Archive for Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Chestnut wants to focus on big-picture issues with second term on City Commission

February 12, 2013


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.

Rob Chestnut

Address: 1105 Oak Tree Drive

Age: 51

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?”

Open mind

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.


Richard Heckler 4 years, 11 months ago

Rob Chestnut is still a representative for the Chamber of Commerce and local builders no matter what. Mr Chestnut will not change anything, More city workers will more than likely lose their jobs.

"Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense (And Stick You with the Bill)." Johnston reveals how government subsidies and new regulations have quietly funneled money from the local poor and the local middle class to the rich politically connected.

repaste 4 years, 11 months ago

The chamber has interests that are often conflict with the best interests of the city. They take way to much of our tax $, and Chamber President Finalist is an automatic disqualification for city office in my book. What the chamber must of said to Rob was "Serve another term and see if you can do enough to earn your Chamber reward".

Rob Chestnut 4 years, 11 months ago

Dear repaste - I think the chamber of commerce needs to be accountable for the funds it receives from the City and Douglas County for economic development. Regardless of my interest in the position, it is critcal that we get a cohesive development strategy that all interest can support and make successful.

Rob Chestnut 4 years, 11 months ago

Dear merrill - I would like to sit down and discuss your concerns regarding development. It would be great to discuss some specifics about how you see our use of incentives. We did create a process to evaluate incentives during my first term, and I would be glad to hear your input.

irvan moore 4 years, 11 months ago

mr, chestnut was a very prominent supporter of governor brownback, do you suppose he is being sent here to reclaim this dark spiritual zone and bring us into the light

Jim Haack 4 years, 11 months ago

Funny you should mention that, beatnik. The Rob Chestnut I knew at KU (30 years ago) was one of the most spiritual, level-headed people I knew. Not an "in your face" Christian, just a good guy that lived his faith. I suspect the principles he lives by have also made him a successful accountant/CFO. Kudos for getting off the commission when he saw that personal/job reasons could have diminished his effectiveness. I have no doubt he wants Lawrence to be as great as possible and will be dedicated to that once again. Wish I lived there again so I could vote for him (and go to some Jayhawks games).

SouthernMan 4 years, 11 months ago

Ah, the intellectuals hiding behind screen names like Merrill and repaste are in good form today. It's just awful, isn't it, that smart people with good jobs and a love of their God and community are considered negatives in a campaign?

Rob Chestnut 4 years, 11 months ago

For those interested in any specific issues that are important to you, please e-mail me at or post them on my Facebook page at Rob Chestnut for City Commission. I am very interested in hearing your questions and opinions about the topics that the commission will face in the next term.

UneasyRider 4 years, 11 months ago

My specific interest is to work to keep any Chamber member from being elected to any public office. The chamber is focused on one thing, what's good for chamber members and how can they get average citizen to pay for it.

irvan moore 4 years, 11 months ago

even though i am not one of mr. chestnuts supporters i would like to commend him for his willingness to responsd to questions or concerns

Rob Chestnut 4 years, 11 months ago

Dear Number_1_Grandma - I only saw this post today, and I do not recall our conversation. I tried to the best of my abilities to answer every e-mail and call during my first term with an informed opinion. If I missed the mark, I apologize. However, you can always call or e-mail me with any concerns that you have about issues.

Richard Heckler 4 years, 11 months ago

Local businessman and former city of Lawrence Mayor Rob Chestnut was appointed by Gov. Sam Brownback to the state’s Pooled Money Investment Board.

The board handles and invests state money, as well as provides fund management services to local governments in Kansas.

Do we want Brownback economics on the city commission? This should be carefully considered . Could mean additional lay off's for city workers as occurred during his first CC term.

Then again as I have said Lawrence needs 3 new faces with 3 completely new perspectives.

Rob Chestnut 4 years, 11 months ago

Dear merrill: The Pooled Money Investment Board serves to manage funds that are held by the State of Kansas within several agencies. It does not act on any policy issues related to the budget for the state.

As far as my first term, we did have the unfortunate need to lay off a few people on the staff. We were left with a $3.4 million deficit from 2006 and declining sales and property tax revenues. The choices were difficult, but the commission as a majority decided to move forward with modest reductions in 2007, balance the budget and keep the mill levy steady. This set a course that allowed surpluses with no further reductions in 2008, 2009 and 2010 with no mill levy increase.

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