Archive for Saturday, May 12, 2012

Economic council sounds good on paper, but is it smart?

May 12, 2012


Generally speaking, one of the important ingredients of a growing, forward-looking, prosperous community, no matter what its size, is a solid chamber of commerce, or some organization with the mission of promoting and championing the economic development of the community.

Over the years Lawrence has had a checkered history of various degrees of success in the leadership and success of its chamber of commerce. Sometimes it’s been a matter of the level of leadership and commitment of those who have served as members of the board of directors. Sometimes it’s been a matter of who has been the president or manager of the chamber and other times the level of success of the chamber has been determined by officials in City Hall and those serving as city commissioners.

Lawrence seems to be continually involved in the growth-no growth debate, the involvement of various neighborhood groups, and now groups or individuals who grade the excellence of the soil adjacent to the city to determine whether industry or manufacturing should be allowed to build on specific sites.

Now there is serious discussion about changing the historic role of the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce.

Chamber officials have hired a new president and CEO. Greg Williams is a “certified economic developer” who has compiled an impressive record in Missouri and headed the Springfield Chamber for 15 years.

This has prompted a small group of city, county and chamber officials to propose a significant change in the role of the chamber and creation of a new “Joint Economic Development Council.”

The chamber would be relegated to taking care of the usual and/or traditional chamber functions such as ribbon-cutting ceremonies, membership drives and making sure Christmas season lights are on up and down Massachusetts Street. The real heavy lifting would be placed in the hands of the new Economic Development Council — even more specifically in the hands of a three-person executive committee composed of the Lawrence city manager, the county administrator and the chamber CEO.

They would be supported by an economic council to supervise a separate budget (from both private and public funds) to pay for Council efforts; make budget requests from both the city and county, and to recommend economic development policies. Those on this committee would include representatives from KU, the chair of the chamber, a city commissioner, a county commissioner, someone from the local bioscience and business technology program at KU, and three representatives from the business community appointed by the chamber CEO. Administrators from Eudora and Baldwin City would serve as nonvoting members.

Looks good, sounds good and appears to be politically correct and safe.

But it obviously is designed to neuter the chamber of commerce and place the real power in the hands of the new council’s executive committee. And inasmuch as city managers and county administrators serve at the pleasure of city commissioners and county commissioners, it still will be members of the City Commission and County Commission who will be making the decisions.

Also, it is interesting to note some of those in the proposed senior and power positions also played a significant role in past years in turning down major industries, companies and/or employers who wanted to come to Lawrence to provide jobs, attract retail customers to Lawrence and add to the city’s tax revenues.

It is hoped the chamber’s new president and CEO is a great success and can play a significant role in getting Lawrence back to its position of leadership in the state in attracting new business, new industry, new residents and re-energizing the city.

But how will the new development council deal with the long-standing and obviously powerful neighborhood groups and others who have opposed healthy growth and development in past years?

This is a particularly interesting question when some of those who will be serving in major positions in the new joint economic development structure have not been champions of past efforts to attract and bring solid retail and industry to the city. Have they changed their colors in order to assume an even more powerful position? Will politics at the city and county level continue to determine Lawrence’s future?

Best wishes to Greg Williams. Lawrence needs to regain its position as a progressive, visionary leader and a great place to live, work and play.


Richard Heckler 6 years, 1 month ago

The new Chamber leader is not the leader. Leadership is and will still be at the hands of the Lawrence few which will make the new name the new puppet of the old guard.

The old guard of more than 30 years is still pushing it's same old tired economic displacement plan backed by flooded markets and no economic growth as a result. This is what killed Lawrence economics and downtown not the neighborhood homeowners.

It is the neighborhood homeowners who get stuck with increased taxes along the way as the result of reckless economics.

The Lawrence "boom town economics" was an illusion which created extreme inflation in the local real estate markets. Now Lawrence is home to high dollar rent, low wages and high cost of living. Retail supply is up demand is down = not enough local retail dollars to cover the over loaded markets. Residential supply is up demand is down.

The Lawrence few are still pushing the notion that college basketball can compete with the larger choices and better prices of the Topeka and KCMO/JOCO retail markets. This is definitely the illusion of the century.

