Reese Hays is betting he won’t have many problems navigating the sometimes choppy waters that a city commissioner sometimes encounters at Lawrence City Hall.
He’s had practice in a slightly different governmental arena: the government of Iraq.
Hays, one of 11 candidates seeking a seat on the Lawrence City Commission, worked as a special counsel to the Iraqi justice system while serving as a member of the U.S. Air Force’s corps of JAG attorneys.
“You really have to focus on how to get things accomplished for the betterment of all,” Hays said. “I can tell you that it really helped me fine-tune my diplomacy.”
During the one-year assignment, Hays helped the Iraqis learn everything from the basics of fingerprint technology to proper ways to gather and question witnesses. Many times, Hays' work involved helping the Iraqi government make cases against Iraqi citizens accused of setting roadside bombs and making other attacks against coalition forces.
Hays mainly served as a resource to Iraqi judges and others in the justice system. It was a role he liked, and he said the idea of serving as a resource to Lawrence residents is how we would approach the job of city commissioner.
“Basically, I see a commissioner as a voice of the residents,” Hays said. “It is a commissioner’s job to vote in a way that is consistent with the wishes of a majority of residents.”
Law and order
Hays, 36, is the chief litigation counsel for the Kansas State Board of Healing Arts. Hays essentially serves as a prosecutor in cases involving complaints that medical professionals have violated state licensing standards.
But for years, Hays played a different role in the legal system. After a short time in college, Hays left to become a trooper for the Kansas Highway Patrol.
He ended up being part of the crew that patrolled the counties surrounding Kansas City, handling everything from traffic fatalities to drug cases.
“I took away from that experience that if you work hard, you can actually do some good,” Hays said. “You can help others. A lot of times when you are interacting with someone as a police officer, it is at one of their worst moments. At that point, though, you can really make an impact on someone’s life, if you just take time to care.”
Eventually, though, Hays realized being a lawyer was perhaps his calling after he noticed that he was spending large amounts of time studying law books to find out more about the cases he had been involved in.
“I got to the point that I wanted to be the guy who people came to for advice,” Hays said.
Hays said his experience working in the public sector should serve the commission well. He said during his time in the Air Force he often served as an adviser for the Wing Commander, a position he said is kind of an Air Force base’s equivalent of a mayor.
“When you have had the experience of being involved in decisions at the point where the rubber meets the road, I think it helps you recognize when you might be creating some unintended consequences,” Hays said.
Hays said figuring out ways to address the needs of the Police Department should be a high priority of the next City Commission. He said the department has a shortage of facility space and also is facing personnel and equipment needs.
“I feel like there are some critical items that are not just nice-to-have items but are necessities to ensure citizens are protected in a proper way and to ensure the police force is operating at an excellent level,” Hays said.
On other issues:
• Hays said he wants city budgets to focus on funding “basic services,” and forecasting major expenditures that will be needed in the future.
• He has said he supports a citywide election on the proposed $25 million city recreation center.
“If the public wants that facility and they want to go use it, that will show itself on the day that people go to vote on it,” Hays said. “If we have voters buying into the project, it will make it that much better.”
A Feb. 26 primary will narrow the field of 11 city commission candidates down to six. The general election — where the top three vote winners will take a seat on the commission — will be April 2.