Archive for Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Winding down

As Lawrence city commissioners near the end of their tenure, there’s often some unfinished business to be discussed.

March 24, 2009

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It’s not unusual to see at least a small flurry of activity on the Lawrence City Commission as an election approaches.

Commissioners often have plans, large and small, that they would like to see completed before they leave office. And, in some cases, groups want to get action on projects they are fairly certain have the backing of a commission majority, rather than risk losing that majority after the election. While these strategies are understandable, commissioners should be careful not to act in a manner that is either hasty or unwise.

This year, at least two new commissioners will take office just a week after the April 7 election, and the city now has a few issues before it that seem like they might be part of pre-election cleanup effort.

One that was wisely removed from tonight’s agenda late Monday afternoon was the renaming of the 1000 block of Missouri Street in honor of former KU football coach Don Fambrough. This proposal had been revived earlier this month by Commissioner Sue Hack, but was taken off the agenda at her request.

At first blush, this proposal seemed harmless enough, but changing the name of the block of Missouri Street just north of Kansas University’s Memorial Stadium would require address changes for 90 residences and would be a break from the historical Lawrence street grid, which names streets after states according to the order they were admitted to the union.

It also would have a troublesome precedent. Fambrough is a great guy who happens to hold a very low opinion of Missouri, but renaming streets, especially in the central city, should be taken very seriously. Once such an action is taken, where is the line drawn for future requests to change street names? If Missouri ever plays football in Memorial Stadium, instead of Arrowhead Stadium, again, maybe the city could put up temporary signs declaring the street Fambrough Drive for the day?

Remaining on tonight’s agenda is consideration of a letter asking the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway to put the city’s request to acquire the Lawrence Amtrak station on the fast track, so to speak. The draft letter says the city needs to own the building to apply for grants, perhaps from federal stimulus funds. It seems unlikely, however, that the railroad and the city can come to terms on this transfer quickly enough to take advantage of stimulus funds, and the city shouldn’t rush into this deal without fully examining the costs of improving and maintaining the depot.

BNSF won’t sell the land and apparently wants to maintain crew quarters at the depot. Even if BNSF gives the building to the city, the depot will have very limited ability to generate revenue. Especially in difficult economic times, the city should be careful not to bite off more financial responsibility than taxpayers want to accept.

It may be tempting for the City Commission to clear the decks of certain issues before some of its members are replaced. In some cases it may even make sense to do so, but, as noted above, commissioners must be careful not to make hasty decisions that will cause problems down the road.

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