Spearheading initiatives for better community relations and making them a continuing priority were among the Lawrence City Commission's most important accomplishments this year, commissioners say.
When the commissioners were asked to choose their top accomplishments of 1991, improving community relations emerged as a clear favorite with votes from four commissioners.
The initiatives came in the wake of the shooting death of 22-year-old Gregory Sevier, a Native American, by Lawrence police in April.
Police said they fired when Sevier, who had a knife, lunged at an officer.
Tension grew between city officials and minorities as Native American leaders pointed to insensitivity and what they called racist attitudes and discrimination among police and city officials.
"Basically, a lot of people said, 'What are you going to do?'" Mayor Bob Walters said. "We had to address the concerns of a variety of groups.
"We drew up an action plan. There's been a pretty high level of acceptance for the initiatives now. We put out the fire."
Another top accomplishment cited by commissioners was their progress on making the eastern parkway a reality.
ADOPTING a methodical policy for granting tax breaks for business expansion, and supporting the renovation of the Union Pacific Depot each were cited by two commissioners.
Walters and commissioners Shirley Martin-Smith and Bob Schumm served on the commission all year. Commissioners John Nalbandian and Bob Schulte replaced David Penny and Mike Rundle after an election in April.
Walters, Martin-Smith, Nalbandian and Schulte each thought that working to improve community relations and awareness of cultural diversity in Lawrence rated as a top achievement.
"Any kind of wedge that is driven between the citizens and the government or the police is sure to create all kinds of problems," Schulte said.
"IF PEOPLE believe the city is doing everything it can to address these issues, they will have a more positive feeling and they'll be more inclined to work with you to make the city a better place," he said.
The commissioners appointed a police peer review board June 11 to examine the policies and procedures of the Lawrence police department. The board is expected to release the report later this month.
The city also has allocated $11,000 for the implementation of an accreditation program for the police department.
In November, the commissioners appointed a 15-member panel, called the Lawrence Alliance, to work to eliminate prejudice and discrimination in several areas of community life, such as education, law enforcement and business.
The commissioners and city staff also have particpated in several seminars and discussions on ridding the community of discrimination and improving police crisis training.
WHILE creating avenues for better minority relations was considered a significant step, three commissioners said that building roads into Lawrence was also an important achievement.
Walters, Schulte and Schumm said they were pleased with the progress made on the eastern parkway, which is intended to funnel traffic from Kansas Highway 10 east of Lawrence to downtown.
"The creation of the parkway is important because it will enhance the downtown business district and the residences that surround it," said Schumm.
The commissioners narrowed the number of potential parkway routes to three in the summer, and chose a primary route for the parkway Dec. 10.
They must examine a detailed design for the route before they approve its final configuration. Engineers are expected to have a detailed plan for the commissioners by early March.
A REVITALIZED Union Pacific Depot figures to be a showpiece of downtown Lawrence, Nalbandian said. He and Schumm agreed that supporting the project also was a significant commission action.
Funds for the renovation of the 102-year-old depot on North Second Street were made available by general obligation and community development funds approved by the commission.
"It's important, because it's a project that I think will add value to the city and a sense of community for Lawrence residents," Nalbandian said.
Restoration plans call for the building to be returned to its turn-of-the-century style. Work began in November and could take as long as five years, architects say.
Developing a policy to grant tax abatements a break on property taxes to local and outside businesses considering expansion in Lawrence made Schulte's and Nalbandian's lists.
EARLY discussions on tax abatements were hampered by the lack of data on the impact of a proposed expansion, said Schulte.
"There wasn't really a policy or a model you could use to come up with actual numbers, so a decision to grant an abatement was ill-informed," Schulte said.
The commissioners approved an abatement policy Sept. 10. It required a special committee to review all abatement requests using a model designed by Kansas University's Institute of Public Policy and Business Research.
After crunching the relevant data, the model figures how the expansion will effect the city in terms of tax base, new jobs and environmental impact, to name a few criteria.
"Now it's more clear-cut," Schulte said. "Anything that can speed up the process and make it less muddy is good for the city."
That commissioners have accomplished so much this year despite some differences in opinion is an accomplishment in itself, Martin-Smith said.
"I think we make a conscious effort to get along and listen to each other and deal with each other's interests," she said. "Nobody wants to be elected and spend two or four years doing nothing."