Archive for Sunday, April 16, 2006

Should mayor’s powers change?

Some say it’s time to give position some strength

April 16, 2006


Try to picture Lawrence having a governor.

Instead of the current system where the city is led by a mayor elected by fellow city commissioners each year, Lawrence would have a mayor elected directly by voters every two or four years. And the "strong" mayor would have many of the same powers as a governor or the president - such as the ability to veto laws, draft the city's budget and hire and fire the city manager.

Such talk is floating around town. David Burress, a Lawrence-Douglas County planning commissioner and retired Kansas University economist, has talked about the idea for months. But he said now that the city already was in transition following the forced resignation of longtime City Manager Mike Wildgen, the community ought to seriously discuss the idea.

He said there would be some real benefits to voters. Chief among them: If voters thought the city wasn't being operated properly, they would have a single person to focus their scorn upon.

"You can say right now that the buck stops with the city manager, but so what? Voters can't do anything about it because they can't vote the city manager out of office," Burress said. "You can try to get three commissioners to do that, but that is very difficult.

"You want a single person that you can yell and scream at and vote out of office if the city isn't being run well."

The talk of a mayoral change may just remain talk, though. A majority of city commissioners said they had no interest in giving a single person that much power, though they left the door open slightly for a more moderate proposal by a KU political science professor that would allow voters to directly elect a mayor but would not give the position broad new powers.

"But I have to tell you, I think the system we have right now works pretty well," Mayor Mike Amyx said.

Mike Amyx, owner of Amyx Barber Shop 842 1/2Mass., gives a haircut to Nick Larkin, 8, in his downtown shop in this 2006 file photo.

Mike Amyx, owner of Amyx Barber Shop 842 1/2Mass., gives a haircut to Nick Larkin, 8, in his downtown shop in this 2006 file photo.

Checks and balances

Burress said his idea would add needed checks and balances to city government. Under such a system, the mayor would not vote on issues unless there was a tie. Instead, the mayor would be more of an executive, working with the city manager to run city operations. City commissioners would focus on setting policy and passing laws.

Burress said that would give voters a clearer picture of who is responsible for what.

"As a voter, if you think the laws are bad, you get rid of the commission," Burress said. "If you think the execution is bad, you get rid of the mayor and the manager."

The idea, though, sparked considerable concerns from several city commissioners.

"That is a very single source of power that I just don't see this community buying into," said City Commissioner Sue Hack, who also is a retired teacher. "I used to have a sign in my classroom that said, 'Save time. Do it my way.' That idea didn't always work in my classroom, and I know it doesn't work at all in Lawrence government."

John Nalbandian, a former city commissioner and mayor and current chairman of KU's public administration department, said he would be very concerned if Lawrence moved to a strong mayor form of government.

He said he wasn't sure the majority of Lawrence residents wanted a city government that operated more like state or federal governments. He's also convinced a strong mayor form of government would create tension between the commission and the mayor.

"It really would be a ridiculous idea for Lawrence to ever talk about," Nalbandian said. "You can't really have a city manager in that situation. You end up with a chief of staff that serves at the pleasure of the mayor.

"The person may be a professional or may not because it is totally up to the mayor. But I can guarantee you that if the mayor doesn't want the manager to talk to the other members on the council, then he won't talk to them because he knows who controls his job. You're just asking for conflict."

Moderate mayor

But there may be a way for Lawrence voters to directly elect a mayor without granting the powers that concern commissioners.

Burdett Loomis, a political science professor at KU, has proposed a system that would require voters to select a mayor. But the mayor would not have veto power and could not hire and fire the city manager.

Instead, the change would create a mayoral position in city government that would be expected to promote new ideas and initiatives. As it is now, Loomis thinks city commissioners may ask the city manager to do too much of that "policy championing" type of work.

"The management side may suffer at times because you're asking your manager to spend time promoting new policies," Loomis said.

And he said he thought voters would notice a difference in campaigns. He said if two mayoral candidates squared off head-to-head, it likely would create more substantive discussions on hot-button topics such as the smoking ban or the pace of growth.