Richard Heckler 6 years, 1 month ago

The Lawrence few live in denial that their reckless decisions produce the no economic growth. These decision makers have had virtually absolute control over city hall,the city commission and planning commission for more than 30 years.

These thinkers love to portray Lawrence neighborhoods as the "no growthers". in spite of the fact that this is the source of tax tax dollars which they are constantly begging for.... can we say tax dollar moochers?

What have the reckless decisions produced?

By Kim McClure

July 24, 2009

To the editor:

The July 14 editorial asks, “What’s downtown going to look like five, 10 or 15 years from now?” The answer can be known, and the picture is not pretty.

Lawrence has enough spending to support about 4.1 million square feet of retail space, but the City Commission permitted developers to expand the supply to over 5.5 million square feet.

Lawrence has too much retail space chasing too few vendors, which means that many stores go empty, especially in the older shopping centers like downtown.

The surplus development has stalled redevelopment plans downtown and has pushed the vacancy rates so high that disinvestment and blight now threaten. Investment, both public and private, is wasted. The taxpayers’ $8 million parking garage stands largely empty. The Hobbs-Taylor building and the 600 block of Massachusetts should be the top performing spaces in the community, but they have significant vacancies.

The recession has contributed to the problem, but had we properly managed our growth we would be much better off.

The developers’ short-term gain is now our long-term loss. Managed growth would have prevented much of the problem and would have protected and enhanced our downtown.

It will take many, many years to absorb this surplus space and, until this happens, it will be hard for downtown to compete. We can only look forward to many years of high vacancy and disinvestment. We need a City Commission that knows how to pace the growth of supply so as to protect our unique downtown.

McClure is from Lawrence

Richard Heckler 6 years, 1 month ago

All new Lawrence growth will require more and more taxes. Bedroom communities do not have the tax base to support such nonsense.

What about new housing? If residential growth paid for itself and was financially positive, we would not be in a budget crunch I say. But with increased numbers of houses you have increased demand on services, and historically the funding of revenues generated by residential housing does not pay for the services they require from a municipality. This is not new thinking at all.

There is one consequence of helter skelter aimless growth that usually goes unmentioned by the local media,city hall and elected officials - local profiteers are draining our pocketbooks and raising our taxes.

Richard Heckler 6 years, 1 month ago

The bottom line:

NOT necessary city growth is the result of over several decades of subsidies paid for by the local taxpayer.

We've subsidized local profiteers at such a basic level for so long, that many people believe the status quo is actually fair and neutral. This is false-what we think of as a level playing field is tilted steeply in favor of local profiteers driving development.

Reckless decisions = Local Tax Payers Over Extended on growth that is not paying back.

Let the voting taxpayers determine when tax dollar give aways are justified. Taxpayers no longer trust the chamber and all elected officials. Let the voters decide when tax incentives are justified. Why?


softsun 6 years, 1 month ago

The proposed Economic Development Commission will want a ½ cent sales tax. Before taxpayers are willing to approve such activity, they may want to consider the Lawrence Chamber has no written policy on: Conflict of Interest; no policy on Whistle Blowers; No Policy for Record Destruction or Retention; the Chamber Board does not review their own tax form before it is filed; there are no requirements for the Chamber Board members or key employees to annually disclose potential conflicts; the Lawrence Chamber financial statements have not received an outside audit for at least 3 years; the expense reports are not reviewed by anyone on the Board before reimbursement. The past 3 years, the Chamber tax filings have been made 6 months past the due date. While this may be "legal", it spotlights the Lawrence Chamber is not taking steps toward complying with transparency guidance and “is not well suited to lead economic development investments.” The factions of “confused, fractured and non-accountable folks” 57chevy mentions, simply appoint a new Board by proposing the Joint Economic Development Adventure BUT as schooled urban planners, neighborhood associations, Merrill, Beatnic and others have pointed out at the first jump out of the box, at a recent City Commission meeting, while this may satisfy the lawyers, the voters are already “wanting to be cautious.” In fact, many say “NO WAY” in anticipation of being asked for the ½ cent additional sales tax to provide the money for another economic development scheme. Looking over the horizon, perhaps it would be a good idea for the Chamber to pay more than lip service to accountability and provide open governance so taxpayers can see what we are paying for at the Chamber. Perhaps City and County elected officials will see this as a good time to have their administrators review the Chambers tax exempt, not for profit tax return to help them get over their elitist “worst practices” method of operation. Lack of written policy on issues for which the taxpayers pay over half of the cost of the Chamber are disgusted when told “not to worry”, the Joint Commission will have its own Board and all the Chamber can come up with to say is the Joint Commission will provide a forum “so we can talk about how we want to change”. As you often say, their feet need to be held to the fire. Stay after them and see if we can find out what the Chamber is doing with the over $500,000 the taxpayers already provide anually. As you said, Insist on a report on what costs are over the horizon on funding for the proposed Joint Commission. Taxpayers already pay more of the Chamber expenses than their dues paying members. Dues provide only 35 percent of the Chamber revenue. Thank you again 57 Chevy for your lead.

