Commissioners put big projects on back burner

For now, the city’s vision is a balanced budget.

City commissioners agreed at their annual goal-setting session Tuesday afternoon to put off any talk of a major, communitywide “visioning” process until after the city finishes what is expected to be a difficult 2008 budget.

“We’ve got an awful lot on our plate right now,” Mayor Sue Hack said.

Commissioners directed staff to offer ideas this fall on how to conduct a visioning exercise that would help the community agree on principles to guide city operations. But a majority of commissioners also told staff to keep the process simple, and, preferably, not use outside consultants.

“Let’s not spend a lot of time and reinvent the wheel on this,” said Commissioner Mike Dever.

Dever suggested the city use its Web site or the Journal-World Web site to solicit comments from the public on ideas for the city’s future. Hack also suggested a “hot dogs and hot topics” format where the commission puts on neighborhood parties to hear from people.

Several commissioners also said they wanted to make sure they entered any visioning process free of preconceived notions. For example, Commissioner Rob Chestnut said he was upset with a recent report from a city consultant that recommended the city adopt codes that protect the city from a “slow transformation to Anywhere USA.”

Chestnut said he found the phrase “incredibly prejudicial.”

“That comment seems to make a statement on suburbia that we need to be careful about,” Chestnut said. “For example, I know a lot of people who live on cul-de-sacs who like to live on cul-de-sacs.”

The city currently is debating a new “Traditional Neighborhood Development Code” that would design new neighborhoods in a more “old-style” manner rather than in traditional suburban style. Several commissioners on Tuesday cautioned that they don’t want the community to become divided over how neighborhoods are built.

“We don’t want to do anything to add to the division of the community,” Hack said. “A statement about Anytown USA does seem to pit one person’s lifestyle against someone else’s.”

Other items that were discussed at Tuesday’s goal-setting session included:

¢ Direction to staff to provide information on how the Convention and Visitors Bureau spends nearly $850,000 in guest tax dollars paid by hotel guests. Commissioners also want more information on how Downtown Lawrence Inc. spends the roughly $50,000 it receives in city funding. Commissioners said they are interested in exploring ways to increase promotion for downtown.

¢ Initiate a meeting with the Kansas University School of Business and other KU schools to discuss resources the schools may have that the city could better capitalize on. Commissioners also told staff to set up similar meetings with leaders of Haskell Indian Nations University.

¢ Ask the Lawrence Alliance, a city-appointed advisory board, to explore ways to encourage public comment and participation from a more diverse group of residents.

¢ Have at least one City Commission meeting each quarter in a site away from City Hall.