Lawrence and Douglas County

Lawrence and Douglas county

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.


elliottaw 5 years, 2 months ago

If you click on their name, and then click on it again when the new window pops up it should open up a PDF with it all listed, at least it did for the two people I clicked on

Scott Criqui 5 years, 2 months ago

Sometimes I had to click refresh twice before it showed up. Something about the website.

Scott Criqui 5 years, 2 months ago

Some are from relatives and some from friends. I am involved in a lot of national issues. Thanks for your questions.

Scott Criqui 5 years, 2 months ago

Hello Stain! I encourage you to review the VEC forum video before making a change in your vote. I said plenty more than "move on". I advocated for increased transparency in the process and stricter overview as this project progresses. I do want us to "move on" and focus on what the new commission can do with this project. I would have loved if this project could have been voted on - or at least the tax be voted on...or at least revisioned. However, I don't believe that will happen now. So, I want to be on the commission to make sure future projects have community input and that I can make sure that this project receives important oversight. Thanks for your feedback!

optimist 5 years, 2 months ago

While I'm not necessarily excited at the success or more accurately the lack of success of the Chamber the blame can be spread much wider. City politics, the living wage battle from several years ago, zoning policies, and the anti-growth (smart growth) contingent among other factors have given Lawrence a bad name in the eyes of site selectors. The Chamber is forced to battle against the image that some in the city have given of this city's willingness to welcome new businesses. Those of you that disagree with this are very likely who I am referring to.

scaramouchepart2 5 years, 2 months ago

All successful communities have zoning policies. Smart growth and anti-growth have nothing in common. Check our smart code. We do have a don't invite companies who will pay more to settle here because that company could break the status quo. I was a manager in a company that understood this and even came to Lawrence because they were promised lower wages. The lack of decent wages is why so many work out of town. The chamber is making some important changes and there are some they could do to encreae their economic development. First we need to know just who we are. Why try to bring jobs we do not have the skill sets for. We should marketing ourselves to companies that provide jobs that fit our skill sets. Two reasons: less money spent trying to adapt, and our residents stay here. Others who moved to KC when things fell apart might consider returning or at least more people who fit Lawrence will move here. KU should be a bigger partner with incubators for new business people graduating, instead of these graduates leaving for Chicago and other big cities that provide these business incubators. With the world economy and businesses backshoring and global companies looking to build product in the country they plan to sell , I.e. cut B2B costs and transportation costs, we need to be actively marketing our strong points. I have talked with the chamber and others about these ideas and these maybe in the works. But changing long term strategies of throw money at it If it moves and we will take anyone takes time. Supporting ecomic growth that supports Lawrence will help the chamber and the city move in that direction. There are some who believe backshoring is not happening, well it has be a media term and the business term is not only in business article, but appearing in new economic development books.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 2 months ago

Amyx is the only current member seeking re-election, so your exhortation is rather meaningless.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 2 months 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.

Patricia Davis 5 years, 2 months ago

I agree that we may not be able to stop this monster, but let's stop the sales tax gift bag and sunset the damn thing. And then let's pull up our big kid pants, and finally work to get a different form of city government.

msezdsit 5 years, 2 months ago

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

Matthew Herbert 5 years, 2 months ago

thank you. My question exactly. I'd love to tell the city to "move on" when they come to collect my share of the $25 million.

jafs 5 years, 2 months 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.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 2 months ago

The current commission clearly has every intention of pushing forward with this project. I wonder about the legality involved in not accepting any bids once this is put out for bid. If it doesn't open the city up to some sort of liability, I think that the new commission should certainly be able to use that as an opportunity to stop this project, which should be rejected because of the badly flawed process alone.

jafs 5 years, 2 months ago

Well, the article says they show no signs of wanting to "overturn" the decision, which seems to suggest they would have the power to do that in some way - maybe not in the way I suggest.

If they do, then they should be clear about their opposition and willingness to do just that.

Otherwise, this recent opposition is meaningless.

scaramouchepart2 5 years, 2 months ago

I do too. Home rule gives a lot of leaway, but there has to a line in the sand somewhere. I do know triggering constitutional laws is to far. I would like to figure out where that line is.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 2 months ago

Vote for yourself. Get your wife to vote for you too. Get a few friends together and encourage them to vote for you. Have your wife speak to her co-workers. Knock on your neighbors' doors. Go to 9th. and Mass. on the weekends and shake a few hands, kiss a couple of babies.

Become a community activist. I hear it can lead to positions where hope and change are possible.

When only 8.6% show up, the bar isn't really set very high.

jafs 5 years, 2 months ago

I have seriously considered running for city commission over the years.

However, I think it's extremely unlikely I would win, given my general position on issues, which seem never to be shared by candidates that win elections. And, even if I did, I'd be the lone voice opposing, and simply be outvoted, which would be pointless and frustrating.

