Archive for Saturday, October 21, 2006

Simons: City, county in power struggle over community’s growth

October 21, 2006


It appears there is a tug of war going on between Lawrence City Hall and the Douglas County Courthouse - with the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce as a concerned sideline observer - over the growth and development of the city and county, the direction growth should take and who should be calling the shots.

For months, if not several years, county commissioners have led the effort to figure out the best way to develop and utilize the vacant Farmland Industries site on Kansas Highway 10 east of Lawrence. County commissioners, particularly Charles Jones and Bob Johnson, have devoted much time to studying the potential of the 467-acre site, the cost of cleaning up any hazards left by the former fertilizer plant, the best possible uses for the land, how to pay for the land, how much space should be allocated to manufacturing and industrial uses versus green space, and other relevant issues.

However, with recent stories telling of a significant slowdown in the city's growth, a possible embarrassing loss in population, a growing business-vacancy rate in downtown Lawrence and lower construction numbers comes the somewhat sudden realization by some city officials that more new business and industry is needed to generate new jobs and tax revenue to pay the bills Lawrence will incur as it updates and improves the city's infrastructure. The city is hard up financially, and it needs to find alternate ways to come up with more dollars.

Some city commissioners sought their elective positions by championing "smart growth," telling voters they would pay more attention to controlling the city's expansion, limiting what they portrayed as uncontrolled, insensitive growth. It worked, they were elected, and the city's growth has almost come to a standstill.

Now, however, there appears to be sufficient concern or awareness among these same city commissioners that the city needs a shot in the arm with new businesses and industry, more jobs and more tax revenue because the city has just about reached the limit of how much burden it can place on the shoulders of existing city taxpayers.

Therefore, it looks as if City Hall is about to try to hijack the Farmland project from the county. They, the city commissioners, want to take credit for anything good that might happen at the site. They want voters to think it was their vision and competence that developed the Farmland property, bringing in potential jobs and adding to the Lawrence tax base.

Particularly, they want those who voted for them and their slow-growth or smart-growth promises to stick with them, continue their support and not think they have abandoned their campaign talk, even though they now are pushing for growth and city involvement in the Farmland project. They don't want to lose the support of those who put them in office, and they don't want to be labeled as helping engineer the current, potentially dangerous curtailment of growth. Likewise, they don't like the idea of having to raise taxes for local residents.

This is a political juggling act in which they are walking a tight wire concerning growth, jobs, taxes and their own possible re-election.

In addition to the Farmland matter, city officials plan to create a new economic development coordinator position even though the city already is helping fund, along with the county and the Chamber of Commerce, an economic development program run by the chamber.

What does it say about how the city will grow and where it will be allowed to grow if the city has its own economic development officer? Who are the commissioners going to listen to concerning economic growth: their own staff member or someone from the Chamber of Commerce or county? Chances are an economic development hire is likely to develop policies and actions that he or she thinks will please the people who funded the office and who are paying his or her salary.

What about the duplication of efforts and the unnecessary costs? Apparently, city commissioners see nothing wrong with the added costs or the appearance of the commissioners having their own in-house economic development specialist who will be in lockstep with the commissioners' thinking.

Apparently, the city is not so short of funds that it can't afford to pay for a new office and the staffing to duplicate or parallel what already is being done by the chamber, city and county team.

Are commissioners saying they don't think the county and chamber are measuring up in their efforts in this arena? Are they saying the city can do a better job and knows what is best for the city and county concerning effective economic stimulus and growth?

It's clear city commissioners want to be in control to plan and direct the city's growth. Perhaps they can do a better job than has been done in the past, but Lawrence and the county were doing fairly well, in fact, was one of the best success stories in the state until a combination of complacency and City Hall policies and attitudes changed the scene.

It is unfortunate the enthusiastic, cooperative and effective economic development climate that was the hallmark of Lawrence for so many years cannot be restored.


KsTwister 11 years, 7 months ago

Finally, a realistic observation in journalism,which to my surprise I am totally in agreement.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 11 years, 7 months ago

Good grief-- this is just more of Dolph with all his usual pettiness, shallowness and poor writing skills.

But I can understand why that appeals to the previous posters.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 11 years, 7 months ago

From someone who froths on incessantly with no discernible point, your remarks about obsession can be nothing other than projection.

