Archive for Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Candidates say it is time to move on from recreation center issue

March 6, 2013


A few questions on the Rock Chalk Park sports village may still be forthcoming, but City Commission candidates on Wednesday showed no signs of wanting to overturn this week’s decision to move forward on the project.

At a Voter Education Coalition forum on Wednesday, none of the six candidates raised the possibility of the new commission overturning Tuesday night’s decisions by the City Commission to provide incentives for the project and to begin the bid process for the project’s $25 million city recreation center.

Most of the candidates — when asked a general question about their views on the project — said it was time to move on.

“There was a lot of discussion about the financing and the contracts, but those things have been approved, and in my opinion, it is time to move forward,” Rob Chestnut said. “Now it is time to make sure we have a great project and get the best bang for our buck.”

City Commission General Election Candidates

Links to profiles of the six remaining Lawrence City Commission candidates in the April 2 General Election

Chestnut was one of the three members on the Public Incentives Review Committee who on Tuesday declined to recommend approval of a set of incentives for the various stadium facilities that would be part of the Rock Chalk Park Project and would be adjacent to the city’s recreation center. City commissioners on Tuesday night ultimately approved the property tax abatement and other incentives.

Candidates Scott Criqui, Jeremy Farmer and Terry Riordan also all made statements at Wednesday’s forum saying the community needed to move on from the divisive issue.

City Commissioner Mike Amyx, the lone incumbent in the race, and candidate Leslie Soden both said they still had more questions. But neither candidate brought up overturning the recent decisions.

"I will not quit asking questions about it," Amyx said. "I want to make sure the public funds are looked after."

Soden said: “I certainly will be making sure that for $25 million we can get the best project that we can.”

Wednesday’s forum didn’t produce sharp differences on many issues between the candidates. Among the issues raised were:

• The future of the 1994 one-cent countywide sales tax. The sales tax is proposed to pay for the city’s $25 million recreation center, but a question from the audience asked whether the permanent tax should instead be phased out at some point in time.

“I would be against that,” said Riordan, who noted he was on the committee that helped campaign for the tax in the 1990s. “It has done so many good things.”

None of the candidates said they could commit to phasing out the sales tax, but Soden said she was disappointed that some leaders used the 1994 vote on the sales tax — which was designed to fund recreation projects and other initiatives — as a sign that the public nearly 20 years later supported the proposed recreation center.

Chestnut said he thought the time may be coming for the city and the county to discuss “redefining what the purpose” of the tax will be in the future, but he didn’t envision the tax being eliminated.

• The performance of the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce on economic development issues. Another question from the audience asked whether candidates thought the chamber was doing a good job with public dollars it receives to promote economic development, or whether the city ought to hire city staff members to take over the role.

None of the candidates said they currently could support stripping the chamber of its economic development responsibilities.

“I think the chamber is doing a good job,” Farmer said. “I think it is being more open and more transparent. I think the chamber is moving in a direction that will bring a lot of jobs to this community.”

Criqui said he thought the chamber should be made to produce more measurements of success.

“I think if the chamber of commerce can prove that it is delivering on certain outcomes, then it should continue to receive that funding,” Criqui said.

Chestnut said he thought there had been an “unevenness” in how the community defined success in the economic development arena, but that the chamber would play an important role in helping create consensus on that question.

Riordan said he thought the chamber was making a lot of improvements, and Amyx said he thought the city was doing a good job of monitoring the investment it makes in the chamber.

Voters in the April 2 general election will choose three candidates from the field. Voters in the lightly-attended Feb. 26 primary election narrowed the field to six. Amyx, a city commissioner and downtown barber shop owner, finished in the top spot. He was followed by: Farmer, the chief executive of the food bank Just Food; Riordan, a Lawrence pediatrician; Chestnut, a former city commissioner and a chief financial officer of a private company; Criqui, an executive with Lawrence’s non-profit Trinity In-Home Care; and Soden, the owner of a Lawrence pet care business.


Richard Heckler 1 year, 1 month ago

This group of commissioners will likely have this project well under way before the new people come in. They fear it might not clear a new commission. Rushing it through is not necessarily smart due to the controversial nature since day one.

Based on their replies thus far Scott Criqui and Leslie Soden are getting my vote.

North Lawrence will be holding a campaign forum Monday the 11th so I will be paying attention to consistency.....

