Archive for Saturday, May 28, 2011

Lack of leadership, vision hampers Lawrence’s progress

May 28, 2011


If an election were held in Lawrence with voters asked to determine the kind of city they want Lawrence to be, what would they say? And how many residents would take the time to vote? Based on recent City Commission and school board elections, a voter turnout of 20 percent is considered pretty good. What an embarrassment!

What priorities would local voters express in such a poll or election? What would be the result if every adult was eligible to vote? Would the outcome be different if everyone, regardless of age, could cast a ballot?

Issues getting high priority probably would include good schools, ample and varied job opportunities, good clean government, a healthy environment, numerous recreational facilities, a good mix of ages, open green spaces, good housing in a variety of price ranges and a vibrant retail community.

Such results would represent a pretty standard set of expectations, and Lawrence measures up fairly well across the board on these matters.

However, in today’s competitive society, can a city grow and excel by accepting “fairly well” on its scorecard? Shouldn’t Lawrence residents have the desire and goal to be the best in the state in all the categories mentioned above?

There’s no reason Lawrence residents shouldn’t want the best K-12 school system in the state. Lawrence once had one of the state’s healthiest growth rates, but now it lags behind that of many communities. Retail sales are not as good as they should be, and there are too many vacant storefronts on Massachusetts Street. Far too many retail sales and sales tax dollars are going to nearby shopping areas in Wyandotte and Johnson counties.

Recreation facilities are OK but not great; the city can always use more parks and attractive open spaces. The presence of Kansas University keeps the overall population demographics fairly well spread out, but does the city offer enough attractive jobs to keep young people in Lawrence after they graduate?

A good number of local residents want the city to be better in many ways, but, unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a constant, steady vision or a committed path on how to achieve challenging goals.

Consider some recent events. The city turns down a major retailer, Lowe’s, with close to 200 employees, a project that would have created hundreds of jobs to build the store and drawn or kept shoppers in Lawrence, adding sales tax dollars to the community.

At almost the same time, the city is quick to beat its chest on landing a “high-tech” company with a handful of employees, a company that needs special financial incentives from the city.

And the community cannot find suitable office space for a growing engineering firm with 65 well-paid engineers, so the firm moves to Olathe even though there are empty office buildings in Lawrence.

In fact, goals and emphases change with about every change in the City Commission. For example, one group of commissioners may set wooing environmentally attractive industry and business to the city as their primary goal; others want to focus on how to attract more retail stores to hold tax dollars in the community, and yet another commission may decide to try to promote Lawrence as an excellent retirement community.

City goals seem to zigzag from commission to commission. Recent history has shown that one or two single-minded commissioners can sway the thinking and voting of their fellow commissioners. Personal goals and sometimes selfish interests can creep into the actions and policies of those serving as commissioners rather than having decisions based on what is best for the overall community.

Also, it is difficult to understand how commissioners can be hoodwinked by what might be called con artists on any number of matters.

City commissioners sometimes seem too quick to accept information or proposals as facts, without further investigation or verification. The current possibility of allowing a private company to use part of a new fiber-optic cable to be laid along 23rd Street is a perfect example.

The private company offered the city $30,000 if the city would allow it to access the fiber. The company also offered to pay a certain franchise fee. Several city commissioners acted as if this was a terrific offer and they were ready to sign a deal.

No thought was given to the value of the hookup or what would be a more equitable offer. The city didn’t discuss the possibility of opening up the matter for a competitive bid, and there is no proposed business model. What do these commissioners know about high-speed cable or about the value it should demand?

Lawrence is in serious need of strong, positive and honest leadership. Just like the university, it has been floating and/or treading water for far too long — two rudderless ships drifting with the tide and winds.

A single, outstanding leader or a small group of properly motivated, honest, knowledgeable individuals can make a huge difference, but, unfortunately, Lawrence lacks true leaders and doesn’t have a plan or the commitment to make Lawrence a model for the rest of the state.

How much cooperation is there between the city and the university to try to address major problems or needs? Does the city rely too much on hiring pricey out-of-town consultants rather than taking advantage of knowledgeable and skilled KU faculty members?

Merely “getting by,” accepting mediocrity and being complacent about how things are will not allow Lawrence to make the most of its many opportunities.


Gandalf 6 years, 7 months ago

However, in today’s competitive society

You just put your finger on the problem. There is no competition in lawrence.

Gas station's aren't competing, they are colluding to keep prices high. Lawrence is overbuilt in housing yet rental prices do not fall. Cable companies are fearing competition from freenet that might break their hold. Lowe's refused to come without the special CID tax. Employer's don't compete on wages or benefits.

