Archive for Thursday, April 8, 2004

New mayor discusses key city issues in online chat

April 8, 2004


Welcome to our online chat with Mayor Mike Rundle.

The chat took place on Thursday, April 8, at 2:00 PM and is now closed, but you can read the full transcript on this page.

Moderator: We'll begin our chat with Mayor Mike Rundle in just a few minutes. There is still time to submit questions for the mayor. Thanks for joining us.

Richard, Lawrence: Why is a smoking ban at the top of your agenda. Did you receive petitions? Did the business community or Chamber request this? Shouldn't this be a community vote on the ballot rather than a comissioners decision?

Mayor Rundle: I'm not sure I would say this is at the top of my agenda but it is a current issue that the city commission has been asked to consider. I believe the genesis of this was not from petitions but there is a group of citizens who asked former Mayor Dunfield to bring this to the commission and he established the task force to begin the process. We have had a lot of e-mail correspondence since the task force made their final report.
I think the Chamber of Commerce has been silent on this although in some other communities the respective chambers have promoted a ban.
As far a putting this on the ballot, this issue like many has public health and safety aspects and our job is to deal with those issues and concerns.

Jay, Lawrence: New York and California have smoking bans. People can't just drive a few minutes away to another city or state. Has anyone thought of the fact that being so close in proximity to Kansas City and Topeka that allow smoking, that people will go out of Lawrence to frequent restaraunts and bars that have no ban on smoking?

Mayor Rundle:Yes, individuals have brought this into the discussion. However, the people who have mentioned it to me argue that we are too far AWAY from other cities for this to draw a great many people to other communities. I'm sure there are exceptions but I feel the impact will be negligible.
Also, this seems to be a growing trend. Lawrence might be seen as coming in, not at the beginning but more the middle, roughly speaking. Columbia, Missouri, is somewhat comparable to Lawrence and they passed a ban some time ago. It appears to me that more and more cities will be enacting a ban.

Ross, Lawrence: With the fireworks ban behind us, and the prospect of the smoking ban ahead, could you please tell the citizens of Lawrence whether there are any other suspensions of their civil rights and civil liberties planned by the City Commission in the future, and would it be possible to publish this agenda well in advance of action, and to somehow incorporate public opinion into the law making process?

Mayor Rundle: With all due respect I question whether this infringes on civil rights or liberties. If we do venture into this area I think we have to talk about the right of non-smokers to enjoy their freedom from smoke.
The fireworks ban and a possible smoking ban grow out of concern for health and safety of the entire community. I have enjoyed fireworks at a gathering of friends but allowing the volume of that activity in a city of our size is a gamble. A major fire disaster could outstrip our fire services ability to handle it. And we are putting the lives of our firefighters at risk unnecessarily.
Smoking and the approximately 400 chemicals and toxins that are found in environmental tobacco smoke are established health hazards and elected officials need to pay attention to those risks and, if we believe it necessary, respond. In this case we are considering the smoking ban.

Ben, Lawrence: Why is the city messing with the Patriot Act? Isn't that a federal law?

Mayor Rundle: The National League of Cities has taken an official position questioning the Patriot Act and asking the federal legislature to correct problems that that group has agreed upon and pass additional legislation to protect our constitutional rights.
Federal law is not something off limits to other levels of government. We lobby the Kansas legislature throughout the session and we community with our delegation in Washington every year. "Messing" with the Patriot Act may be overstating our power - we CAN'T overturn in, of course. But, government serves the citizens and we have to communicate when we feel we are not being well served as well as when we are being assisted in delivering services in our communities.

Ken, Lawrence:Are you pleased with the "Smart Growth" consultants visit to Lawrence? What have you gleaned from their observations and do you have some thoughts on how our community might be able to use these observations?

