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Archive for Saturday, May 24, 2003

Commission retreats to set goals

Mayor says shift since election won’t mean wholesale change in priorities

May 24, 2003

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Despite a new majority of "smart growth" proponents on the Lawrence City Commission, voters shouldn't expect a large shift in the commission's priorities as its weekend goal-setting sessions unfurl, Mayor David Dunfield said.

"I doubt it," Dunfield said of changes in the commission's aim. "In spite of the diversity of opinion, there's a pretty strong consensus about the things we love about the community, and the things we want to promote, and the directions we want to see the community go."

The commission makeup changed in April with the election of Boog Highberger and David Schauner and the re-election of Mike Rundle. The former commission was seen as friendlier to development interests and listed economic development as its top priority.

Commissioners spent the first day of their two-day goal-setting retreat Friday at the Lawrence Country Club, where they shared their hopes and fears for the city.

They said that Lawrence should retain a unique identity, but agreed that the city was increasingly challenged to ensure that the people who worked here could afford to live here.

Commissioners also talked extensively about education. Stronger city partnerships are needed with Kansas University and Haskell Indian Nations University, they said. And the continuing shortfall in the Lawrence school district's budget was a source of concern.

"One thing that has been on my mind is the continued deterioration of our educational system," Dunfield told his colleagues.

Schauner, an attorney for the Kansas National Education Assn., warned against the commission taking action to help the district -- and letting the Kansas Legislature off the hook.

"They're a shameful bunch of short-sighted folks," he said.

Commissioner Sue Hack, a retired teacher, had a different take.

"I don't want to let the Legislature off the hook, because if we do, they'll never take up the slack again," she said. "But if we don't, it's our children."

Commissioners said they would like to have such "big picture" sessions more often.

"I want to do this more than once a year," Highberger said. "I'm really terrified of getting bogged down in this week's site plan."

Schauner, though, said the Kansas Open Meetings Law restrained commissioners from better chances to "think outside the box."

"I think there's significant value in being able to have some discussion away from the public eye," he said.

Commissioners meet to complete their goals at 8 a.m. today in the Indoor Aquatic Center at Free State High School, 4706 Overland Drive.

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