Our special section for the 2011 Lawrence City Commission election has videos, live chats, stories, a straw poll and a candidate selector to help you choose which candidate you're voting for.
With the election about two weeks away, candidates for the Lawrence City Commission at a Monday evening forum became a bit more like boxers trying to pick up the pace.
The jabs became a little more frequent and strategically placed as the five candidates participated in a forum hosted by the North Lawrence Improvement Association. Here’s a glimpse at some of the action:
• Candidate Bob Schumm used his closing statement at the forum — attended by about 30 people — to suggest that several of the candidates represented the status quo and were not forward-thinking enough.
“The difference is clear,” said Schumm, who is a downtown restaurant owner who served on the commission in the late ’70s and early ’90s. “Do you want more of the same or do you want change?”
Schumm said that he would be different than some of the other candidates on his staunch support for the living wage, his opposition to “sneaky” special taxing districts, and that he would insist on more leadership from City Hall on the homeless shelter issue.
• Mike Machell, a human resources director and chair of the city’s library board, sought to differentiate himself from Schumm on several occasions. Schumm said he was very interested in an idea to increase the size of the city’s inspection staff to deal with neighborhood blight issues. Machell said he thought the additional dollars for new positions could be better spent and the city could work more closely with property owners to resolve issues.
Machell also differed with Schumm on the issue of island annexations. The city recently approved a pair of island annexations near the Lecompton interchange on the Kansas Turnpike in hopes the area will develop industrially. Schumm told the crowd he generally was opposed to island annexations. Machell said such opposition was short-sighted because it didn’t take into account that most industrial development is going to occur on the edge of a community. He said island annexation served the city well when it created the East Hills Business Park decades ago.
“I think we would be cutting ourselves off at the knees if we didn’t consider island annexations,” Machell said.
• Sven Alstrom, a Lawrence architect, invoked the idea of special interests playing too large of a role in the race.. He suggested the three candidates recently endorsed by the Lawrence Board of Realtors — Machell, Mike Dever and Hugh Carter — were too beholden to the Lawrence real estate industry to effectively serve. He said he believes Lawrence government already suffers from too much favoritism.
“I’m asking you to support the candidates not supported by those special interests,” Alstrom said.
• Carter, a Lawrence financial adviser, sought to assure the crowd that he was an independent candidate.
“I have no ax to grind and I have no constituency,” Carter said. “I just want to do what is best for Lawrence.”
But Carter did say he disagrees with Alstrom, who insists Lawrence isn’t business-unfriendly. Carter said that he’s certain there are outside business interests that view the community as being unfriendly, and he said that’s a problem whether the perception is accurate or not.
• Dever, an owner of a Lawrence environmental consulting firm and the lone incumbent in the race, said he was pleased with the record of the past commission. He said the city has produced balanced budgets during bad times, and hasn’t resorted to raising property tax rates.
“I feel like we have spent a lot of time cutting the budget without hurting city services,” Dever said.
The five candidates are vying for three seats on the commission. The election is April 5.