Letters to the Editor

City ideas

September 28, 2009


To the editor:

In reaction to Lawrence ranking last in GDP, I offer some solutions. Lawrence could do the following:

• Court a diverse set of stable companies and offer them realistic terms to come and stay. Quit letting a vocal minority control our community (read: chase companies away).

• Change from construction and development being the major employer (other than KU). This change will obviously take some time.

• Quite frankly, clean up how we talk online. I don’t doubt companies read what we write and make decisions based on what they read. I would not recommend Lawrence after researching the Journal-World forums.

• Change the City Commission structure: an elected mayor (four years, with a two-consecutive-term limit); an odd number of commissioners, five or seven, elected by wards every two years (with a three-consecutive-term limit). Currently a faction can hold the city hostage and do things benefiting only them and their PAC. Factions are not answerable to “us” other than by lip service.

• Have KU start paying a “head tax” of $25 or $50 per student per semester.

• Stand up to KU. Granted, Lawrence would be like any other small riverfront community if not for KU. However, KU should not run Lawrence as it does. The relationship should be symbiotic, not parasitic.

• Develop competition for good-paying jobs. Currently, a small group of employers wants to keep wages low and not allow competition that might jeopardize that control. Any other ideas?


VTHawk 8 years, 9 months ago

Half of Mr. Reed's comments strike me as reasonable, and half worry me. I guess that means that he is 100% better than most of our community leaders over the past decade.

cato_the_elder 8 years, 9 months ago

Anyone who has experienced it will tell you that the mayor-council-ward elections system results in many more problems with "factions" than the city manager-commission-at large elections system that we have had in Lawrence for many years. The letter writer should familiarize himself with which people and groups in Lawrence have pushed the mayor-council-ward system over the years. If he did, given his other apparent views he'd back off quickly.

Keith 8 years, 9 months ago

"The letter writer should familiarize himself with which people and groups in Lawrence have pushed the mayor-council-ward system over the years."

Representation by district is good enough for the Statehouse, and the Congress, why not locally too? It's the American way.

Ralph Reed 8 years, 9 months ago

cato, please elucidate. Which people and groups have pushed the mayor-council-ward system here? Yes, I have experienced that system elsewhere, and it worked fine.

Phil Minkin 8 years, 9 months ago

RR says: " Quit letting a vocal minority control our community" I agree. For far too long the Chamber of Commerce had dominated city commissions and the political agenda.

cato_the_elder 8 years, 9 months ago

The mayor-council-ward system can work well in communities that have a relatively homogeneous population and political base. Much of Johnson County, for example, has this. However, when a community has become divided as deeply as Lawrence has become (east-west), that divide goes on steroids when multiple defined wards are always represented. Compare and contrast elections for the U.S. House of Representatives with those for the U.S. Senate: When multiple defined districts (in this case, city wards) have the automatic right to elect one of their residents in every city election, the probability of having a far-left or far-right candidate increases geometrically, as often happens in the U.S. House of Representatives but much less frequently in the U.S. Senate. In Lawrence, the probability of this is virtually certain. For example, in many university communities like Lawrence (Ann Arbor, Michigan is a good example) that have ward elections, it's not at all uncommon to have radically opposed council members who have views very important to themselves that may not even be directly relevant locally (e.g., two members are vehemently opposed to having U.S. troops in Afghanistan, two others are virulently anti-abortion, all of them regularly attempt to raise such issues at local City Council meetings and as a result they irritate all of the others and thus interfere with the business of the body). Our current system requires all candidates to be appealing to at least something of a cross-section of all of the voters, which at least has the virtue of weeding out candidates who might be able to win a ward election but are so far out, and in many cases known to be so, that they could never win a general election. One realizes, of course, that in certain of our city elections political tools such as "bullet voting" have been employed and have occasionally wound up resulting in what could be called a geographical result, but that's nowhere as predictable as ward voting in Lawrence would clearly become - with a concomitantly substantial rise in community divisiveness guaranteed.

Ralph Reed 8 years, 9 months ago

@cato: Thank you, I appreciate the insight. Well written.

@L1: I appreciate the derision. I also realize that little of what I write follows your line of thinking, so you replied as you normally do. You fulfulled my expectations. Comments:

You wrote, "Reed's remark about how we talk online is humorous considering how he talks." ** Please show me where I excluded myself from "we". Did I mistype and say everybody me?

re: head tax. ** I posted several times for at least the past 18 months or so my rationale for both the "head tax" and the amount. Do you wish me to reiterate them, or can you find them yourself.