But thanks for your support - would you vote for me?

jhawkinsf 5 years, 2 months ago

I might. I don't always vote for people based on their specific positions. Sometimes I vote to send a message. As I've said before, I voted straight Democrat (except President, where I voted third party), not because I like all those Democrats. But I do believe the state has moved far to the right, too far in my opinion. So I voted to send that message.

Now if you presented yourself as a person I could vote for because I thought you were honest, had integrity, etc., I might overlook the fact that I disagreed with specific positions. I might even vote for you if I thought you could become a fly in the ointment, as it were, someone who could prevent others from doing things I opposed, rather than any specific thing I thought you could accomplish. It's complicated.

Do it. Got something to lose? I look forward to answering your knock on my door.

jafs 5 years, 2 months ago

Thanks again.

But, I doubt I'll run.

cagiv 5 years, 2 months ago

I'm curious what happens once it gets to 500. ?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 2 months ago

With this commission? Absolutely nothing. Their only constituency is Fritzel, KUEA, KU Endowment and other movers and shakers who couldn't care less what the taxpayers of Lawrence think about this project or the process that created it.

Matthew Herbert 5 years, 2 months ago

when it hits 500, it will be submitted to city hall where the submitter will be told to "move on".

5 years, 2 months 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 5 years, 2 months ago

Yes, thank you.

I'm happier about voting for you again.

Matthew Herbert 5 years, 2 months ago

I sincerely hope you stick to this claim, once elected. Rob Chestnut has spoken out against the RC Park and obviously Amyx too. You would make three - 3 commissioners is a majority. Get my drift?

5 years, 2 months ago

Yes I do get your drift completely. I appreciate the concept of coming together & moving forward, but issues like these are also the reason we have elections. We shall see how election day goes. Leslie Soden

irvan moore 5 years, 2 months ago

thanks for the explanation, i was disappointed because i really believed you cared, , thanks.

Lawrence Morgan 5 years, 2 months ago

Thank you very much for that clarification. I, too, disagree with the headline of this story - it is totally incorrect!

KU_cynic 5 years, 2 months 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?


ThePilgrim 5 years, 2 months 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.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 2 months ago

That's not accurate. See lesticia's (Leslie Soden's) post above.

Matthew Herbert 5 years, 2 months 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.

bmoody51 5 years, 2 months 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.

optimist 5 years, 2 months 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.

parrothead8 5 years, 2 months ago

Isn't more information better than less in this case?

victor_lustig 5 years, 2 months 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.

Catalano 5 years, 2 months ago

Thanks for pointing out Carter's berating comments regarding the excellent reporting by Chad on this issue. Oftentimes last-minute reporting due to the timing of the release of documents. That was way out of line. Or, maybe he didn't like all the editorials, but he did use the word "reporting", I think.

Tomato 5 years, 2 months 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.

Scott Criqui 5 years, 2 months ago

Hi Tomato. As I said before, I encourage people to review the full VEC forum video before making a change in your vote. I said plenty more than "move on". I advocated for increased transparency in the process and stricter overview as this project progresses. I do want us to "move on" and focus on what the new commission can do with this project. I would have loved if this project could have been voted on - or at least the tax be voted on...or at least revisioned. However, I don't believe that will happen now. So, I want to be on the commission to make sure future projects have community input and that I can make sure that this project receives important oversight. Thanks for your feedback!

Hudson Luce 5 years, 2 months ago

"Moving on" from this kind of robbery of the taxpayers should be the last thing on the mind of any candidate interested in real change in Lawrence. The way this project was rushed through, with important details hidden from public oversight until the very last minute, is an indicator of a corrupt process. If developers can effectively buy the votes of three of five commissioners and thus raid the public treasury at will, that's something to be dealt with NOW - not in the future. However, it might be a good idea to put in place an ordinance that requires commissioners to recuse themselves on appropriating money for projects which will either enrich relatives, enrich major contributors, or enrich business partners or business ventures in which they have an ownership interest.

Scott Criqui 5 years, 2 months ago

Thanks for the comment, streamfortyseven. If your concern is bought commissioners that is why I suggest moving on and focusing on electing a new type of commissioner. But, that is the semantics of our understanding and of the term, "moving on".

bad_dog 5 years, 2 months ago

"See any trend?"

Looks like a fair amount of internationally renowned institutions of higher education with some governmental agencies sprinkled in.

Hmm, I wonder who may have donated to Mr. Bush in 2004?

See any trends?

Katara 5 years, 2 months ago

You are aware that Obama can't run in 2016 or again at all, right?

scaramouchepart2 5 years, 2 months 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!

victor_lustig 5 years, 2 months 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.

Scott Criqui 5 years, 2 months ago

I do read it and I have responded to you...and I do hope you vote. With only 8.8% (of registered voters) turnout - your voice matters greatly.

Larry Sturm 5 years, 2 months ago

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

Richard Heckler 5 years, 2 months 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.

Richard Heckler 5 years, 2 months 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.

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