Lawrence city commissioners are open to creating a new consortium to manage economic development efforts in the community, but on Tuesday they vowed to address concerns by some neighborhood representatives that the group not be too heavily tilted to Lawrence Chamber of Commerce interests.
“There is still a lot to work out, but this absolutely represents a step in the right direction,” City Commissioner Aron Cromwell said.
Leaders with the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce presented a proposal that would create a new “Joint Economic Development Council” that would be led by the Lawrence city manager, the Douglas County administrator and the president/CEO of the chamber.
But several representatives with neighborhood groups urged commissioners to proceed cautiously with the proposal and questioned whether a business advocacy organization like the chamber is well-suited to be the city’s lead agency on economic development matters.
“The Sierra Club is an advocacy group for environmental causes, but we don’t pay the Sierra Club to do our environmental planning,” said Kirk McClure, a Kansas University professor of urban planning.
As proposed, the new economic development council would have both a city and a county commissioner on it but also would include three positions appointed by the chamber CEO, in addition to the chamber’s chair of the board of directors.
City commissioners stopped short of saying the group ought to have representatives from area neighborhood associations, which some neighborhood leaders requested, but directed staff members to prepare a report that provided various scenarios related to membership structures.
Commissioners also asked staff members to respond to questions raised by the League of Women Voters, including whether the new organization would have the authority to enter into its own contracts, whether it would have the ability to spend tax dollars and what role it would play in setting policies related to economic development.
Mayor Bob Schumm said he expected the report would be completed in the next two to three weeks.
“We haven’t really unified our economic development efforts as well as we can,” Schumm said. “That’s why I’m doing this. I can assure you it is not to circumvent any public process.”
In other news, commissioners unanimously approved an ordinance that grants an exception to the city’s regulations regarding the housing of chickens. The new ordinance makes it clear that properly zoned retail establishments have the right to sell fowl as part of their operations.