It seems like the only competion is who can get the most corporate welfare. There are inadequate checks and balances on city government.

What kind of business will that attract? Only the one's we don't need.

jhawkinsf 6 years, 7 months ago

Interesting that you complain that gas stations don't compete, the housing market doesn't compete, cable companies don't compete, but when it come to the city itself perhaps competing against other cities to attract business, you don't want them to compete.

"what kind of business will that attract? Only the ones we don't need." - Like engineering firms that employ 65 well paid people. Yea, who needs that?

KU_cynic 6 years, 7 months ago

I'm all for competition on the dimensions of low, understandable, consistent, and predictable tax rates for all businesses (without special breaks for new businesses,, green businesses, bio-businesses, and businesses with special interests connections at city hall), and a zoning and permitting process that is similarly convenient, fair, and transparent.

I'm against competing by offering special deals, tax abatements, TIF financing, and so on, -- all brokered by special interests and all-too-often-compromised-or-over-their-heads city politicians and bureaucrats.

jhawkinsf 6 years, 7 months ago

In a vacuum, all that sounds good. However, in a market where other cities, other states and other countries are offering Tax abatements, special deals, etc., it would be foolhardy of Lawrence not to offer those special deals to businesses if a cost/benefit analysis suggests that the city would benefit in the long run.
You're simply cutting off your nose to spite your face. We just watched one business leave and we're now left with a vacant building and all that money being spent somewhere else. I'm all for transparency, but we also need the flexibility necessary to make deals that make good economic sense.

KU_cynic 6 years, 7 months ago


You have a much more trustworthy view of our local politicians and the bureaucrats that serve them than I do. Where you see see flexibility for cost/benefit analysis of deals that (might) make sense I instead see a license for self-dealing mischief.

Let other communities play this ruinous game of giveaways. I say let's stay clean and transparent in Lawrence, because in the long run that's they key to our prosperity, not short-term gaming of the system by the self-interested.

Keith 6 years, 7 months ago

Shorter Saturday editorial: Lawrence isn't doing it the way I want it to.

deec 6 years, 7 months ago

"Shorter Saturday editorial: Lawrence isn't doing it the way I want it to"...because more stores mean more advertising revenue for me.

geekin_topekan 6 years, 7 months ago

Dolph, why do you complain about lost out-of-state business (Lowes) and in the same letter, complain about a LOCAL business expansion (Freenet)? Freenet offers the city cash-money for the privilege of providing citizens a competitive alternative to Knology, a company from GEORGIA. Lowes offered the city how much cash money? None? In fact, they actually asked taxpayers for their cash-money, in exchange for the privilege of shopping at their store? They did offer 200 more service jobs, likely paying a less than livable wage.

You know the answer as well as anyone as to your query about what graduates need in order to stay here in Toontown. Money. They need incentives, just like the corporations that you seem eager to bend over to serve. Not the 200, less-than-$10/hr. jobs that Lowes offers. How much does LJWorld pay its entry level workers?

Your correct about our city commission. It sounds more and more like our tribal council everyday. Selective Amnesia runs rampant in tribal government. They can;t remember the pressing need from one session to the next. All they know, or need to know, is where the money goes, or more accurately, whose family member (clique) gets paid.

geekin_topekan 6 years, 7 months ago

You're, not your.

Grammar Police have me paranoid.

tomatogrower 6 years, 7 months ago

"How much does LJWorld pay its entry level workers?"

That's it exactly. If there were more jobs that paid well in town, Simons would have to pay more in wages as well. There are plenty of "leaders" in this town who know that, and they all belong and back the local Chamber of Commerce. They want to make sure retail is king in Lawrence, because it's less competition.

grimpeur 6 years, 7 months ago

"The city turns down a major retailer, Lowe’s..."

False. The developer and the client chose a location that they both knew was inappropriate. The city refused to cave. The city suggested a different, suitable location. Problem was, that location didn't direct enough money into the right pockets. End of story.

The edit is misleading. Deliberately and repeatedly so.

Boston_Corbett 6 years, 7 months ago

I had wondered what bee had gotten inside someone's bonnet this week.....until I saw the Freenet reference.

Although the cable company has been sold, someone can't let go of animus about his former competitor.

And as others have noted. The City didn't turn down Lowe's. Lowe's tried to run roughshod over the city's development code, and lost. Grimpeur has it right.

tomatogrower 6 years, 7 months ago

Don't fool yourself. I'll bet he owns a part of Knowlogy, or however you spell it.

