Chat with David Corliss, Lawrence’s interim city manager

Welcome to our online chat with David Corliss, Lawrence’s interim city manager.

The chat took place on Friday, April 7, at 1:30 PM and is now closed, but you can read the full transcript on this page.

Moderator: Thanks for joining us today. David Corliss, Lawrence’s interim city manager, is with us here at the News Center to talk to our readers about their various concerns.

I’m Dave Toplikar, online editor, and I’ll be serving as moderator.

David, thanks for being with us today. We’ve already got a lot of questions our readers have submitted, so we can go ahead and jump right in.

I’d welcome our readers to continue to submit questions and we’ll see how many we can get through.

David Corliss: I’m glad to be with you today.

Ken, Lawrence: How difficult will it be for you or a new city manager to rebuild the morale of city staff and the general public in the wake of Mike Wildgen’s termination?

David Corliss: Ken, thank you for your question. Our City workforce is made up of hard-working dedicated employees who provide great services 24/7/365 to our community. I am meeting with a number of staff groups and departments to continue to listen to their concerns, remind them of the important work they do for our community, and focus our energy and attention on continuing to provide great service. Our recent employee survey from last year indicated that generally employee morale was high, but there is always room for improvement, and that is what I will be seeking.

Laura: Do you intend to apply for the City Manager’s position, permanently?

If so, why do you think Commissioners should hire from within, in light of recent City problems?

Interim City Manager David Corliss responds to readers' questions online.

David Corliss: I probably will apply for the permanent position. There are obviously pros and cons with hiring someone with local experience versus someone new to Lawrence.

Someone new to the community and organization can bring a new, fresh perspective to issues; someone already familiar with those issues brings that experience. Someone who has local experience who can integrate new ideas and innovations can perhaps do both.

The City Commission is going to seek the services of a professional executive search firm to assist them in the recruitment of a new City Manager. Once the Commission with the assistance of the search firm decide on their goals for a new permanent manager, I will make a final decision on applying.

J, Lawrence: Any plans to move up repairs to the North Lawrence bump?

David Corliss: First, my thoughts and prayers go to the individual that was hurt in the accident. The Public Works department is going to look at making minor repairs next week, but those minor repairs will not permanently bring the desired level of service to that intersection. We are asking KDOT about the possibility of moving the complete reconstruction project up on their schedule as well. The City Commission will need to ultimately determine whether moving this project ahead of schedule and moving the planned reconstruction of Kasold north of Peterson back in the schedule is appropriate.

John, Lawrence: I understand the new water piping being installed under Mass. St. is not sized adequately to provide sprinkler fire-protection to downtown buildings, and that the City has been aware of this all along. Could you please comment on this and briefly explain the reasons why this decision was made prior to redesign and construction?

Also, what is being done to mitigate loss of business that will be incurred by merchants during this years construction effort?

Last year’s project was a complete and total disaster. What steps are you taking to make sure this is a smoother ride this year?

Thank you.

David Corliss: John, thanks for your question. The City will receive bids next Tuesday for the installation of new waterlines in the 700 and 800 blocks of Mass. This project will replace the over 100 year old existing waterlines. These new waterlines will provide adequate water capacity for fire sprinkler systems and replace inadequate infrastructure. . The City contract will include liquidated damage penalties to ensure that the contractor moves as expeditiously as possible in the installation work. Unfortunately, this type of project does negatively impact businesses during construction. By moving the project along as quickly as possible and by communicating with the public and impacted businesses we hope to minimize the temporary negative impact. I do not agree that last year’s project was a disaster – it was inconvenient, and these projects always seem to take too long – but the responses we received from the majority of the businesses appreciated the diligent work of the contractor.

Amy, Lawrence: What is the city doing about the lack of affordable housing; either people need to make more money or houses need to cost less money!

Ryan, Lawrence: Mr. Corliss, affordable housing continues to be a problem in Lawrence, while at the same time wages are not keeping up with inflation. What is the city commission doing to address this problem? Thank you.

