Fixing streets and sewers are high on the priority list for City Commissioner Mike Amyx who embarks tonight on a one-year term as mayor.
But he said there may be an even larger repair job out there - restoring Lawrence residents' confidence in City Hall.
"I look at this next year as one where the City Commission and the mayor have to make people feel confident in city government and city services again," said Amyx, who if tradition holds, will be selected by his fellow commissioners at tonight's meeting to serve as mayor.
"The one thing I hope at the end of this year," Amyx said "is that people will accept the word of the commission and know that is the direction we're going to follow."
Members of the city's development community will appreciate that focus, said Bobbie Flory, executive director of the Lawrence Home Builders Assn.
She said members lack confidence after the city announced in June it was uncertain the sewer system in the growing northwest area of town could handle projected growth.
"It is very encouraging to hear Mike is committed to that," Flory said. "I would say there is definitely uncertainty in our membership. When there's uncertainty that causes people to start looking around to other communities. People need to know where they're going to get their work in the future."
Carrie Lindsey, president of the Lawrence-Douglas County League of Women Voters, which is one of the more active commission watchdog groups, said the issue of restoring confidence was probably a worthy one to tackle, though she didn't think the city was suffering from a crisis in confidence.
"I don't think the situation is the worst, but it always can be better," Lindsey said. "I still think we have a very accessible city government. But mistakes are made, and you are going to have that in a growing city. That's why you have to have the accountability, too."
Extensive list of goals
Restoring confidence, and in particular getting answers on the sewer issue, may mean commissioners will spend more time dealing with old ideas rather than searching for new ones to work on, Amyx said.
"We have a pretty extensive list," Amyx said. "I think the big thing before we add anything to that list is we have to come up with some sort of priority list."
Amyx, who is a downtown barber shop owner, is set to serve as mayor by virtue of his first-place finish in last year's City Commission election. He's served as vice mayor for the past 12 months. Commissioners traditionally select the top vote-winner to serve as mayor following the candidate's first full year in office.
Amyx will inherit one of the more interesting set of issues facing a mayor in recent memory. In addition to the sewer questions, the commission has received a report indicating about 30 percent of the city's streets need rebuilt, momentum is growing to build a new public library, and currently the key positions of city manager, planning director and director of utilities are vacant.
"With the things that we're looking at right now, this represents a very important time for city government," Amyx said.
Hiring a city manager
No issue will be more important than finding the next city manager, Amyx said. He hopes to have the process wrapped up by August and said he believes his fellow commissioners share in that urgency.
Commissioners are searching for a new city manager after Mike Wildgen was asked in March to resign after 16 years as the city's top executive. Commissioners were not unanimous in their call for Wildgen's resignation. Amyx and current Mayor Boog Highberger did not seek it. But Amyx said he's confident commissioners will work well together to find a replacement, and that it will not become a partisan political process where the three commissioners who ran together as part of the Progressive Lawrence Campaign pick a replacement without considering the two commissioners - Amyx and Sue Hack - who aren't affiliated with the PLC.
"I do believe that there is a professionalism about this City Commission," Amyx said. "We do disagree, but the truth of the matter is that at the end of an item, we all understand we have to carry out what the majority wishes."
Other issues that Amyx anticipates dealing with in the next year:
¢ 31st Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway. Amyx said he wants the city to make extending 31st Street east of Haskell a priority. He said he knows moving forward on 31st Street is difficult until a route for the South Lawrence Trafficway is finalized. That's because a 32nd Street route for the trafficway would significantly alter the portion of 31st Street that runs through the Baker Wetlands. But he said the city could begin working on some design ideas.
¢ Examine the budget. Amyx said he wants to have a thorough review of the budget to examine how much money the city has in reserve funds. He said the city commission needs to decide whether it wants to further reduce its reserve funds as a way to pay for some city projects without increasing tax rates.