Keith 6 years, 7 months ago

Born on 3rd base, thinks he hit a triple.

jafs 6 years, 7 months ago

"good clean government" made me chuckle.

And, interestingly, there's no mention of infrastructure maintenance on his list, even though surveys consistently show that to be a high priority for residents, and something the city gets low grades on for their performance.

Kendall Simmons 6 years, 7 months ago

You don't think Dolph REALLY cares what the citizens want, do you?

Darrell Lea 6 years, 7 months ago

Mr. Simons - leadership begins at home. I counted eleven rhetorical questions in your piece, yet you offered no real answers to any of them.

I realize it's much easier to complain about lack of leadership than to actually lead. Rather than sit on the sidelines and moan once a week, why not deliver some initiatives to make Lawrence the better place that you profess you want?

Rich Noever 6 years, 7 months ago

What we need first is a professionally run city.. Volunteerism is a nice idea and should be encouraged in a lot on endeavors but we need professionals management of our city. Local politicians might have been right 40 to 50 years ago, but now we need a city manager form of government. It will still take oversight by the citizens but that is always true.

William McCauley 6 years, 7 months ago

"but now we need a city manager form of government."

Yea, like the one we have now with Corless running the show..... What a F'ing JOKE!

We need an elected Mayor and city commissioners elected by city district so that the whole city is fairly and equally represented.

Fred Whitehead Jr. 6 years, 7 months ago

Big W has it right!!
The miserable few that bother to vote elect these lemmings who follow the core-less doctrine. "Do as I say and do not fire me." We get "leaders" who are addled with roundabouts, businesses on Mass Street, (The Glorious Legend of "Beautiful Downtown Lawrence") and sister cities, who are going all out to prevent any growth and development, and who would never, never go against the edicts of the city manager.

Result. Stagnation, no jobs, pot holes, and general indifference on the part of nearly everyone. It has been that was for the 30 plus years I have lived here, and the damage that has been done is evident everywhere. A city hall that was jammed into a cramped area that used to be one of the major manufacturing areas in the city is one example. Those against this stupid and pointless move to "anchor the downtown" were ignored.

It is a problem that you have with a town who's largest enterprise is a large university that occupies a great piece of the real estate in the center of town. But the problems are far more rooted in a citizenry who realizes that no matter wha or who they vote for, their city will continue to rot, stagnate, and generally waste away to insignificance.

And since nothing is going to change, the elected representatives have always been the clueless, pointless, gutless and useless types that will continue the status quo and King Core-less will continue to ravage the city with his self-serving edicts with impunity.

Rich Noever 6 years, 7 months ago

"We need an elected Mayor and city commissioners elected by city district so that the whole city is fairly and equally represented" Duh, that is what we have now and it is not working or haven't you noticed? The City Manager answers to the City Commission not the other way around. When you have the voter turnout that Lawrence has, you are not getting fair representation.

somebodynew 6 years, 7 months ago

No that is NOT what we have. City commissioners elected by district would be (I hope more) districts that they live in and represent. What we have now is open candidates that just run for an open "seat". They "represent" the entire city (or whoever is in their pocket).

And an elected Mayor ??? Yeah, elected by the Commission they sit on and it is a figurehead position that get rotated (well, except for one time).

ljwhirled 6 years, 7 months ago

This type of underhanded back stabbing attack on local businesses is exactly why Lawrence is behind Olathe and Overland Park in developing new businesses.

To develop the local economy, our community should be looking at encouraging entrepreneurship, not holding it back and attacking it.

Economic development is not about attracting low wage jobs, it is about growing local companies that provide opportunities for local workers. The broadband project that the City is doing is EXACTLY what we should be doing, encouraging entrepreneurship at zero cost ($0) to the taxpayers.

The only economic development project Dolph has ever opposed is Freenet. I wonder why? Could it be that they compete with Dolph's cable business? Could it be that Dolph has a vested interest in their failure? What a transparent, lowbrow attack.

I noticed that Dolph used the same "some people say" argument that is common on Fox News.

"Also, it is difficult to understand how commissioners can be hoodwinked by what might be called con artists on any number of matters."

If you have evidence of this present it. If you don't then this is slander and liable and I hope that you get sued. As a very, very, very wealthy individual and a "leader" in our community I am surprised that you would stoop to this level, Dolph. What a coward you are.

jayhawklawrence 6 years, 7 months ago

I still think this is one of the best places in the United States to raise a family provided you have a good enough income to afford to live here because there are a lot of highly educated people working in lower wage jobs because that is all there is.

There must be a reason why we love Lawrence in spite of what Dolph says. But I don't entirely disagree with him, I just think there are more positives that he seems not to notice.