Bobo Fleming 11 years, 7 months ago

When there was a discussion about the County Rd 1 conection from the new turnpike entrace near Tongi thru Eudora one of the County Officials said " How does this help Lawrence?" So the City and County can now sit on their rears and Johnson County will get the road and open up a whole new area of development in Western Johnson County and the Eudora area. Johnson county always has their act together while Douglas County sits and says if this doesnt help Lawrence then why even think about it.

Richard Heckler 11 years, 7 months ago

The Chamber has had at least 20 plus years to bring in jobs with substantial pay packages. It did not happen. It seems many powers that be were happy to sit around and push the real estate/housing industry maybe thinking anything of substance would follow. What followed was substantially increased property taxes.

While the author beats up on smart growthers the dumb growthers/growth machine preceding them did not concentrate on excellent job packages that fuel additional economic growth from existing resources. The dumb growthers/growth machine had absolute control over the city,county and planning commissions for about 15 years and even that situation DID NOT produce jobs with substance.

It seems they were focused on the shop till you drop industry that which Lawrence is surrounded. Some out there must believe that JOCO and Topeka shoppers will come to Lawrence and leave their broader selections and lower prices behind...get real.

The city and county have been relying way too much on inflated residential property taxes and the housing boom that which has slowed from overnight sales to houses currently sitting on the market for 115 days or longer. Some crappy construction may be fueling the slow down.

Some would rather focus on Wal-Mart which is not a symbol of excellent pay packages. They think it is more imporatnt to win THEIR battle than to pull back,take a look around and determine what is it Lawrence DOES NOT HAVE then move forward.

The SLT is another perfect example of this "we must win" mentality exhibited by the real estate industry that which is the force behind the wetlands route. There are better ideas on the table which are far more practical and prudent. The wetlands route idea is obsolete. The K-10/I-70 connector is still the best idea and have it hook up to 24/40 and I-70 somewhere between Lawrence and Tongie as well as between Eastland Hills and Eudora industrial parks. The other Tonganoxie plan is going to be met with fierce resistance so my advice is to forget it.

Time and again residents have said they did not move to Lawrence for it to become JOCO or Topeka. It's the small town charm that is attractive why blow it.People come from elsewhere to shop our downtown not shop our outlying big box stores

Considering the chamber leaders could not bring jobs with substance to Lawrence it is only practical and prudent for another approach which the author should support instead of trying to create division.

Do we need two governmental bodies each with their own agendas for growth perhaps conflicting with surrounding communities? Absolutely not. Leave that to Baldwin,Eudora,Lawrence and Lecompton city governments to allow growth with prudence. Smart growth requires time and planning. Our "rush" approach has brought us high property taxes.

Lawrence is neither going broke nor going to die. The author is wielding the Bush fear factor routine.

Sigmund 11 years, 7 months ago

I note one more time that the pay packages and benefits offered by Walmart are much better than at the Merc or 99% of the Beautiful Downtown Lawrence Strip Mall, but that is not the main reason they should be allowed to build.

Walmart will compete with Target, the Despots (Home and Office), Dillons, HyVee, The Merc, BestBuy, and other large retailers keeping prices for consumer goods and groceries, and our cost of living, competitive with close by metros. That will keep more local sales tax dollars here in Lawrence, not to mention all the property taxes they will pay. We're going to need those tax dollars just to pay for the new Bozo Business Czar.

Speaking of the Merc and the PLC Kommission, do we really want them to use their power so that they continue to protect their incomes to our detriment?

However I must admit that the thought of the PLC Kommission hanging out on the sidewalk in DC begging staffers that walk by for a dime or a cigarette sends me into hysterical laughter each time I think of it, and that has to be worth something.

Rationalanimal 11 years, 7 months ago

The Lawrence City Communishers narcicistically believe they have a right to control what goes on outside the boundaries of the City. E.g. attempt to assert control over KDOT putting an I-70 exit in Eudora.

News flash to the fab-5, the Prime Meridian does not run through Lawrence, Kansas.

Next weeks story, the fab-5 proclaim the City of Lawrence is a sovereign body equal to the Federal Government. Why not, their going on D.C. sightseeing vacations on the taxpayer dime. Oh, and another property tax hike for that one.

You have to know how you measure up to the other fish in the pond. If you don't, you're bound to wind up someone else's dinner. Its true in the pond, its true in politics.