tomatogrower 6 years, 1 month ago

They would buy it from Dolph for a huge amount of money, then lease it back to him for pennies.

softsun 6 years, 1 month ago

If the Chamber is to survive as a tax exempt organization with annual revenue exceeding $1 million, it will need to comply with “Best Practices” (which means if you do not fix it, the regulators will fix it for you). Every Board meeting we are reminded everything is confidential and not to tell. Two Board Meetings ago, several of us wanted to return $200,000 to the City because the CEO chair was vacant , we had accumulated money which should have been returned. However, the majority of the Chamber Board decided to keep the money plus go to the City for $200,000 more - which recently, we did. It does sound like "Worst Practices". Failure to operate with "best practices" may be part of the reason 169 tax exempt, nonprofit organizations - in Lawrence - lost their tax exempt status - last year! The Chambers own filing states they have no written policy on Conflict of Interest; no written policy on Whistle Blowers; No written Policy for Record Destruction or Retention; their own filing states the Chamber Board does not even review their own tax form before it is filed! The Chamber has no written requirements for the Chamber Board members or key employees to annually disclose potential conflicts. Consultants assure everyone this this is all LEGAL but certainly "worst practices" to play "hide the ball" from the taxpayers who pay over half of the costs of our secrets, then tell everyone this is all good for Lawrence? Stop it.
Thanks go to eagle and bozo

KU_cynic 6 years, 1 month ago

What I don't like is the "executive committee" of the city manager, county administrator, and CoC CEO. That's two government bureaucrats and a sycophant doing what Dolph refers to as "the heavy lifting". Following the city's acquisition of the Farmland property and acquisition of the Oread Labs building only to lease it back at a sweetheart rate to the former owner, this looks like more and more economic power concentrating in the hands of a few hacks backed by other people's money -- not the kind of structure that will promote economic dynamism in this government-employment dominated town that is so easily swayed by a few special interests or, occasionally, the anti-growth fruits and nuts.

scaramouchepart2 6 years, 1 month ago

Dolph wants the CoC in complete control with no outside interference in how they spend our tax dollars and those policies are their control on how much more they will get from the city and the county. Remember if you live in Lawrence you pay twice. City and county taxes pay the CoC.

softsun 6 years, 1 month ago

"Another candidate previously was a longtime senior vice president in a Missouri chamber of commerce in a city quite a bit larger than Lawrence. But in a twist that would be interesting to see how it is received in Lawrence, the fellow has been employed by the University of Missouri for about two years in a position that is now falling victim to budget cuts. For 15 years prior to that, he was a well-regarded senior vice president of economic development for his Missouri community, which has a pretty broad industrial and commercial economy."