"...Reed's desire for revenge at the students and KU." ** You're making a wild presumption based on very little knowledge. Go back and rethink what you said. Begin with why would I even live here if I wanted "revenge at the students and KU?"

Question for you. Do you have only derision, or do you have some recommendations? If you do have recommendations, what are they?

Final comment. Keep in mind that LTEs are limited to 250 words or less. Maybe I should have started a blog addressing each of my suggested solutions in detail. Would you have preferred my doing that?

Ralph Reed 8 years, 9 months ago

L1, I love your ability to jump to erroneous conclusions. You know absolutely nothing about me and are basing my entire psyche on misinterpretation. Well done.

It appears your in-your-face libertarianistic writing implies an unwillingness to meet others half-way. I would try to meet you half way, but I can't help but feel whatever I would write would be wrong, biased, have hatred towards KU and KU students, etc ad nauseum; always wrong, never even maybe.

Let me know when you're willing to discuss and not deride.

Richard Heckler 8 years, 9 months ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

Richard Heckler 8 years, 9 months ago

Then Lawrence Taxpaying Voters should weed out the city hall "Free Lunch" program:

Here’s what happens. And this is a good example of where the news media hasn’t done a good job. I have tons of news clips that say, oh, this new shopping mall is coming or a new Wal-Mart or a new Cabela’s store, and thanks to tax increment financing, this store is going to be built. Well, what is tax increment financing? I’ll tell you what it is. You go to the store with your goods, you pay for it at Wal-Mart, and there’s a very good chance that that store has made a deal with the government that the sales taxes you are required to pay, that government requires you to pay, never go to the government. Instead, those sales taxes are kept by Wal-Mart and used to pay the cost of the store. And typically in those deals, the store is tax exempt, just like a church.

Now, there are two ways that it’s important to think about this. One is, that means your kid’s schools, your police department, your library, your parks are not getting that money. And you’ll notice we keep saying we’re starved for money. We’re twice as wealthy as we were in 1980, but we’ve got to close hospitals, and we’ve got to close schools, and we don’t have money for all sorts of things like after-school programs, even though we’re twice as wealthy. The second thing to think about is, imagine that you own Amy Goodman’s or Juan’s department store across the street. You suddenly have to compete with people whom the government is giving a huge leg up on. You think you would go broke after a while? Well, in fact, you will.

And I tell about a man named Jim Weaknecht who owned a little store in the Poconos of Pennsylvania. He sold fishing tackle, hunting gear, stuff like that. And the way he made his living in his little tiny store, enough that he was able to have his wife stay at home and raise their three kids full time, was by charging less than a company called Cabela’s. Well, then Cabela’s came to town. This little city of 4,000 people made a deal to give Cabela’s $36 million to build a store. That’s more than the city budget for that town for ten years. It’s $8,000 for every man, woman, and child in that town to have this store. And even though he charged lower prices, he was pretty quickly run out of business.

That’s not market capitalism, which is what Ronald Reagan said he was going to bring us. He said, you know, government’s the problem, we need markets as a solution. Well, that’s not the market. That’s corporate socialism. And what we’ve gotten is corporate socialism for the politically connected rich—not all the rich, the politically connected rich—and market capitalism for everybody else.


Richard Heckler 8 years, 9 months ago

Why would any new business want to locate into a mis-managed economy? This is not affordable to new business, existing business or most certainly to taxpayers.

By Kim McClure

July 24, 2009

To the editor:

The July 14 editorial asks, “What’s downtown going to look like five, 10 or 15 years from now?” The answer can be known, and the picture is not pretty.

Lawrence has enough spending to support about 4.1 million square feet of retail space, but the City Commission permitted developers to expand the supply to over 5.5 million square feet.

Lawrence has too much retail space chasing too few vendors, which means that many stores go empty, especially in the older shopping centers like downtown.

The surplus development has stalled redevelopment plans downtown and has pushed the vacancy rates so high that disinvestment and blight now threaten. Investment, both public and private, is wasted. The taxpayers’ $8 million parking garage stands largely empty. The Hobbs-Taylor building and the 600 block of Massachusetts should be the top performing spaces in the community, but they have significant vacancies.

The recession has contributed to the problem, but had we properly managed our growth we would be much better off.

The developers’ short-term gain is now our long-term loss. Managed growth would have prevented much of the problem and would have protected and enhanced our downtown.