KsTwister 11 years, 7 months ago

Oddly enough a real estate agent I used informed me he is leaving town and changing careers when he thought he was set here. One does not make a stampede but it does make me question how with a lack of jobs and the need for an employment base for new industry to build here what could possibly keep the "house of cards " from caving in when the infrastructure cannot afford its repairs. It just stands to reason; no businesses-no jobs, expensive real estate-high taxes, frivolous spending and high risk ventures by our City Hall. Hey, its not my dark cloud but my kids are relocating their white collar jobs too. That Magic Eight Ball is not giving our commissioners the right information I think. It just sickens us all.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 11 years, 7 months ago

I've looked at maps, and even been in Eudora. The planned exit you refer to is several miles north of Eudora, and is closer to Tonganoxie, who has requested that particular interchange. And regardless of where they put it, unless I-70 is re-routed, there will never be an interchange "in" Eudora.

Does it piss you off when I'm right, and you're wrong (as is usually the case,) Marion?

Godot 11 years, 7 months ago

The reason the PLC 3 faction of the Fab 5 think they have the right to control what goes on outside the boundaries of the city is because their plan, if re-elected, is to annex most of the rest of the county.

Godot 11 years, 7 months ago

If you want an example of how ineffective a government agency is at economic development, you do not have to look any further than KTECH. That organization has been ripping off the Kansas taxpayers for nearly 20 years,and, other than the bloated salaries of the KTECH executives, what have they done to bring high paying jobs to Kansas and Lawrence?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 11 years, 7 months ago

"E.g. attempt to assert control over KDOT putting an I-70 exit in Eudora."

Uh, I hate to drop the news, but I-70 doesn't go through Eudora.

cutny 11 years, 7 months ago

The City Commission did said NO to unencumbered growth, which I think a lot of people had wanted to see happen to Lawrence for quite some time, with no cares what it did to the "tax base." I think it's more important to talk about the starting wage of $5.87 or so at THE BIG BOX rather than the "average" wage which 9 people out of 10 aren't likely to earn, even if they did, is still less than $300 a week take home. Expenses need to stabilize in this town, because the quality of life does not seem to be going up. I think the commission would have done a fine job limiting growth along with expense, but unfortunately, this town's expenses are spinning upward out of control with no help from the top of the hill.

monkeyhawk 11 years, 7 months ago

Yes, there is a tug of war and the taxpayers are sitting in the middle of the mud hole. The three commissioners who won their positions had a couple of things going for them. They undoubtedly knew the traditional voter turnout Lawrence experiences is abysmal, and they had their strong downtown base who advocate their same views. Once the three saw what kind of power they could exert over the little people, they soon came to think they could control every aspect of our lives. When some posters on this board observe that Lawrence is the most restrictive place in the country, it is not a shallow assessment.

Perhaps Mr. Simons could run a series of articles on the smart growth movement, who is behind it, and what the results have been elsewhere.

Richard Heckler 11 years, 7 months ago


No one will ever be stranded so long as people can walk, catch a ride on the T or have bicycles with or without trailers.

Before oil becomes extinct vehicles will be powered otherwise.

As a side note 20 years ago John McGrew and I had a pleasant two hour conversation in his office. According to John the Lawrence economy has always been strong,was at that time and according to John when other economies were faltering Lawrence was not affected much. It could weather ups and downs without fail primarily because of the university. In my estimation John is right on the money. John McGrew has been around Lawrence forever. Lawrence is not going broke or going to die.

If my memory serves me well sales tax revenues are up and so are property taxes.

cutny 11 years, 7 months ago

BTW...Sigmund. Save your Wal-Mart advertorial for a crowd that might swallow it.

carolannfugate 11 years, 7 months ago

I note there are a few others in the midst who suffer the same affliction. Then they attack without provacation. I got the real scoop on one of them and wow just wow.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 11 years, 7 months ago

"I note one more time that the pay packages and benefits offered by Walmart are much better than at the Merc"

And what do you base that on?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 11 years, 7 months ago

Actually, Marion, Merrill did run for city commission several years ago.

cowboy 11 years, 7 months ago

Well said !

As I was reading the article yesterday about mini downtowns I was struck by the fact that most of the devo this was discussing is county land , not the city. Who appointed these folks as emperor ?

oldgoof 11 years, 7 months ago

Rational animal: There are lots of prime Meridians

monkeyhawk 11 years, 7 months ago

"Some would rather focus on Wal-Mart which is not a symbol of excellent pay packages. They think it is more imporatnt to win THEIR battle than to pull back,take a look around and determine what is it Lawrence DOES NOT HAVE then move forward."

