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.