"You could have a discussion between two candidates instead of the babble we sometimes get when you have six candidates running for City Commission," Loomis said.

Nalbandian said he thought those mayoral changes might be worth considering in the future, though they're not worth distracting from the commission's current search for a new city manager.

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"In that system, the mayor would be in a better position to take more initiative," Nalbandian said. "But I wouldn't do it at all now. Searching for a city manager is a big enough deal on its own."

City commissioners, though, said they had concerns with that type of system, too.

"If I had to take a position today, I probably would not support it," City Commissioner David Schauner said. "Maybe in a year after we've cleared our plates some, I would reconsider it. But I'm not sure I know what is broken."

How it stands

¢ The Lawrence City Commission consists of five officials elected at large.

¢ Three city commissioners are up for election every two years. The two top vote-getters win four-year terms, and the third-place finisher wins a two-year term. In that way, a majority of the commission can be replaced in any election. No term limits exist.

¢ The City Commission elects a mayor and vice mayor annually at the first meeting in April.

¢ The City Commission passes resolutions and ordinances, establishes policies for the city, approves the budget and hires the city manager.



cowboy 11 years, 11 months ago

Note the LJW interviewed the local communists.

i say elect a mayor for four years and have a publicized agenda rather than the current , see what I have up my sleeve approach.

Godot 11 years, 11 months ago

At least the discussion is beginning. There needs to be more accomplished than just changing the term and powers of the mayor. We need commissioners elected by precinct or district, as well. There is much to consider before making any changes at all. And those changes need to be put before the electorate for approval.

pundit 11 years, 11 months ago

Where did this one come from? A hole in the news budget?

Sure, Mr. Burress is the city governance expert I want to listen to......

I didn't realize the structure was broke.

Nalbandian's comments are appropriate and correct, regardless of anyone opinion of his service.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 11 years, 11 months ago

I'll float my idea again. Elect four commissioners by precinct, with two-year terms. Elect a mayor and two other city commissioners in a city-wide election to 4-year terms. The top vote-getter becomes mayor, and the second two are city commissioners, with the mayor being the tie-breaker on the city commission.

Give the mayor the power to fire the city manager and other top positions such as planning director or police chief, but any new hires for those positions have to get city commission approval.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 11 years, 11 months ago

Is your reading comprehension of my idea (I hardly consider it a proposal) really that bad, Marion, or are you just doing your morning knee-jerk exercising and indulging your need to uncritically attack something/anything I might say?

dviper 11 years, 11 months ago

I am all for changing the city of Lawrence governmental structure. I like the idea of electing a mayor responsible to the voters, and commissioners elected by district, kind of just like how the state government works but on a local scale. I would like to see Lawrence have six or seven districts that elect a commissioner, which could more appropriately represent their district. Currently, my neighborhood feels that we are not being represented by anyone on the city commission.

Currently, the city of Lawrence has commissioners pushing their own political agendas down the throats of tens of thousands of Lawrence citizens that think just the opposite in many cases. I don't recall overwhelming city wide support for ideas like: roundabouts, traffic circles, green space conservation, open connectivity of neighborhoods that allow public side walks between residential homes, grid pattern development like downtown in all new development areas, rejection letters to the federal government of the Patriot Act, pedestrian bridges, bike lanes on streets, $90,000 for downtown flowers, opposition to building the SLT via 32nd street route, requiring private home owners to repair city owned sidewalks, and increasing or supporting new city taxes.

The citizens of Lawrence deserve better local government and an 'elected by the people' mayor, that will govern and abide by the ideals he or she campaigned upon.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 11 years, 11 months ago

There is plenty of support for all of those things, dviper. You just need to get out of your little echochamber if you want to hear it.

dviper 11 years, 11 months ago

Bozo - You say there is plenty of support, please provide the source, I'd like to read who and where in Lawrence supports those ideals. Please remember, I'm talking about a majority of the city.

SpeedRacer 11 years, 11 months ago

I am all for a popularly elected mayor with real mayoral powers with 5 or 6 commissioners elected by precinct and one at large.

