Text of Dunfield’s State of the City address

(Online editor’s note: The following is the text of Lawrence Mayor David Dunfield’s State of the City address, which was delivered at 6:35 p.m. Tuesday, March 30, in the city commission chambers at Lawrence’s city hall.)

“It’s been an eventful year in Lawrence. We began it with a trip to the NCAA tournament final game and followed that with a tornado, all within the first month of my term as mayor.
The responses of Lawrence citizens, including our city staff, to both of these events says a lot about the quality and character of our town.

“When the tornado hit last May, city crews responded quickly and effectively, and the community rallied to offer help.

“When the KU basketball went to the NCAA championship, the partnership between the university and the city worked effectively to plan for the post-tournament celebrations.

“We are a city that has a reputation for diversity of opinion, and for a certain tenaciousness in making our opinions known. Sometimes we worry that Lawrence is a divisive place, that the openness and vigor of our public discourse indicates that we lack direction or cohesion. I believe to the contrary, that our arguments are a sign of community strength. The participation of our citizens means that we are passionate about Lawrence, and the enormous effort contributed by citizen volunteers is a key to our success as a community.

“In the last year, we have seen this passion expressed in the debate over the living wage, and in the current question of the city’s response to the Patriot Act. Tomorrow, the city will hear the report of our task force on smoking in public places, another emotional issue on which unanimity is unlikely to be achieved.

“When the Hobbs Park Memorial was dedicated last year, former Kansas City mayor Emmanuel Cleaver said “We must hold onto our history until we get our blessing from it.” If we are to get our blessing from Lawrence history we can never take what our community has for granted, while acknowledging that there is always room to improve.

“Let’s start by not taking for granted the excellent city services that our city employees provide. One way to measure the effectiveness of city operations is to look at the awards and recognitions our staff has received from outside sources. By this measure, the past year has been an extremely good one.

“Lawrence Fire Chief Jim McSwain was honored as the Kansas Fire Chief Association’s 2003 fire chief of the year. Chief McSwain’s contributions over 25 years, including his leadership in the merging of city and county emergency response services, have helped Lawrence maintain one of the highest ratings for fire response in the Midwest.

“Rehelio Samuel, our director of Human Relations/Human Resources was recognized during the annual Kansas League of Municipalities Conference as Kansas Human Relations Commission member of the year.

“The Government Finance Officers Association of the US and Canada granted our city’s financial report its highest award, and recognized the city’s budget with a Distinguished Budget Presentation Award.

“Finally, Lawrence Parks and Recreation’s Aquatics Division received the highest award given by the National Recreation and Park Association, the Excellence in Aquatics Award.

“Congratulations are in order for all these accomplishments, and for many more that don’t receive such official recognition, and that are all too easy to take for granted. I doubt that there are awards for pothole filling, but our street crews have done an excellent job getting us through an unusually demanding season.

“We continue to modernize and take advantage of changing technologies in our efforts to improve city services. Internet based information now includes agendas for city commission meeting, city ordinances, and links to all city departments. These changes have resulted in a real reduction in the amount of paper generated at city hall and have made city services more accessible to its citizens. To name only two examples, it’s now possible to enroll in Parks and Recreation programs and pay water bills on-line.

“I am proud to have been a member of the commissions that initiated thorough overhauls of both our zoning regulations and building code. The city’s zoning ordinance had not undergone a full review in almost forty years, and has become a complicated patchwork of provisions. In the case of the building code, changes occurring at a national level have spurred a comprehensive reevaluation. In both cases, the final recommendations will result in a better, clearer, more consistent approach to building and development in Lawrence.

“As a member of the commission that established the T, I have watched its ridership steadily increase throughout its still young history. We continue to improve the T, especially by looking for additional ways to combine the city’s transportation needs with those of our public school district and universities.

“Over the past two years, groups of citizen volunteers have been working to create a heritage area, centered on the unique place held by Eastern Kansas in the national struggle for human rights and freedom. That story takes in the founding of Lawrence as a Free State stronghold, the inspirational evolution of Haskell Indian Nations University, and the place of eastern Kansas in the national civil rights movement of our own era. In just the last two weeks, bills have been introduced in both the US House and Senate to establish a Bleeding Kansas National Heritage Area, of which Lawrence can and should be the focus.

“Growth and development issues continue to be a focus of community interest. Within the next several weeks, the Public Improvements Task Force will be introducing new proposals for policies and financing methods to ensure that growth is channeled in ways that provide the most public benefit at the most equitable cost to all parties. This effort began under the previous commission with a study designed to enable the city to play a more active role in shaping how the city grows.

“Much has been said about the current commission representing a shift in the political climate of the community. I see little real evidence of a “party line” division on this commission. I think that the last election should be seen as a culmination of a trend taking place over several years toward what has been termed, for better or worse, “smart growth.”

“For example, it is not the current commission, but its predecessor that rejected the proposed development for the northwest corner of 6th and Wakarusa. When representatives of that development argue that they have been prohibited from building based on an approved plan, they are simply wrong. The department store use that 6Wak wants to build was rejected by the previous commission on a supermajority vote.

“It was rejected because it violated the zoning conditions of the developer’s own previous development plan, conditions that both this commission and its predecessor believed were in the public interest. The current commission’s actions have not contradicted those of its predecessor.

“I am greatly encouraged by the efforts I have seen at better coordination of efforts among the city, county, and school district, and by the very visible and effective cooperation of the chamber of commerce in working with the city on economic development issues.

“I urge this and future commissions to focus our development efforts inward as well, and look for new opportunities to encourage preservation and infill development of our existing neighborhoods, through tax credits and other incentives.

“In our sesquicentennial year, it is appropriate to look back at the ideas and the sense of purpose of the original Lawrencians, and to reflect on the power of ideas to shape a community.

“Within months of establishing our city on the banks of the Kaw, the first map of Lawrence had already been created. Although it carries a surveyor’s name, it is more than a technical record. It is a statement of intention, a first attempt at a vision of what Lawrence might become, identifying future college grounds and a capitol hill.

“Although the capitol never came to be, the college did, and the map set a high standard for the future of what was then a collection of shacks. Those early settlers were determined to create their own destiny on this land, and our goals should be no less lofty.”