Some day some very talented people will start to make a difference in Lawrence and it will be an even better place to live.

You cannot simply wish that into happening.

In the meantime, we have to avoid the temptation to buy things we cannot afford and keep the tax base as low as possible.

George Lippencott 6 years, 7 months ago

ljwhirled (anonymous) says… This type of underhanded back stabbing attack on local businesses is exactly why Lawrence is behind Olathe and Overland Park in developing new businesses.

Yes spend more of my tax money to improve the return to the owner with no/little return to the taxpayer.

There are no checks and balances to protect us from our leaders spending on their friends. There is no measure of success. There is no plan as to where we are going. There is no eligibility criteria. .Both the county and city are spending money with no measure of success.

Very poor public policy!

ljwhirled 6 years, 7 months ago

Uh, the proposal Dolph is criticizing has the company paying the city (not the other way around). The company gets no tax breaks and pays 5% of its revenue to the City of Lawrence.

As far as economic development goes, it doesn't get much better than that.

begin60 6 years, 7 months ago

Dolph makes good points, but so does the perceptive reader who points out the lack of open, honest coverage by the LJWorld.

BigPrune 6 years, 7 months ago

The writing is on the wall in Lawrence, KS. Too many special interests control everything. The City is anti-growth at all costs. Nothing has changed in over 10 years. Startup companies get too big for their britches, then they blow town - most ending in failure with their new surroundings, case in point: Coach's Edge from years ago - moved, got bought out, then went out of business. That's what started the office boom, but the startups kept blowing town, like LeGarde, who blew town and went out of business.

BigPrune 6 years, 7 months ago

Maybe the Chamber should give the histories of companies who got too big for their britches and blew town. They could call it the "curse from Lawrence." :)

Then they could send these histories to EN Engineering. The odds are they will be doomed for failure, as well.

Paul R Getto 6 years, 7 months ago

Guitarzan (anonymous) says… "Mr. Simons - leadership begins at home. I counted eleven rhetorical questions in your piece, yet you offered no real answers to any of them. " === Guitarzan, LOL. Without emply rhetorical questions, Mr. Simons would write 150 word columns. It's a good thing he interited the paper and doesn't have to take Freshman Composition at KU. He would have trouble passing with this kind of drivel.

Phone_Man 6 years, 7 months ago

I don't live in Lawrence and I hate KU. However I love reading the LJW editorials and all of the crybaby responses. I see a whole lot of complaints about the author no matter what he says. By the way he DOES NOT own the cable company anymore so get over it! Who cares where and how he got his money; get over it. This man loves his city and wants to see it do well. Instead of bashing his rhetorical questions why don't YOU offer some answers. If he provided the answers you would just bash him for shoving his wants and desires down your throats. Instead of your weekly Simons bashing why don't you do something constructive and take back your city do something to better your community. If you don't like Mr. Simons and his newspaper don't read it! move to Olathe and read their newspaper. I see the same unhappy people bash him week after week. He could write he saw dog crap, it was brown, and smelled bad and you people would beat him down saying it was cat crap, it was purple, and it smelled good.

If you don't have anything nice or constructive to say just don't say anything! I know you won't so our community will enjoy getting your jobs and business and I will continue to read your steady stream of crybaby crap!

Phone_Man 6 years, 7 months ago

Oneeye, Seems they may have been making the 8th grade remark for good reason! I clearly stated I love reading the LJW for the very gibberish you just posted above. I see your frequent nonsense daily and don't understand why you can't focus your anger on doing good in your community instead of tearing down someone who you feel has more money than you. How are my comments inconsistent? (Or in consistent for the 8th graders keeping score see comment above) I hate to see any community suffer lost jobs and industry; I care about you and your community. However if all you are going to do about it is cry then we will take them.

I don't think you understand. His comments are made to provoke people to think and act; unfortunately to the 8th graders in the room the thoughts are narrow and simple. I think what Mr. Simons really wants is for the 8th graders to move on and have bigger thoughts and grow up and with the community instead of playing with whoopee cushions and letting the smart kids do all of the work.

I met Mr. Simons once; he seemed like a fairly nice guy. I'm also a nice guy so I imagine we could sit down drink a beer and discuss just about anything under the sun; and do it above an 8th grade level.

Oneeye Wilbur; is that short for Richard, or perhaps Dick?

Kontum1972 6 years, 7 months ago

hey how about A COLD GLASS OF FAT TIRE.....guess who?

pss....your absolutely..... right George..thumbs up ....!

Commenting has been disabled for this item.