As a Lawrence pediatrician since 1983, Dr. Terry Riordan has had many serious conversations with Lawrence adults, mainly about medicine and their children.
As he finishes his first two-year term on the Lawrence City Commission, he would like to have another type of conversation with Lawrence residents. He wishes they would understand their government better.
“I’ve learned they care about Lawrence, but they are not quite as informed about things as I would like them to be,” Riordan said.
Address:1613 Tennessee Street
Education: Bachelor of science in biology from Rockhurst University, Kansas City, Mo.; medical degree, Kansas University Medical Center; medical residency, Letterman Army Medical Center, San Francisco
Family: Wife, Elaine; six grown children
Riordan, an owner of Lawrence-based Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, said the issue of tax incentives is a good example. He certainly heard the uproar that recent tax incentive deals have created among some members of the public, but he thinks those residents are largely confused about what is happening. The city, in most cases, is not taking money out of its checkbook to provide incentives to developers, but rather is rebating taxes that the developers pay into the city.
“People don’t like incentives mainly because they don’t understand them,” Riordan said. “They think we’re sometimes paying people to build. They don’t understand the checks and balances we have in place.”
For awhile, it looked like Riordan wasn’t going to be around to explain the issues. He acknowledged that he threw away all his campaign signs after the tough campaign of 2013, when he won the third and final seat on the commission by just 95 votes.
But Riordan said he realized that he had learned a lot about how city government functioned over the last two years, and it would be a “shame to waste that education” by not running for another term. He also said he thinks his campaign is helping Lawrence residents better understand their government.
“It seems like when I walk around and talk to voters, they feel so much better about the city after I have talked to them,” Riordan said.
Riordan said he thinks Lawrence residents ought to consider a couple of changes in how city business is conducted — one technological and one a major shake-up of the City Commission structure — to improve how commissioners and residents connect.
Riordan said he wants a debate on whether the city commission should expand to seven members and have a directly-elected mayor. Riordan said he’s not yet ready to endorse the idea, but said it deserves serious consideration.
A system to consider, he said, is one where a mayor would be elected to a four-term. Currently, the mayor is elected by fellow commissioners to a one-year term. Riordan said the commission would also expand to seven members — counting the mayor — which would be up from the five member commission currently in place. Riordan would propose that the city be divided into four precincts, and there would be one commissioner elected from each precinct. There also would be two commission seats that would be elected by the community at large. The mayor position also would be an at-large seat.
“A four-year mayor could allow us to have some vision and consistency that we don’t have with the one-year term,” Riordan said. “We don’t have enough voices from North Lawrence or East Lawrence or central Lawrence a lot of times, and this could help that.”
On the technology front, Riordan is proposing that City Hall become part of a network known as opentownhall.com. The privately-run network allows communities to basically have public listening sessions on line. The network uses a combination of human monitors and software to ensure the postings are free from profanity, and that they remain civil and on topic. Riordan thinks the network would allow commissioners to get large volumes of meaningful comment from residents.
“It would show that we really are interested in what the community thinks,” Riordan said.
Riordan was one of the four commissioners who approved the development agreement that created the public-private partnership to build Rock Chalk Park. But Riordan notes that the previous City Commission was the one that really negotiated the deal. The timing in the election calendar, though, meant the final approval fell to the new commission that took office in 2013.
“At that point, it was a technicality that had to be approved by us,” Riordan said.
Riordan, though, said he does understand that many in the community were not comfortable with the provision that allowed about $12 million worth of city-funded infrastructure to be built without going through the city’s bid process. Riordan also said there “was not the public engagement that I would have liked to have had,” but he also said the process was guided by “city officials who I respect very much, and who were doing what they thought was best for the city.”
“The product is great, but the process stunk,” Riordan said.
On other issues, Riordan said:
• The city needs to gather more data and have more conversations with the public about a police headquarters project. Riordan sees the need for new facilities, and said he now wants to start exploring ways that a facility could be built without a tax increase.
“I think there is a lot we can do to minimize a tax increase on people,” Riordan said. “I think we have done a lot for recreation, and now we need to focus on safety.”