David Corliss: Amy and Ryan, thanks for your question. Providing housing for all of those who want to call Lawrence home is a significant challenge that the City Commission wants an effective response. Earlier this year, then Mayor Highberger established a Housing Needs Task Force which had its initial meeting this week. This group will review the work that has already been done on this issue, examine possible City and community responses, and seek to give the Commission options and recommendations on improving housing opportunities for those with housing needs and who desire to live in Lawrence. The issue of wages and economic development is also an important goal for the Commission. Whether it is seeking to expand available land opportunities for new industries, specifically seeking to grow our biotechnology industry through our local biosciences authority, or exploring new methods and incentives to obtain new employment opportunities for Lawrence residents, the Commission is focused on results for jobs and wages – which relates back in part to the housing needs issue.

Nancy, Baldwin: Do you believe that Lawrence should encourage developers to build more residences or business – or do you side with those who oppose growth?

David Corliss: Nancy thanks for your question. My recommendation to the Commission has always been to encourage quality growth which adds value to our community. I spend a healthy part of every day working with the development community and their representatives in seeking to improve our development process, ensure that the community’s expectations with growth are achieved, and the results enhance our community. A community that says no to growth, or places unreasonable burdens on growth, will hurt itself in the long view. Instead, our focus should be on seeking to get the best, long term growth for our community. We all live in homes and neighborhoods that were once part of Lawrence’s “growth” – and I’m glad previous leaders wanted to grow our community and that our current Commission also wants quality growth.

Kyle, Lawrence: What will be done to prevent future problems in planning for infrastructure? Will you look for different consultants in the future or do more in-house engineering?

David Corliss: Kyle, thanks for your question. One of the major projects that I have started is an infrastructure overview and audit. It will examine all of the City’s infrastructure – not just sanitary sewers – to demonstrate the current status of our infrastructure (streets, water, sewers, storm sewers, sidewalks, city buildings, etc.), what existing plans we have in place to guide our practices, identify opportunities for improvement, show where we can institute better practices in maintaining the infrastructure, benchmark us against peer communities, etc. We must have confidence in our infrastructure, and this overview and audit will be a guide to show that the confidence is well placed and where we need to do a better job. We already do a good job in a number of areas – which the public should be shown – but I also believe in continuous improvement and I know our City staff also follows that philosophy. I will be looking at improving our in-house engineering capabilities, and have already begun the process with some changes, with some additional changes to take place in the future.

Justine, Lawrence: As I drive through Lawrence each day, I observe the ruins of the East, and North, Lawrence neighborhoods. The streets are disintegrating; for example, Rhode Island has never been repaired and the bricks are dissolving. in addition, the intersection at 10th street and Rhode Island is literally sinking and this has been the same for years. I have noticed in East and North Lawrence that the only repairs to the streets are the ones most traveled leaving the many other streets to be patched and re-patched. Why is only selected areas of our Lawrence community infrastructure worthy of being maintained? What is it going to take to make improvements to these areas? why isn’t more money being allocated to these neighborhoods for the needed repairs? Is the tax base not high enough in these areas? Have these once beautiful neighborhoods with their mature and majestic trees now become the forgotten inter-city?

David Corliss: Justine, thank you for your question. I want to assure you that the City takes responsibility for all areas of the city and all neighborhoods. We allocate our resources based on need, and specifically we allocate our street maintenance resources based on an inventory of every street in town. The Commission allocated additional resources for this year to improve our streets in response to this recently completed inventory. The maintenance backlog will be a big issue in creating the 2007 budget. Brick streets place a special maintenance challenge and a larger expense to rebuild and replace than asphalt streets. On your tax base comment, I do think the Commission and the community need to discuss the tax base mix in our community which is heavily weighted toward residential property taxes – a report that we posted on the City website for our budget study session this week highlights the fact that Lawrence places a higher reliance on residential tax base than most other similarly sized Kansas cities – in other words if we had a higher property tax base of non-residential properties we would have additional resources to spend on needed infrastructure improvements.