So they cut the program of a Shooting Star??? Head Hunters billing was "Rock Star"
Falli g Star .

thefactsare 6 years, 1 month ago

The new CEO was not in charge or running the Springfield Chamber as is claimed in this article. He was the senior vice president of economic development which means he was, at best, 2nd in charge.

softsun 6 years, 1 month ago

New CEO Greg Williams - CoC web site. "I have been married to Jennifer Dalton since 2003. We have triplets who are 23 months old now – Sam, Anna and Emily. Jennifer and I worked together at the Springfield Missouri Chamber of Commerce for several years where she was the Vice President for Operations and Administration. Jennifer is from a small community in Southeast Missouri, along the Current River. She earned her MBA from Missouri State in Springfield. In addition to our triplets, I have three children from a previous marriage, ages 19, 16 and 15. They live in central Missouri."

softsun 6 years, 1 month ago

“Atlas Advertising — the group that conducted 23 interviews with stakeholders in February — stated pretty bluntly its key finding: “Perceptions of economic development in Lawrence & Douglas County today are not favorable, due in large part to inconsistent, unfocused and sometimes controversial leadership.” When asked to describe economic development efforts, words included: “fractured,” “confused,” and “an assortment of non-accountable folks.” While activities may be "legal", it spotlights the Lawrence Chamber is not taking steps toward complying with transparency guidance and “is not well suited to lead economic development investments.” It looks like rather than fix the parent group, they want form another Joint Commission and continue to hide the ball from the taxpayers who pay over half of the cost of the chamber? Thanks thefacts are, for your lead.

Cindy Yulich 6 years, 1 month ago

Softsun - why in the world do you even want to be on this board?

tomatogrower 6 years, 1 month ago

The Chamber of Commerce has turned into a political organization bent on getting rid of all business taxes and pollution laws. They have become a major PAC for the ultra conservative. I thought their original mission was to help businesses move to a community, but maybe I'm wrong. They would fight or ignore any business that didn't toe the conservative line.

thefactsare 6 years, 1 month ago

Tomatogrower, I think you are referring to the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and not the local Lawrence Chamber. The local chamber does not have a PAC and has not taken any positions with the State in regards to taxes and pollution laws. The local chamber has not testified in Topeka at all this session about any of the issues facing local businesses.

softsun 6 years, 1 month ago

Shurley there is a mistake? The Lawrence Chamber of Commerce continues as a full member of the Kansas Chamber of Commerce while many local Chambers have already made their statement by quitting the Kansas Chamber. Many in Lawrence are surprised to learn the Lawrence Chamber is still a member of the State Chamber. As membership continues to decrease in the Lawrence Chamber, the Lawrence taxpayers continue to pick up the ever increasing tab for the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce. Today, over half of the cost of the Lawrence Chamber, are paid for by Douglas County and City of Lawrence taxpayers, over, $500,000 annually. According to their own tax report, Douglas County and the City of Lawrence pay more to subsidize the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce than the dues of the Lawrence Chamber Members. It is ridicules. Simply said, it is also ridicules for the taxpayers of Lawrence, through membership in the Kansas Chamber to actually help pay for their own demise.

Consider the wonderful County and City elected officials the people Lawrence have encouraged to run and have been elected to Office. All are people of duty. Yet some of them continue to say "it is a step in the right direction" to seek ways to send more money to the Lawrence Chamber, who through its membership in Kansas Chamber and its PAC have targeted for defeat everything the elected in Lawrence stand for! RIDICULOUS!!++

The results are in. Headlines - Topeka — Gov. Sam Brownback said, "“I look forward to signing the bill on my desk and I call on legislators to finalize their work on the budget." Based on the enactment of the so-called “nuclear option” tax cut bill he is referring to, personal income tax rate reductions and elimination of taxes on business - non-wage income of nearly 200,000 businesses would cut $4.5 billion in state revenue over six years. Budget deficits have been projected as early as next year. Projected deficits have all but the most conservative of legislators deeply concerned for the state’s future. Many believe the cuts will do major damage. Tax revenue will be replaced by sales and property tax money. Critics say the large Brownback tax cuts "will absolutely destroy Kansas as we know it" – leaving a $2.7 Billion crater in the budget by 2018. The Bill will deplete state coffers making it impossible for the state to adequately fund schools, which have already sustained cuts during the recession. Tax cuts will only shift the burden to local governments resulting in an increase in property taxes. BTW, guess who's moving to Lawrence, to perhaps take over the top job at the State Chamber? "Brownback administration pleased with O’Neal; others aren’t" Look at the Kansas Chamber opening remark on their legislative agenda, "each year we let each legislator know what is expected of them. No kidding, See for yourself...

Thanks go to "thefactsare" for leading the way on this

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