Questions examining the public stands and personal interests of candidates for city commission dominated a forum Monday night.
The Lawrence Association of Neighborhoods sponsored the forum, the first of two scheduled for city commission candidates before the April 2 general election.
The six candidates fielded questions ranging from how they would keep their personal business interests out of their jobs as city commissioners to where they stood on environmental issues.
The questions posed by moderators included several for specific candidates and others that were answered by all six.
Paul Horvath, a rental property owner who has been entangled in a legal battle with an East Lawrence resident over zoning issues and has voiced opposition to increasing housing code requirements, was asked a series of questions regarding planning and zoning issues. The first focused on his ability to make impartial decisions in such matters.
"I distinguish a vested interest in the city from a personal interest," said Horvath, who finished sixth in the primary. He said his experience in housing had given him the knowledge he would need to make fair decisions and that the ability to make impartial decisions "comes with maturity."
IN RESPONSE to a question to all commissioners regarding "zoning creep," or the process of commercial zoning creeping into residential neighborhoods, Horvath said, "In fairness to commercial property owners, I think they are probably as concerned about residential encroachment on commercial property."
The purpose of zoning is to protect residents and to plan how growth will occur, but that "depends on what your philosophical orientation is," he said.
Questions about possible conflicts of interest on decisions regarding zoning and planning also were directed to Bob Schulte, the primary's top finisher.
After clarifying that he was employed as vice president of a construction company rather than a development company, as was stated in the question, he defended some forms of development.
"All development's not bad," he said. "Somebody developed downtown Lawrence, somebody developed Old West Lawrence and the Oread. The important factor to consider in development is whether or not it is responsible."
SCHULTE SAID that if elected, he would abstain on issues that presented a direct conflict of interest.
In response to a question about neighborhood drop-off points for compostables, such as grass clippings, leaves and limbs, Schulte said he would support measures to make recycling more convenient and further educational efforts regarding it.
Toni Dudley, who finished fifth in the primary, was asked what means could be used to save houses in historic districts from demolition.
Dudley is a member of the city's Historic Resources Commission, which recently voted to allow under the city's historic preservation ordinance the demolition of a house in the Oread neighborhood.
She said the city's historic preservation ordinance was the most valuable tool in preserving such houses, but added, "So much of that depends on whether a house is in and of itself of historic value, whether it's in environs of an existing historic district."
IN RESPONSE to another question, Dudley said she did not think Lawrence was growing so fast that impact fees should be implemented to slow growth. Impact fees typically are levied in fast-growing cities to pay for things ranging from streets in specific neighborhoods to new city libraries and fire stations.
She also recommended a city-county task force be established to identify and prioritize environmental concerns and to establish an action plan. Such a task force would be "a logical feeder for Horizon 2020," the city's new comprehensive planning document, she said.
Bob Schumm, the fourth-place primary finisher and one of two incumbents in the race, restated his support of a municipal golf course, saying, "I think it was a quality of life issue, very simply."
He said he voted to support the concept because it was advanced by a grass-roots group and would have paid its own way.
"The only thing it didn't have was the votes. It was unfortunate that it fell through and I think it should be resurrected," he said.
IN RESPONSE to a question to all commissioners on the city's response to environmental issues, Schumm acknowledged his past disagreements with Commissioner David Penny over the cost of the city's recycling program and said, "I don't think the cost is the issue in terms of the city. It's the Earth."
He called the recent plowing of the Elkins Prairie "a sad note" and said Horizon 2020 should specify sensitive areas the city and county wish to save and include a legal mechanism to stop destruction of such areas.
Schumm also said he would continue his support for 150 feet of green space setback along the proposed South Lawrence Trafficway "to ensure it's a trafficway rather than a commercial strip like 23rd Street."
Penny, who finished second in the primary, said the city already was paying more than it could afford for environmental cleanup because of federal mandates on stormwater and landfill standards.
"THE CITY has been involved in this whether we wanted to be or not," he said. He called "tragic" the fact that recycling in Lawrence was not saving the city money.
In response to a question regarding his longstanding oppostion to the city's recycling plan, Penny reiterated that there was no cost benefit and said because the county landfill offered an abundance of space, there was little reason for the city to spend money on the program.
He said city financing of special interests inevitably would have to be cut as the city faces a "life-and-death struggle" to stay afloat in the face of increasing budget constraints.
Third-place primary finisher John Nalbandian said the city already was paying for environmental protection in ways that "are not highly glamorous but nevertheless very important."
He said the recycling program should be continued and expanded.
A QUESTION regarding the criticism that those who can, do, and those who can't, teach, was greeted with laughter from candidates and spectators. Nalbandian, an associate professor in public administration at Kansas University, said his students often asked him the same question.
He outlined his experience outside the classroom, which included working as a consultant for state and local governments in Kansas and for national corporations.
"I've made it a practice to get involved and do the things that I write," he said.
Nalbandian said the city budget was the most important factor in carrying out the city's goals, and that the key to a good budget was a better link between it and the commission's goals.