Traditional hot button topics like the South Lawrence Trafficway and funding for the Chamber of Commerce produced a split Monday evening among the five candidates for the Lawrence City Commission.
Not an equal split, mind you.
On a host of issues, four candidates — Hugh Carter, Mike Dever, Mike Machell and Bob Schumm — largely agreed, while candidate Sven Alstrom played contrarian of the field. Candidates were participating in a City Hall forum sponsored by the nonpartisan Voter Education Coalition.
“Dividing the wetlands will ruin the wetlands,” Alstrom said on a question about the future of the South Lawrence Trafficway. “It is wrong to build it there. It should be south of the Wakarusa River.”
Alstrom was the only candidate in the field to take that position. The other four candidates said they could support the proposed 32nd Street alignment for the project, although with varying degrees of enthusiasm.
“It would not be my first choice, but I wouldn’t try to do anything to change it,” Schumm said. “To me, it is an issue that has been decided.”
Machell, on the other hand, said he “appreciates” the project is finally coming to fruition, while Dever said it was needed to provide better connectivity and Carter said it could be a major economic development tool.
The same split emerged on a question about whether the city should re-evaluate providing $200,000 a year in economic development funding to the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce.
Alstrom was the lone commissioner to say he would remove some of the chamber’s funding and disburse it in other ways at City Hall. The other four candidates offered varying levels of support for the chamber.
Schumm said he would like to “see how things go” before considering any major changes. Machell said that he thought the chamber was the “right group” to advocate for the city and that the community was starting to get “strong traction” on economic development issues. Dever, the lone incumbent in the field, said that if the city took over its own economic development marketing operations, it would be more costly and that the chamber does a good job of representing the city on a “professional level.” Carter said he would not favor a reduction in funding. Instead, he said he would urge city staff members to work more closely with the chamber on job recruitment projects.
In other issues:
• The field was more split on the idea of requiring city inspections for rental properties more than 20 years old. Alstrom said he supported the idea. Dever said he now was more open to the idea than in previous years. Machell, however, said he did not think the program would be cost-effective. Schumm and Carter both expressed concern about rentals and the impacts they can have on neighborhoods. But both stopped short of saying they would support a new inspection program.
• Candidates each gave an answer to the one area of city government that they think needs to be changed. Alstrom said the city process needs to be more open to neighborhood input. Carter said city leaders need to have a primary focus of growing jobs and incomes, and suggested more outreach to existing business leaders. Dever said he wants to change how people sometimes negatively view the city’s planning and development services department. Machell agreed with Dever and said the City Commission needs to do a good job of setting expectations for the community. Schumm said he wanted the city to focus more on creating home-grown jobs.
The five candidates are vying for three seats on the commission. The election is April 5.