Rob Chestnut is still a numbers guy.
During his first term on the Lawrence City Commission, people learned the story about how he started doing his dad’s taxes at age 12.
On most every Tuesday evening, his propensity toward numbers would be on display at City Commission meetings as he asked about the budget or dove into some other set of projections.
Address: 1105 Oak Tree Drive
Profession: Chief financial officer for Nationwide Learning
Education: Undergraduate degrees in business administration and accounting from Kansas University; Master's of Business Administration from KU
Family: Wife, Micki; three children
Now, two years after deciding not to seek a second term on the commission, Chestnut still has city numbers on his mind. These days there is one that comes up frequently: 20.
It has been about 20 years since community leaders first came together to craft Horizon 2020, the comprehensive plan that is meant to guide growth and development in Lawrence and Douglas County.
Chestnut isn’t sure how well the document is doing these days. For instance, when it was first adopted by the City Commission in 1997, Horizon 2020 drew a set of boundaries around the city, indicating areas outside the boundaries weren’t expected to see significant development before the 2020 time period.
Then a funny thing happened recently. One of the largest buildings ever constructed in the county — the new Berry Plastics warehouse west of the Lecompton interchange — was built in one of the areas where the plan said there wouldn’t be any such development.
“Berry has been a great economic development project, but from a plan standpoint, it illustrates we’re operating from a set of assumptions that were the best guess of what the community was going to be. But that was the guess from 20 years ago. That time has come to pass.”
Chestnut is hoping to help shape the plans for a new future. Chestnut is one of 11 candidates who has filed for a seat on the Lawrence City Commission.
Chestnut previously served on the commission from April 2007 to April 2011, including a one-year term as mayor. During the time he’s been off the commission, he said he’s still had big-picture community issues on his mind.
That included making a run at one of the city’s community leadership positions. Chestnut confirmed he was a finalist last year for the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce’s president and CEO position.
“I believe we have to come to a consensus on how we promote economic development in this community,” Chestnut said. “I think we have to be deliberate in how we see things shaping up in that area.
“We have a fabulous research university, fabulous quality of life, a great ability to attract residents. Now, how do we leverage that to create an even greater community?”
Chestnut, 51, is the chief financial officer and part of the ownership group of Topeka-based Nationwide Learning. The company provides writing kits to school districts free of charge, and then helps students and their friends and families produce personalized books from those kits.
Chestnut, who was born and raised in Lawrence, was the chief financial officer at Lawrence-based Allen Press when he served on the commission. Chestnut said he decided not to seek a second term on the commission, in part, because he knew he likely would be changing jobs.
But Chestnut said the desire to serve on the commission never subsided during his time away.
“It is the best job in Lawrence,” Chestnut said. “I say that because I really like working with the public. I like talking to different people and listening to different ideas.”
Chestnut said his time on the commission helped him realize the importance of approaching issues with an open mind.
“Sometimes the best ideas come from the least likely places,” Chestnut said.” You have to have the humility to realize you don’t know everything. Sometimes your preconceived notions get challenged and sometimes you have to step back and admit that’s a really good idea.”
Chestnut said he’ll continue to stress that the city commission should spend a lot of its time crafting fiscally responsible budgets.
“The way you allocate resources really defines your priorities as a community,” Chestnut said. “One of the things I want to ensure in the next term is that we’re allocating enough funding for our core services: police, fire, solid waste, water and wastewater.”
On other issues, Chestnut said:
• He would like the city to develop a better system to rate and prioritize the replacement of aging waterlines in the city.
• He wants to have a community discussion about what facilities may be needed for the Police Department, which currently operates out of two facilities. “I don’t know if the needs are $30 million, but something needs to be reviewed to come up with a plan to help them,” Chestnut said.
A Feb. 26 primary will narrow the field of 11 city commission candidates to six. The general election — where the top three vote winners will take a seat on the commission — will be April 2.