Fred Whitehead Jr. 11 years, 11 months ago

We have been down this road before and flopped. This idea has been up for a local vote and all the pollyannas in town have defeated it, they like the status quo the way it is. And hardly anyone votes in local elections, THAT is the real problem, very few actually give a damn. That is why we have a police force that gets away with murder and other viiolations, creeping roundabout syndrome, "official" policy against businesses locating her and a raft of other stupid ideas. It will not change. Not enough people in little ole Larryville with their cute green space and setbacks care enough to make any difference.

canyon_wren 11 years, 11 months ago

I think Lawrence should have a strong mayor serving a four year term, elected by the people, who is not technically on the commission but does vote to break a tie.

There are many ways a full-time (or even part-time) mayor can serve the people in a single role. I DO NOT think he/she should have the power to hire and fire the city manager--I think that power should belong to the commission. The mayor could make recommendations to the commission but not have absolute power. I live in Utah and there are several options for local government, depending upon size of the community, but what seems to work best is what I just described. I served as our community's first female mayor, for a 4-year term with a very capable city manager who came here in 1994 at the age of 28 and has done an amazing job, freeing up the mayor to serve on state committees, address meetings, perform marriages, etc.--and, most important--be totally accessible EVERY DAY to members of the community with problems.

I think there are good commissioners (or council members, as in my community) who don't have the qualities needed to "head' the community in the way a mayor should--and why pass that position around?

SpeedRacer 11 years, 11 months ago

If someone like Rundle or Booger "had the power", it would be reflective of the stupidity of the electorate and the voters would deserve what they get. My vote, for one, would not be one of them.

anonimiss 11 years, 11 months ago

I hate the idea of giving someone like Rundle or Boog any actual power. But on the flip side, let the morons of Lawrence vote in their hippies, and I'll just move out to a cheaper, growth-friendly town. We'll just let Lawrence and Mayor Cracked-out-hippy continue down the path of taking money away from streets and sewers to spend on more flowers on downtown and a multi-year lawsuit against Walmart. It'll turn into a dump in no time.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 11 years, 11 months ago

We won't be sorry to see you go, either, anonimiss, since all you have to offer is ignorance and petty name-calling, and no viable ideas on how you would do it better.

lunacydetector 11 years, 11 months ago

the thing i see being scary is david burress (just another bozo on the bus?)proposed this idea. john nalbandian was hilarious when he was a commissioner - he never could get the procedural aspect of how the commission worked. i remember numerous times the then city manager would have to speak up regarding procedures - and nalbandian supposedly was an expert.

if the scene remains the same regarding the commission i think there should be something put on a public ballot regarding TERM LIMITS!

look how many years rundle has been on the commission. didn't rundle leave and come back? i know amyx was on there, left, then he came back as well. i think this gives commissioners too much power. we should make it easier for people to vote too. do more absentee ballots then the commuters would be more likely to vote.

dviper 11 years, 11 months ago


I agree with your suggestion about the term limits; it would certainly ensure new and different ideas and guard against cronyism, like Rundle's appointment of Burriss to the planning commission. (Side note: I always thought poster Bozo was Rundle or Rundle's boyfriend.) I also agree with getting more commuters to vote. This is probably the key to oust at least 2 of the PLC commissioners. IMO, the majority of the commuters do not support the PLC agenda.

IMO, the 3 PLC commissioners (Rundle, Highberger and Schauner) certainly do not support the ideals of the majority of Lawrence citizens, they do however support the radical ideals of a vocal minority of very Liberal radicals and extremists that make up the PLC political action committee. I believe their main bases of supporters are primarily located in areas east of Iowa St. So, currently we have 3 commissioners elected by a small group of people (when compared with all of Lawrence) that are infecting all areas of Lawrence with their ideology and nonsense.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 11 years, 11 months ago

So, it comes down to luny's and dviper's belief that people east of Iowa St. shouldn't be allowed to have representation on the city commission, and since they haven't been able exclude anyone who might represent the interests of these "low-lifes" at the polls, they propose a term-limits law in a desperate attempt to get their way.

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