Mayor Rundle: I AM pleased with the assistance we are getting from the consultant. As citizens and elected officials we frequently state goals that almost everyone can agree are worthy. How we get to those goals from where we are today is not always easy. The EPA recognized this and that, I believe led to this grant program.
My familiarity with the specifics is superficial. However, I believe the sub-committee of the Planning Commission will be able to deliver some new standards in a fairly short time that will provide some guidance for development in new areas of town as well as re-development in established areas. And, the grant will enable us to address some specific small areas -- at present I believe the focus will be a section of 23rd Street. We have been pointing to 23rd Street as an example of planning problems for decades now. This may be a concrete example of how we can make 23rd Street better.
I would only add that this is likely to be an incremental process and it will take time. I am personally very hopeful but I don't want to create expectations that we will see change overnight.

Ron, North Lawrence: Why not build a fire station in North Lawrence? And why can't North Lawrence gets its streets repaved?

Mayor Rundle: I will try to convey my understanding based on fire Chief McSwain's comments. Fire stations and staffing are costly and there needs to be a threshold of density to support a new station. What the Chief has done very well is to provide SERVICE which means reliable response time in the event of a fire.
Repaving also comes down to money. We have not done a good job of fairly (let me emphasize, FAIRLY) shifting the costs related to new development. If we did have policies that accomplished that, the established areas such as North Lawrence might see more of their tax dollars returning to assist with the infrastructure in their areas.
The task force looking at public infrastructure may be making recommendations before the year is out that will help us in this area.

Lester, Lawrence: Will Lawrence ever consider an election like Los Angeles so citizens can vote yes or no for a Wal-Mart store?

Mayor Rundle:My short answer, is no.
That is not because the citizens are not willing. California and Kansas have a very different approach to land use, as I understand it. In Californians often put planning policies or specific land use questions to a public vote. It is simply a reflection of public will in how their communities grow.
Kansan treats planning issues as "quasi judicial." That bit of jargon means to me that we are to act like a court to make sure our decisions protect property rights, perhaps somewhat ahead of community goals. We have a fair amount of case law that has shaped planning processes in Kansas. I'm not sure but Kansas statutes may specifically exclude putting planning issues such as this one to a public vote.
I noticed this difference quite a few years ago. And, I've thought more than once it might be nice to have the ability to put questions of land use policy to a binding public vote.

Brett, Lawrence: Can we just get some potholes filled please? :'(

Mayor Rundle: You have touched a sore spot of mine. I do think our public works department IS filling potholes. One or more crews are out daily and I believe if you called that department they will make every effort to respond in a short time.
My concern is that we have not done enough preventative maintenance especially crack sealing. Every other community I have looked at spends a great deal more on this than Lawrence in proportion to our size and the miles of streets. Crack sealing would extend the time that we can delay major street repairs and I think we will find ourselves facing an every growing list of those repairs. The sealing protects the surface of the street but also the sub surface as well. As I drive around Lawrence I see cracks everywhere and I fear that we are going to see problems such as pot holes blossoming at an increasing rate. Prevention is so much cheaper and we need to be stretching tax dollars absolutely as far as possible.

Bob, Lawrence: Would you say the decision to legalize Sunday liquor sales in Lawrence has been a good thing? Could you just explain the impact of the change? Positively and/or Negatively. Thanks.

Mayor Rundle: If I have to choose I would say it has been a good thing. I don't think it has had a major impact. It has provided convenience for shoppers and may have captured some sales that were going out of town.
The taxes from liquor sales do not come back to the city as a significant stream of income if they come back at all. I may be wrong so do check my facts. So the "fiscal"benefits might be seen in additional employment for Lawrence workers and other shopping one might do on Sunday.
Thanks to everyone for participating in this online chat. I'm sure there are enough questions to do this again, perhaps with some of my colleagues on the city commission.

Moderator: That's all the time we have for now. Sorry for those of you who submitted questions that weren't answered -- we'll have the mayor and/or other members of the Lawrence City Commission back soon for another chat.
Thanks for participating!

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