Susan, Lawrence: I’ve observed over the years that Lawrence’s beautification plan includes a startling number of new curb projects throughout the city. What is behind this fascination with curb beautification and how much is budgeted for curbs each year? It’s interesting that Clinton Parkway and Bob Billings Parkway, which have little to no pedestrian traffic, recently received curb and sidewalk upgrades, yet Tennessee and Kentucky Streets, with bustling pedestrian activity, got passed over. You need crampons and climbing gear to navigate the crumbling sidewalks along Tennessee and Kentucky Streets. Can you explain the logic?

David Corliss: Susan, thanks for your question. Sidewalk maintenance is, per State and City law, the responsibility of the adjacent property owner. The City does install and maintain certain paths (the Clinton parkway path) and those sidewalks adjacent to City property. We have also used some limited funds to build new sidewalks. In a study session last month the City Commission directed staff to present possible options to assist property owners with their sidewalk maintenance responsibilities. That will be reviewed in coming weeks. The City does have the authority to condemn poor sidewalks, make the repair, and assess the adjoining property owner. Sidewalks are an important part of any community and we want to improve them for all residents in all parts of town. Like most of these public policy issues, it comes down to resources and who should pay for improvements and maintenance.

James, Lawrence: David, thank you for all you have done the past 2-3 years to help the East Side neighborhoods (Brook Creek, Barker, Old East Lawrence) in our efforts to preserve, update and renew the entire area east of Massachusetts / north of 23rd St., and the Burroughs Creek (old railroad) Park and trail corridor as well.

The Commission has said they hope to choose a new City Manager by August, which means your tenure will be 4-5 months – or else perhaps you will be the new CM.

Either way, these months will see big turning-points for the East Side’s revitalization efforts: a $1.5 million grant application for the Burroughs Creek Rail-Trail will be decided by KDOT in May; the Hanscom-Tappan Additions will be completed and occupied; the ECO2 / Eco-Devo Open Space Preservation vision may advance toward a new Kaw River Pedestrian Bridge; and Salvation Army’s exact plans for their vacant block near 19th & Haskell might be finally revealed and approved by their new neighbors.

What would you invite the East Side to expect from your term in office this year? Can we count on your continued, active support for a major renewal of our East Side neighborhoods?

My best wishes to you!

David Corliss: James, thanks for your question and your best wishes! I am enthused with the Burroughs Creek trail project, I enjoyed showing KDOT officials (who will hopefully look with favor on our grant application) the possibilities for the trail and how it can serve a number of neighborhoods as a great linear park. The Commission has asked for a report on encouraging quality infill (re)development, including an examination of using the Kansas Neighborhood Revitalization Act. The report and Commission direction on it may serve as an additional tool for assisting existing neighborhoods. Please let me know about how I or others working for the City can help you; thanks for your continued interest in making Lawrence neighborhoods great.

Moderator: This will be our final question for the day.

Don from Lawrence: David,

Are you in a position as interim city manager to heal the tear that seems to have occurred between the “progressives” and “whatever the others call themselves”? Good luck and I hope the commission considers you for a permanent position. They can’t go wrong with that one!!!

David Corliss: Thanks Don for your question and comment. I consider it a privilege to work for the City and to work in the position that the Commission has asked me to fill for a few months during this transition period. Community leadership requires a number of people from all walks of life who listen attentively, seek options and ideas, and then can sustain the energy to get the goal accomplished. I am excited to be working for 5 elected officials who all want to make Lawrence better than when they assumed office. My role is to lead the organization to accomplish their vision for the community, ensure they receive the best professional advice in pursuing that direction and that Lawrence can be the best in every respect. If there are big divisions within the community I believe it is because people differ on the methods of achieving an even better Lawrence, I don’t think it is because they don’t want the best community. I would encourage all Lawrence citizens to work with the Commission to achieve that goal and not assume that because they differ on a particular project or the location of the next roundabout – that the other view is mortally wrong.

Moderator: David, thanks for taking time out of your day to answer so many questions. I’d also like to thank our readers for providing us with so many questions.

David Corliss: Thanks for this opportunity. I understand that I missed a few questions, so if the readers still want to ask be a questions please feel free to contact me at