8 candidates running
The Lawrence City Commission elections are April 7. Eight candidates are vying for three at-large spots on the commission.
The candidates are: Mike Amyx, a downtown barber shop owner; Price Banks, a Lawrence attorney; James Bush, a sales and marketing professional for Maceli’s; Dennis Constance, a custodial supervisor at Kansas University; Aron Cromwell, the owner of a Lawrence-based environmental consulting firm; Lance Johnson, the owner of a Lawrence-based civil engineering firm; Tom Johnson, the student adviser and general manager of KJHK, a KU radio station; and Gwen Klingenberg, president of the Lawrence Association of Neighborhoods.
Age: 65 Address: 2018 Camel Back Family: Wife, Marge; two grown children Occupation: Attorney Substantial business interests: Owner of the business operations of the Price T. Banks Law Firm. He lists the firm’s largest clients as: The Douglas County Kaw Drainage District, the City of Winchester, the Lawrence Community Shelter, Wolfe Properties LLC, and Manhattan Citizens for Sustainable Development Downtown.
Price Banks has the scars to show from what some have called the most unpopular job in Lawrence City Hall.
As the city’s director of planning from 1982 to 1994, he had withstood the slings and arrows that flew frequently in the 1980s when developers wanted to convert major parts of downtown into an indoor mall.
He’d seen the passion of eagle lovers and environmentalists who chained themselves to trees to protest construction of an outlet mall on the banks of the Kansas River.
And he had endured all the guff from developers and neighborhood leaders alike who invariably believed the Planning Department was slanted toward one interest or another.
Today, in a succinct style that he hopes is a hallmark, Banks said the lesson from it all was simple.
“Politics make a difference,” Banks said. “And they always have.”
Fifteen years after leaving City Hall “frustrated,” Banks — now a Lawrence attorney — is diving head-first into the political pool. He’s one of eight candidates seeking three at-large seats on the Lawrence City Commission.
He’s running a campaign that he said he hopes doesn’t sound “too trite,” by saying his familiarity with city government will allow him to “hit the ground running.” The theme plays well with his campaign talk of not getting bogged down in the decision-making process at City Hall.
“Sometimes we beat issues to death when the answer is before us,” Banks said of his observation of city government. “That is one reason we have so many meetings and they last so long. I don’t know if it is a lack of courage or what, but sometimes it is just time to make up your mind and move on.”
A City Hall presence
Banks, 65, resigned as planning director in 1994 shortly after the city approved plans for a new SuperTarget store on South Iowa Street. He said the timing wasn’t entirely coincidental.
“There was some successful pressure to do some things on South Iowa that were different than what our plans recommended,” Banks said. “Those were difficult times. We weren’t successful in planning that area as well as I think we should have.”
So Banks — who thinks South Iowa retail has become a “de facto mall” with poor traffic flow — left City Hall. As he left — with a severance package — some folks jeered him as an obstructionist and some praised him as a forward thinker.
Banks, though, didn’t leave the city. He had earned a law degree in 1982 while working as a county administrator in his native Michigan. In Lawrence, he put it to use for the first time in private practice, starting a law firm that would help people navigate the “bureaucracy of City Hall.”
Over the years, that included a couple of lawsuits suing the city over land-use issues on behalf of clients. It also has involved numerous trips to the City Hall lectern to lobby for everything from a permit to demolish a rundown home to turning off overly bright street lights near his home along Kasold Drive.
And some would say it also has involved a few uncomfortable moments. Banks doesn’t deny that sometimes he’s engaged in some slightly pointed back-and-forth moments with city staff members.
Part of that, he said, is an offshoot of his personality, which tends to be direct.
“I’m kind of an introvert,” Banks said. “If you can say something in 20 words, you ought not to use a thousand.”
Banks said he wouldn’t have a problem working with anyone at City Hall as a commissioner.
He also said if he is elected to the commission, he will cease doing land-use work for clients in Lawrence to avoid any potential conflicts of interest.
“I wouldn’t be suing the city anymore,” Banks said.
Banks has stressed improving Lawrence’s quality of life factors as a way to attract new businesses to the community. He said the city has let its public image slip some over the years.
“I don’t think we have the curb appeal that we did 20 years ago,” Banks said.
Part of that is due to deteriorating infrastructure such as “crumbling streets and missing sidewalks.” But he also said new development in the community hasn’t always produced the best image.
“We don’t have the curb appeal that we used to in our commercial districts,” Banks said. “Newer commercial districts simply are a duplicate of what occurs all over the country.”
On other issues, Banks said:
• He wouldn’t support raising the city’s property tax mill levy rate to fund projected gaps in the city budget. Instead he would look to defer city equipment purchases, and would look to cut City Hall jobs through attrition.
• He thinks the city needs to do a better job of long-range planning, and is disappointed with Horizon 2020, the city’s comprehensive plan.
“It doesn’t give you any solid vision about what the community ought to look like,” Banks said.