City Commission candidate profile: Matthew Herbert
For Matthew Herbert, the world of government doesn’t just happen at Lawrence City Hall or even just the Capitol or the Oval Office. It also happens in a Lawrence High classroom, where he teaches government and civics.
Herbert, one of 14 candidates for the City Commission, said government can look a lot different when high school students are engaged in it. For one, they remind you that the world never stands still.
“It is hard to believe, but high school freshmen weren’t alive when 9/11 happened,” Herbert said. “I tell them wonderful fables of a time when you could board an airplane without a strip search. I think being a teacher will give me more of a whole city awareness. I think it really will keep me focused on long-term planning.”
Address: 523 Kasold Drive
Occupation: Teacher at Lawrence High School
Education: Bachelor degrees in education and history from Kansas University; Master’s degree in curriculum and instruction from KU
Family: Wife, Rachael Sudlow; 3-year old daughter
He thinks it also will help remind him of something most of us learned at one point about the value of working together.
“Too often, we think of things so philosophically, but students just keep asking ‘aren’t we both trying for the same goal?'” Herbert said. “They can look at the health care debate and say, ‘Isn’t the end result that people have health care, and we’re just arguing about how to do it?’ I think they have more focus on remembering our common goals.”
Matter of perspective
For five years, Herbert taught at Highland Park High School in Topeka because he liked the idea of having a job that also had a social justice element to it. Highland Park is one of the more impoverished schools in the region and has a student population that is almost equally split among white, black and Hispanic students.
“Your concept of poverty is very Lawrence related,” said Herbert, who grew up in Lawrence and has lived here the past 21 years. “Then you go there and get a whole other perception about what the world is like.”
Herbert said the experience at Highland Park reinforced the idea that you have to look at issues from multiple angles.
“There is a definite realization that people’s priorities are dependent upon their situation,” Herbert said. “I value education, but many of my students saw college as a four-year delay until they could get a real paycheck. It makes you think about how you are going to get a kid to value a liberal college arts degree.”
Herbert also has a career in property management. He and his wife own Renaissance Property Management, which owns 12 homes and manages another 15. Herbert said they started the business with the idea of flipping homes, much like you see on the HGTV shows. They started the business in mid-2008, just prior to the financial downturn.
“If you are going to write a textbook on how not to start a property-flipping business, chapter one would be about starting in June 2008,” Herbert said.
Herbert said he does not believe the city’s new rental registration and licensing program would create any conflict for him as a commissioner. The program has been approved by the City Commission, but won’t be fully implemented until July. Herbert said all the properties they own and manage are single-family zoned properties that long have been subject to the city’s rental inspection and registration process.
He said he supports the idea of health and safety standards for rental properties, but does think the city needs to be careful about “how much privilege we give a city inspector to enter someone’s home.”
Herbert said he’s hearing from voters a desire for the City Commission to “slow down.”
“I think they are looking for somebody who is fiscally accountable,” Herbert said. “You have to say ‘no’ every once in awhile. I think a lot of people feel like it has been a long time since they’ve heard a city commissioner say no.”
Herbert said tax incentives for apartment projects have been particularly disturbing to him. He said in a town where more than half the population is renters, that should be incentive enough for the apartment industry.
“I bring a very free-market approach about economic development,” Herbert said. “I am a big believer that Lawrence incentivizes itself. We need to be very careful about selling the farm just to buy some cattle.”
On other topics, Herbert said:
• He thinks city commissioners have been “a bit disingenuous” about how they have presented the funding plan for a new police headquarters project. He said a project of such importance should be built into the city’s general budget.
“We offered a sales tax not to pay for a police station, but we offered a sales tax to pay for the stuff that we wouldn’t cut to get a police station into our budget,” Herbert said.