve much of our congestion problems in the city and hopefully that will make inner-city travel less "dysfunctional" for you.


Our last question was from Shawn. This question is from Sean. It is about some equipment purchases by the Lawrence Police Department: Are you concerned with purchases such as the "riot van", are things like that too expensive, and are you concerned their overuse may contribute to violence in situations that would otherwise remain more peaceful?

Matthew Herbert:

Thanks for your question, Sean. There is no denying that their exists within our culture right now a very definite 'anti-police' sentiment as a direct result of events that have happened across the country. I think every time one of these terrible incidents occurs it is important that we learn something from it and make sure that our own policing remains the standard of excellence. What I want to make sure we are careful NOT to do as a community is vilify our police department because of improper actions of other police departments. I think the Lawrence police department does an excellent job in our community and as such I want to reward them by ensuring that they have adequate facilities, adequate resources, and adequate wages and benefits. As to the "riot van" - I don't pretend to know enough about police work to tell you whether or not that is a necessary piece of equipment for our department. It is important that the public be aware of the fact that this piece of equipment was purchased with a grant and as such the 'expense' is highly relative. The best way that we can ensure our police department remains top notch is to make our department competitive so that we can get the immediate advantage of hiring only the best. How do you do this? You start with providing quality facilities to attract AND retain the finest. Secondly, you make sure that our officers are paid a wage that is competitive to the region. The last thing we want/need in this community is to be staffing our police department with such low wage earners that we end up with only the police officers that couldn't get on anywhere else.


Well, we have reached the end of our time for this chat. Thanks to everyone who sent a question, and followed the chat online. And thanks in particular to Matthew for participating. Our next chat is 2 p.m. Tuesday (March 24) with candidate Stan Rasmussen.

Matthew Herbert:

Thank you again for having me and especially thanks to all of the folks who are keeping track of all of us and are planning to vote on April 7th. Whether or not you choose to vote for me, it is so vital that you turn out to vote. We like to pound our chest as being a very progressive community, but it is very hard to say that with a straight face when we have 13% voter turnout on election day. I'd love to wake up on April 8th knowing that whether or not I won or lost that a mandate was given by the public....not just a small piece of it. Can we make it a goal in our community to get 20-25% turnout on April 7th? Thanks again for your time,


Jake Davis 3 years, 2 months ago

Right in line with my have my vote!!

David Holroyd 3 years, 2 months ago

The T does not need a hub. The great experiment continues. Transfers allow for best use of a bus. You are headed west and need to go north.get off the bus and catch a bus going north. Mr Herbert, have you travelled by bus in big cities? Tell me how many times you went to a hub to catch another bus?

Very simply. If a bus is headed east on 23rd street, another bus should pass it headed west. This system is so flawed , experimenting each year creates a bad system

Check out Castle Rock, CO. They have a taxi voucher system.

Carol Bowen 3 years, 2 months ago

Property owner responsibility for sidewalks is state law. Some communities manage maintenance, repair or construction of sidewalks without billing a resident directly.

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