Lawrence City Commissioner Aron Cromwell thinks he’s a little bit like what Lawrence needs to be in the future — part businessman, part idealist.
“I speak both languages,” Cromwell said.
Cromwell — an owner of a Lawrence-based business that installs solar panels and does other environmental consulting — is expected to be selected by his fellow commissioners on Tuesday to serve as the city’s next mayor.
“For the future of Lawrence to be strong, I think we’re going to have to have a little bit of both,” Cromwell, 39, said of business sense and idealism. “We’re going to have to have good growth and business decisions, but we’re also going to have to pay attention to the human side of things. The human services, the environmental issues, the social issues are what make Lawrence Lawrence.
“I feel like I bring some of that. I have a foot in both worlds.”
Voters may already be familiar with some of Cromwell’s social ideas. He was the loudest voice on the City Commission urging voters to approve an $18 million expansion of the Lawrence Public Library. And now, he’s taken the lead on developing a task force that hopes to remake the city’s trash service in a way that will promote more recycling in the city.
But what about his business sense? About 12 years ago, Cromwell started installing solar panels as a hobby because he was convinced it was the right thing to do. He did other environmental consulting work — primarily indoor air-quality assessments — to pay the bills and support his hobby. Today, solar panel installation is the biggest revenue driver for his company, Cromwell Environmental.
His company is scheduled to do installations in 10 states this year, but the one he’s currently talking most about is just down the road. The company is installing solar panels for Kansas City-based Boulevard Brewing Co., and Cromwell has proudly told several people that he’s not only getting a check from the company but also negotiated the deal to include a significant amount of free beer.
How’s that for negotiating skills?
“I had them write it into the contract,” Cromwell said.
Free beer for voters won’t be one of Cromwell’s issues during his one-year term as mayor. Instead, he said he anticipates he’ll spend a lot of time with the two issues voters already know him for — the library and trash services.
On the library, Cromwell said just because voters already have approved the expansion doesn’t mean the hard work is done. Cromwell serves on the design committee for the library, and he said he anticipates significant changes in the design to accommodate some concerns brought up by the public. He said the library needs to have better access from the west, needs to have a parking garage that fits in well with the area, and the entire project must have aesthetic appeal that will make it a significant Lawrence landmark.
“I have a huge responsibility at this point to turn the voters confidence into a project that everyone will be proud of for decades,” Cromwell said.
On the trash issue, Cromwell already is serving as chair of the city’s new Solid Waste Task Force. He said he’s trying to reassure anxious Lawrence residents that the city’s trash service will continue to be high quality in the future.
“The level of service we are getting from that service today is outstanding,” Cromwell said. “We for sure don’t want to screw that up.”
But Cromwell said he does expect the trash service to significantly change as a result of the task force’s work.
“Several years ago the city collected trash twice a week and when it was changed to one day a week, people thought it was the end of days,” Cromwell said. “But as it turned out, life went on. I think we’ll find that we will adjust and get used to whatever we do.
“Hopefully, we’ll have a more modern service with fewer injuries on the job, more recycling and less trash in the landfill.”
On other issues, Cromwell said:
- He wants the city to get the former Farmland Industries property “shovel ready” for new industrial development. He said he expects the city to begin marketing the property within the next year. The site, he said, would be excellent for bioscience companies, but he wants the city to be open to a range of industrial projects at the location.
- He anticipates another tight budget year as sales tax collections in the city have continued to stagnate or decline. But he said “I’m really, really against raising our mill levy.”
- He already has been part of “near-weekly” meetings on possible sites for the Lawrence Community Shelter. He said helping the shelter find a site to allow it to move from its downtown location must be a high priority. He said the community is becoming increasingly concerned about the shelter’s current location at 10th and Kentucky streets. “I believe that we need a shelter in town,” Cromwell said. “I also feel pretty confident that I don’t want the city to run that shelter. That means we need to help shelter leaders in whatever way we can.”