Three new faces are coming onto the Lawrence City Commission, and already there are promises of a new attitude on the way as well.
Leslie Soden — an owner of a Lawrence pet-sitting business, and a first-time elected official — won the top spot in Tuesday’s general election. Fellow City Hall newcomers Stuart Boley, a retired IRS agent, and Matthew Herbert, a Lawrence High School teacher, won the other two spots on the commission. Incumbents Terry Riordan and Bob Schumm lost their re-election bids by more than 1,500 votes.
“I certainly appreciate the service of past commissioners and their hard work, but it is time for a new direction,” Soden said.
Soden, who was the top vote winner in the March primary election and never trailed as the results came in on Tuesday night, said concerns about tax breaks and “misguided” budget priorities were a constant theme with voters throughout the campaign. She said November’s failed sales tax vote to fund a new police headquarters was a defining moment as well. She said voters were frustrated they were being asked to raise taxes for new police facilities when the Rock Chalk Park recreation center was funded without a vote.
“But I don’t think it was Rock Chalk Park that was the final straw,” Soden said. “It was the police vote that was the final straw. That was the defining proof that budget priorities had really gotten reversed.”
Soden also became the first woman to be elected to the commission since Sue Hack ended her tenure in 2009. Soden said she was pleased that streak was over but disappointed that it lasted so long.
"I never ran a campaign that said you should vote for me because I'm a woman," Soden said. "But women do bring a different perspective, and this City Commission does need a new perspective."
Herbert, who finished fifth in the March primary but surged in the general election, also was promising a new attitude at City Hall.
“I think voters were saying ‘we expect you to be our commissioners. We want to know about projects on the front end, not the back end,’” Herbert said.
Herbert said the new commission will have an early opportunity to shape City Hall. The next commission will be responsible for hiring a new city manager. City Manager David Corliss has announced he’s leaving in May to take a town manager job in Colorado.
Herbert said he will emphasize the need for a city manager who can communicate clearly with the commission. He said he thought there were too many communication breakdowns in the recent Rock Chalk Park project.
Boley’s election night message was reserved. He mainly thanked voters, family and volunteers for their support. But he said it was clear that the new City Commission has some community-building work to do.
“We all have new responsibilities now,” Boley said. “One of them is to try to bring the community together on future projects. That has to be a top goal of the commission.”
Stan Rasmussen, the second-place finisher in the March primary, took the biggest fall in the general election. Rasmussen, an attorney for the U.S. Army, finished fifth in the six-candidate field. His campaign in the closing days was dogged by concerns from some voters that he took $4,500 in campaign donations from a southeast Kansas family that has been active in conservative political circles. Rasmussen ultimately returned the donations and apologized, but he trailed early as vote totals came in on Tuesday and never gained much ground.
Riordan, a longtime Lawrence physician finished fourth. Schumm, a longtime city commissioner and retired restaurant owner, finished sixth. Voter turnout in Tuesday's election was 16 percent, which was about on par with the 2013 turnout of 16.5 percent.
The new City Commission will take office at next Tuesday’s meeting. In addition to Riordan and Schumm departing, City Commissioner Mike Dever also will leave office. The eight-year incumbent did not seek re-election.
Lawrence City Commission (three seats)
|1. Leslie Soden||6,131|
|2. Stuart Boley||5,783|
|3. Matthew Herbert||5,739|
|Precincts reporting||64 of 64|