I see no point in bringing back incumbents or former commissioners. They have had their opportunity. I want new faces and hopefully new thinking.


Richard Heckler 1 year, 1 month ago

"They also approved an ordinance that will give the larger Rock Chalk Park project, which includes privately owned athletic facilities to be used by Kansas University, a 100 percent property tax abatement for the next 10 years."

THINK! Gov Brownback and the dumb republicans are also removing tons of tax dollars from the state cookie jar which means Lawrence will be receiving less tax dollars from the state.

With both the city and state removing tax dollars from cookie jars how does the city plan to make up for the deficit?

Increase our local cost of living is my thinking minus the 100% tax abatement and all other tax dodging avenues city government has been handing out.


Larry Sturm 1 year, 1 month ago

It is not done untill everything is down in black white and every T is crossed and every I is dotted.


Stain 1 year, 1 month ago

I will only vote for a candidate who has committed to shrinking and if possible stopping this project.

I hope the candidates read this forum.


victor_lustig 1 year, 1 month ago

As election vote draws near candidates all start to sound alike as they unscrupulously pander for votes…

The move-on approach of a candidate’s advocating sweep-under-the-rug of the recent funneling of taxpayer’s funds to a private individual before the dollar amounts are even known or accurately estimated could be a mistake. Corliss will be writing checks to Fritzel as fast as he can, but checks will be written during term of next city commission. Transparent accounting, if ever provided by this staff will be during next city commission.

The next city commission will be up to their eyeballs in this issue.


scaramouchepart2 1 year, 1 month ago I am a little concerned about the numbers being passed around as the East Lawrence Rec center being built for under $200,000. The above is from the city website and the renovation was over $2 million. The new may not need to be as expensive, but we should have our facts correct when we accuse the city. That was a renovation in 1997. Now there are land costs, infrastructure costs and inflation to consider. Does that add up? We need to know. That is a question that needs to be answered before we can honestly say the new rec center is grossly over priced. It could be, but ....? It is easy for the city commission to stand on a error we say instead of listening to the issue. It is easy for any of us. West Lawrence has equal rights to city amenities. But do they have rights to grossly over priced amenities? I am pretty sure the rest of the community would agree to no!


rockchalk1977 1 year, 1 month ago

Top donors to Obama in the 2012 election cycle. University of California $1,212,333. US Government $724,997. Harvard University $663,968. Stanford University $512,106. Columbia University $451,309. University of Chicago $356,685. US Dept of State $344,459. University of Michigan $339,806. US Dept of Justice $320,659. Helps to connect the dots a lot easier and see who really are the movers and shakers are in this country. I hope everyone takes a look at this before voting in 2016!

See any trend?


Tomato 1 year, 1 month ago

Pretty sure I'll turn up specifically to vote against anyone who says the citizenry should "move on" from topics the commissioners don't feel like talking about.

These people are supposed to be representing us - if the Rec Center is what voters want to talk about, then that's what the commissioners should be talking about.

They might well be bored of talking about it, but clearly Lawrence isn't. No one should be moving on until the people of Lawrence are good and ready to move on.


victor_lustig 1 year, 1 month ago

For the last 10 years +/- election candidates provide the same old pitch. They’ll wisely manage taxpayer money and they will bring good jobs to Lawrence. Consensus seems to be miserable results.

Did Schumm threaten to cut off city funds to the chamber if they didn’t hire Carter??? Carter’s propensity to publicly attack and berate at city meetings is embarrassing.

(a) The neighborhood organizations. (b) Opposition to his views. (c) And at last Tuesday’s meeting the Journal World for reporting the facts about major issues such as the taxpayer funded Fritzel boondoggle.

Is this the person to be representing Lawrence to talk to major employer’s executives about bringing jobs to Lawrence?

Greg Williams has his hands full.