It will take many, many years to absorb this surplus space and, until this happens, it will be hard for downtown to compete. We can only look forward to many years of high vacancy and disinvestment. We need a City Commission that knows how to pace the growth of supply so as to protect our unique downtown.

McClure is from Lawrence


Richard Heckler 8 years, 9 months ago

4 out of 5 city commissioners from the westside constitutes a problem.

The problem of neglect is reflected in the condition of neglected infrastructure of older neighborhoods.

It is also reflected in the ongoing destruction of the downtown and the business district. This would be obvious to any newcomer. The current business trend is restoring downtown business districts.

Overbuilt retail is not compatible with profit = not good for business

Over built residential is not compatible with maintaining strong property values.

Over built light industrial notes this area as "high dollar " rent district = not good for business.

The people trying to attract new tenants for over built retail locations are the same people who might people new tenants out business by bringing in new competition and continue to flood the retail markets = not good for business or taxpayers.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 8 years, 9 months ago

"Anyone who has experienced it will tell you that the mayor-council-ward elections system results in many more problems with “factions” than the city manager-commission-at large elections system that we have had in Lawrence for many years."

Of course the current system eliminates problems with "factions." That's because its intent and its effect is to limit control of the city's government and coffers to one faction-- the economic elites (bankers, developers, etc.)

Sure, some pesky interlopers occasionally get themselves elected, but by and large, it's government by, of and for the well-connected few.

cato_the_elder 8 years, 9 months ago

Bozo, you apparently aren't familiar with the City Commissions we have had in Lawrence at various times beginning in the late-1970's, when mainstream business and university people began shirking their civic duty to run for public office and those of another point of view began to surface, campaigned hard, and got elected. Just for starters, ever heard of Tom Gleason? Nancy Shontz? Marci Francisco? Dennis Constance? Mike Rundle? Boog Highberger? The list is a long one, Bozo. There have indeed been many times when what you call the "well-connected few" have been on the outside at City Hall. The individuals named, and their like-minded colleagues who served with them and at multiple times enjoyed majority status on the Commission, have had a profound impact on policies of every kind in this community. Much of what you see, or don't see, in Lawrence today is very reflective of their views and the efforts they made to see them through to fruition. Those who have complained about what these people have succeeded in doing have only themselves to blame for not running for public office when they could have done so and made a difference.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 8 years, 9 months ago

"Just for starters, ever heard of Tom Gleason? Nancy Shontz? Marci Francisco? Dennis Constance? Mike Rundle? Boog Highberger?"


"The individuals named, and their like-minded colleagues who served with them and at multiple times enjoyed majority status on the Commission,"

Really? I guess 4 years over two consecutive election cycles does qualifiy as multiple, but the simple fact is that over the last 30-40 years, 90% of the time the commission has been dominated by the narrow faction I previously identified.

cato_the_elder 8 years, 9 months ago

Wrong, Bozo. Many of those commissioners whom you would probably identify with your so-called "narrow faction" have been nowhere nearly as effective and committed to accomplishing their goals as the individuals I named, and their like-minded colleagues, have been. Again, this has occurred because, with a few notable exceptions, the best and the brightest of the business and university communities have regrettably chosen not to run for office at that level.

Jimo 8 years, 9 months ago

Comparison to “university towns” doesn't get us very far.

In reviewing the list of these “comp” cities, I note that, with the possible exception of St. Cloud, all of these places are far from any other metropolitan area. If Lawrence were similarly situated, a significant amount of services and industry that safely exist now in Topeka or KC would have to exist in Lawrence. Given the close proximity of Lawrence to these other places however is duplicative and makes little economic sense. Further, a significant amount of trade from more rural surrounding communities that have little choice but to concentrate toward isolated cities such as Grand Junction, Colo. or Johnson City, Tenn., have other and unavoidably superior alternatives in Topeka or KC.

So, redraw the “metro” as Topeka-Lawrence, KCK, and JoCo and then look at the numbers again.

Richard Heckler 8 years, 9 months ago

The “mismanagement growth team” is only interested in flooding markets with more and more new locations. They are not interested in maintaining strong performing markets. This is unfriendly to existing business,new business AND taxpayers across the board.

BigPrune 8 years, 9 months ago

When I give a synopsis of what is wrong with Lawrence and the way City Hall sees things, it is because I want Lawrence to change for the better. I attribute the problems Lawrence is experiencing to outsiders who moved here and who want to keep Lawrence exactly like it was when they moved here.

If you ask the vast majority of life long Lawrence residents, who were born and raised here, that are middle aged, they agree with my point of view.

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