Taken from The Wall Street Journal, Oct. 18, 2006

We've done a little digging into the two most prominent anti-Wal-Mart groups, and they might as well operate out of AFL-CIO headquarters. An outfit called Wal-Mart Watch was created by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), probably the most powerful union in America after the National Education Association. Wal-Mart Watch is backed by Five Stones, a 501(c)3 organization that received $2,775,000 in 2005 from the SEIU, or 56% of its $5 million budget. According to financial records, SEIU also gave Five Stones $1 million in 2004 to launch the anti-Wal-Mart group, and SEIU president Andy Stern is the Wal-Mart Watch chairman. [Andy Stern]

A second group, Wake Up Wal-Mart, is more or less a subsidiary of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW). Wake Up Wal-Mart refuses to divulge its funding sources, but here is what we do know: The group was founded by the UFCW, is housed at UFCW headquarters, and its campaign director's $135,000 salary is paid by the UFCW.

Wake Up Wal-Mart also has close ties to the Democratic Party. Its union-funded campaign director is Paul Blank, who was political director of Howard Dean's failed Presidential campaign. The group sponsored a 19 state, 35-day bus tour across the U.S. earlier this year, staging anti-Wal-Mart rallies. Nearly every major Democratic Presidential hopeful has joined in the Wal-Mart-bashing, including Senators Joe Biden and Evan Bayh, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, and trial lawyer-turned-man-of the-people John Edwards. They all seem to believe they have to take this line to pass union muster for 2008.

Even Hillary Rodham Clinton has joined in the political fun. Never mind that she served six years on the Wal-Mart board during her time in Beltway exile as an Arkansas lawyer and, according to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, was paid $18,000 per year plus $1,500 for every meeting near the end of her tenure. Most recently, Mrs. Clinton returned a $5,000 campaign contribution from Wal-Mart to protest its allegedly inadequate health care benefits. Maybe someone should ask her if she's returned her director's pay, with interest.

Wal-Mart pays an average of $10 an hour, which is more than many of its unionized competitors offer. And typically when a new Wal-Mart store opens in a poor area, it receives thousands of job applications for a few hundred openings. So Wal-Mart's retail jobs of $7 to $12 an hour, which the unions deride as "poverty wages," are actually in high demand.

Sigmund 11 years, 7 months ago

Dolph forgot the recent DC trip to panhandle for federal dollars and no one was home. Truly an embarrassing moment for Lawrence at the hands of the PLC dominated Kommission. Otherwise right on target.

monkeyhawk 11 years, 7 months ago


But as we say, this campaign isn't about "working families," or any of the other rhapsody-for-the-common-man union slogans. If Wal-Mart were suddenly unionized, Big Labor's membership would double overnight and union leaders would collect an estimated $300 million in additional dues each year to sway more politicians. Short of that, their goal is to keep Wal-Mart out of cities so their union shops have less competition. That's what the war against Wal-Mart is truly about.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 11 years, 7 months ago

Are you referring to the votes in which they approved the expansion of the S. Iowa store, or the new store on W. Sixth?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 11 years, 7 months ago

Yes, I speak English, and whether you use the term "exit" or "interchange," it will never be "in" Eudora.

Give it up, Marion. You're wrong, so quit digging.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 11 years, 7 months ago

Looks like Sigmund doesn't intend to back up his statement.

My information is that the Merc pays a "living wage" to all its employees, which Wally World most certainly does not.

The Merc, as a matter of policy, supports local farmers and producers, which Wally World will never do.

The Merc is also wholly owned by its members, and all profits are reinvested right here in Lawrence-- not shipped off to Arkansas or Wall Street.

lunacydetector 11 years, 7 months ago

bozo wrote: "The Merc is also wholly owned by its members, and all profits are reinvested right here in Lawrence"

one question: the three amigos did not recuse themselves regarding anything wal-mart, shouldn't they have since they belong to the Merc?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 11 years, 7 months ago

Call it whatever you like, but there will never be an I-70 exit "in" Eudora.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 11 years, 7 months ago

Let me amend that last statment.

There will never be such an "exit" until Eudora annexes several miles to the north, into the neighboring county of Leavenworth.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 11 years, 7 months ago

Good night, Marion. If you actually sleep, sweet dreams. (Might I suggest reading up on the prepositions of the English language? That ought to be at least as good as counting sheep.)

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