The longtime saying at Lawrence City Hall is that you have to be able to count to three — meaning that nothing passes through the City Commission without three votes.
As first reported in Town Talk, the city’s legal staff is now reviewing whether there is a scenario where three votes on the five-member commission may not be necessary.
Toni Wheeler, director of legal services for the city, has confirmed that a request for the city to provide incentives to a multi-story building project at Ninth and New Hampshire has her office researching a unique, potential scenario where two votes on the commission may be enough to pass the incentives request.
As the Journal-World previously reported, Commissioners Mike Dever and Lance Johnson both abstained from voting when commissioners received the incentives request in November. Both commissioners, as part of their private businesses, had done some work on the development — which is a seven-story apartment, office and retail building that is under construction by a group led by Lawrence businessmen Doug Compton and Mike Treanor.
If both Johnson and Dever continue to abstain from future votes on the matter, there are several issues the city’s legal staff will have to determine about how the incentives request can proceed. Among the issues Wheeler is studying:
• Are Dever and Johnson legally required to abstain from future votes or are they simply choosing to abstain? If they are legally barred from voting on the issue, then there’s a question of whether the City Commission has enough members to form a quorum. The City Commission’s quorum is four members. The city is studying whether two members who abstain can still be counted as part of the quorum. If the City Commission doesn’t have a quorum on an issue, it can’t vote on a matter.
• If the City Commission does have a quorum, what happens if the remaining city commissioners split on the issue 2-1? It is clear in both state law and the city’s own rules that any ordinance must receive at least three votes in favor to be approved by the City Commission, Wheeler said. But Wheeler said it is possible that the incentives request wouldn’t be handled by an ordinance but rather through a contract. She’s trying to determine if the law requires three votes to approve a contract.
“The law is less clear on that point,” Wheeler said.
The issue ultimately may be moot. None of the three remaining commissioners has said that they plan to oppose the incentives request, although they’ve also stopped short of supporting it. Instead, commissioners are awaiting a report from the city manager’s office weighing the cost and benefits of the request.
Developers of the $10 million project are seeking the ability to reserve about 65 parking spaces in the adjacent public parking garage, and are asking for about $280,000 in city funding to pay for several upgrades to public infrastructure.
A date hasn’t yet been set for city commissioners to consider the incentives request.