Bringing a diverse group of people and interests together seems to have paid off for the tax abatement task force.
The task force that completed work this week on a revised tax abatement policy for the city is a strong testimonial for the benefit of bringing diverse interests together to make decisions.
The group was appointed several months ago by then-Mayor Jim Henry. In the wake of the controversy surrounding a tax abatement granted for American Eagle Outfitters, the mayor and others saw the need to re-examine the city's policy and perhaps set down some clearer guidelines for considering such abatements. He was pleased with the group's product, telling task force members on Tuesday, "I think you have done a marvelous job revising, clarifying and modifying the document."
The policy that will go to city commissioners for consideration on Oct. 15 sets stricter standards for companies to meet when seeking tax abatements and puts greater emphasis on worker wages and how much benefit the company would provide in exchange for a tax abatement.
The task force vote on the policy was unanimous. The members agreed that their changes had significantly improved the document. Their vote signified that they all were literally "on the same page."
It wasn't always that way. As Henry appointed this task force, his expressed goal was to bring together people who had a wide range of opinions and interests in economic development in Lawrence. The task force included former city commissioners, the vice president for economic development for the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce and people with business interests in the community. It also included average residents and people who had actively opposed the American Eagle tax abatement. It was not a group of people who naturally would come together to talk about this issue.
It was rough going at times, especially early on. The task force disagreed on both policy and procedure. An outside meeting of some task force members rankled some of their colleagues. It took some time to establish trust and respect among the diverse members of the group.
But the end result is a policy that had the unanimous approval of the group, one that probably will be well-received by city commissioners and one that likely will garner broader community support than a plan compiled by a less diverse task force.
It was a little extra effort, but that effort seems to have paid off and perhaps set a different standard for promoting consensus on public policy in the future.