Although final cost figures were released only hours before their Tuesday meeting, Lawrence city commissioners decided they had all the information they needed to make a final commitment to $12.2 million in infrastructure costs at Rock Chalk Park.
The defensive and arrogant comments coming from elected officials at Tuesday’s Lawrence City Commission meeting are another noteworthy and inexcusable milestone in the ever-more-divisive Rock Chalk Park project.
From the beginning, the handling of this project has been conducted without the transparency that should be given any multimillion-dollar expenditure of tax dollars.
The most recent among several egregious steps along the way — so far — took place when the final approval was given with practically no advance notice to the public. Again, only Commissioner Mike Amyx voted against the approval.
The published agenda for Tuesday’s meeting did not say that commissioners would be voting to authorize signing the contract, and the staff memo concerning the published agenda item (“project update”) indicated there would be further agreements requiring future action. If that were not sufficient chicanery, the cost estimates for the project’s infrastructure were released only at 2 p.m., a few hours before the meeting. As might have been forecast, they showed higher-than-expected costs of $12.2 million, compared to the city’s estimate of $9.3 million. Landscaping, pavement, and legal and management fees supposedly drove the increase. Bill Self’s Assists Foundation plunked down $2 million toward the project, apparently holding the city’s share at $22.5 million.
Higher costs are one thing. The comments by Mayor Mike Dever are another. He defended the timing of the city’s decision and its release of the pricing information, saying city officials reviewed the costs for several days. “As for the public,” he added, “that is a question that is up to each individual to decide whether there was adequate time.” If the mayor were writing a personal check for the project, he’d be entitled to such an arrogant attitude, but it’s the taxpayers who are paying the tab, and it smells as if those taxpayers may pay millions more than they would have if the city’s normal bidding process had been followed.
Tuesday night’s outcome probably would have been the same even if specific notice of the intended action had properly been put on the agenda, but at least Lawrence taxpayers wouldn’t feel as if they got flimflammed once again on this city project.
Said former Mayor Bob Schumm: “I’m not ashamed of what we accomplished. I’m very proud of what we accomplished.”
Maybe so. But nobody should take any pride in the way it was accomplished. Perhaps the city commissioners should eat some humble pie and remember that they were not divinely installed into office; they were elected and owe it to the voters and taxpayers to keep the public’s interests foremost in their minds. Everyone would be proud of that.