One of Gov. Kathleen Sebelius' top aides is set to become the newest member of the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission.
Joe Harkins, who is Sebelius' top adviser on energy policy and planning, has been appointed to the Planning Commission by Mayor Mike Amyx. He's expected to be routinely confirmed by city commissioners at their meeting tonight.
"His involvement in government is just incredible," Amyx said. "It goes without saying that he is very involved and understands planning very well."
Harkins, prior to becoming a special assistant to the governor, was director for health planning for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment in the 1970s and was director of water planning for the Kansas Water Office in the 1980s.
"Over the years, I've had a lot of opportunities to engage in comprehensive planning at the state level," Harkins said.
Harkins will replace Marguerite Ermeling, who was a controversial appointment by then-Mayor Mike Rundle in 2004 because she lived outside city limits and had been heavily involved in politics as an unsuccessful candidate for the Douglas County Commission.
Ermeling - a Lawrence veterinarian - was eligible to serve another term, but Amyx said he chose to go in a different direction.
"I think it really comes down to a comfort level for me," said Amyx, who spoke with Ermeling for about an hour during his interview process for the position. "I have a lot of respect for Dr. Ermeling and the job she has done. But it is my job to make an appointment, and that is what I've done."
Attempts to reach Ermeling on Monday for comment were unsuccessful.
Recently, it has become more common for mayors to not reappoint a member to the Planning Commission, even though they are eligible and willing to serve again. Mayor Boog Highberger took that route last year when he declined to reappoint Ernie Angino, a frequent counterweight to a group of planning commissioners who often touted "smart growth" or progressive planning policies.
Ermeling frequently was a member of the progressive majority on the commission.
Harkins declined to get into details about what type of philosophy he would take into the position.
"The only label I'll accept is that of a Lawrence resident," Harkins said,
However, he said doing planning in a way that maintains or improves the community's quality of life would be a large issue.
He said he had not formed "hard points of view" on current issues the Planning Commission is dealing with, such as more regulations for retail development or where the final leg of the South Lawrence Trafficway should be located.
The Planning Commission has perhaps the highest profile among city and county-appointed boards. Its 10 members - five appointed by the Douglas County Commission, the other five by the Lawrence City Commission - review plans for development and redevelopment in Lawrence and rural Douglas County. The board acts only in an advisory capacity. City and county commissioners still make final decisions on development issues.