Number_1_Grandma 1 year, 1 month ago

Very informative to see the contributors lists from candidates. Thanks to those helping to get this out. Helps to connect the dots a lot easier and see who really are the "movers and shakers" are in this town. I wish they would not allow or at least publish who's all in LLC's and PAC's though. I hope everyone takes a look at this before voting! It might brings things into focus better.


optimist 1 year, 1 month ago

That being said I think we as a city and the upcoming commission should tread very carefully. Candidates should refrain from promising to somehow undermine this project like we had during the Walmart fiasco several years back. The city lost essentially because it made commitments and then changed the rules after investments were made. Taking that approach could cost the city dearly as it did in that case.


bmoody51 1 year, 1 month ago

Mike Amyx has been the only commissioner questioning the issue. Now that the vote has been taken and it ended 4-1 with Mike in opposition, there are still many procedures to go through before this is a "done deal." I believe Mike was saying, we can't revisit the vote, but that doesn't mean he will roll over. And if I know Mike, just watch the next few weeks and see. And incidentally, for all of those who believe Mike is opposing the issue for political expediency, he opposed it long before it even became an issue. Just talk with him.


Matthew Herbert 1 year, 1 month ago

I hope our candidates understand how out of touch their "move on" message could be received. This issue involves $25 million in tax dollars - if as candidates you are apt to brush that off and tell your constituents to just "move on" I must question trusting you all with ANY of our city's future financial decisions. $25 million isn't enough to draw your attention? I'd love to hear from each of you what amount of tax payer money would be enough for you to care.


KansasLiberal 1 year, 1 month ago

It's strange that the politicians in Washington are terrified by the national debt right now and are running around in circles telling us that the sky is falling, but in Lawrence the politicians are willingly adding millions of dollars of debt onto the city taxpayers. They're all wrong, which is what makes the two situations even stranger.


ThePilgrim 1 year, 1 month ago

Politics at its (typical) worst.

So many candidates for the council and not one is really, truly against this project.

"Let's all move on".

And the assumption that the tax can continue forever is just a sham.


KU_cynic 1 year, 1 month ago

"Time to move on"?

Isn't that what the instigator of some great personal disaster says to the people who have been harmed and will continue damaged by his personal failings?



1 year, 1 month ago

Sorry Chad, I don't know who wrote the headline but I disagree with it. There are many details to work out and bids to accept or not accept, so to imply I am ready to move on is not accurate. In my answer I said that I will be working on this very closely and carefully. If there is a way to shrink or overturn the project, I will certainly investigate that. While the development agreement approved Tuesday night commits the city to $2 million, which I also spoke against approval, it does not mean this is a done deal. It is not too late to shrink the building at that location as I still feel that $25 million is way too much money. Leslie Soden


jafs 1 year, 1 month ago

I'm very disappointed in this turn around by the candidates.

Just because this commission approved this $2 million or so expense doesn't mean the new commission has to accept the bids when they're seated. If they feel that the project isn't a good one, they should simply reject the bids.

Otherwise, their recent opposition is meaningless and shallow.

I'd say it's better to lose $2 million, and use the sales tax revenue for other needs than to go ahead with this project, although it would of course have been better not to lose the $2 million at all.

I was planning to vote for commissioners based on who opposed this project, so that there would be a chance to not go ahead with it - this about face makes it very hard for me to find candidates I want to vote for - there seems to be very little difference between them at this point.

By the way, this is the problem for those who say that we should just vote for different people - when there's hardly any difference between them, and they all generally support similar things, it doesn't make enough of a difference to vote for different people.


msezdsit 1 year, 1 month ago

How do you move on from something that you will be paying for for 20 year.


just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 1 year, 1 month ago

Given that the current commission has take a rather bullheaded stance on shoving this thing down our throats before the election and the seating of new commission members, it's pretty moot what any of them thinks about this project.

But what isn't moot is what these candidates think about transparency of government action, and setting clear policy on when corporate welfare is given out, and for what reasons. Cronyism, which appears to be the main driver right now, isn't a good system.

And either sunset this sales tax, or put a limit on the size of projects that can be funded with it without a city-wide referendum.


budtugly 1 year, 1 month ago

Vote them all out except for Amyx in the election!


oneeye_wilbur 1 year, 1 month ago

The reality is that the chamber has not brought jobs. Lawrence has not seen any major growth in employment for the past. 20 years.

Starting to look like these candidates are about more spending ,

Would any of the candidates be responsible enough to step forward and announce what they believe to be the minimum income of the " retirees" that are believed to come to Lawrence.?


Number_1_Grandma 1 year, 1 month ago

LJW- When do candidates have to list their donors and the amount they give? It would really be helpful to the public if we could see this list. Maybe we could connect some 'dots' sort of speak. Could LJW publish the donor lists of each candidate? Thanks.


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