Archive for Tuesday, October 6, 2015

City commissioners elect Lisa Larsen to fill vacant seat

Lisa Larsen smiles after she was voted to fill the empty seat on the Lawrence City Commission on Tuesday night at City Hall. Larsen is pictured with her father, Robert Larsen, of Lawrence.

Lisa Larsen smiles after she was voted to fill the empty seat on the Lawrence City Commission on Tuesday night at City Hall. Larsen is pictured with her father, Robert Larsen, of Lawrence.

October 6, 2015, 7:54 p.m. Updated October 6, 2015, 9:32 p.m.


City commissioners elected Lisa Larsen on Tuesday to Lawrence’s governing body, filling the vacancy created when former Mayor Jeremy Farmer resigned in August.

Larsen was sworn in and seated as the fifth commissioner during Tuesday evening’s City Commission meeting at City Hall. She will serve the remainder of Farmer’s unexpired term, which ends in January 2018.

At the meeting, commissioners Stuart Boley, Matthew Herbert and Leslie Soden and Mayor Mike Amyx chose between Larsen, a geologist who sold her environmental consulting firm in 2014, and Scott Morgan, a former school board member who sold a small publishing business in 2007.

The final vote was made after each commissioner stated the candidate for whom they’d vote.

First, Herbert said his vote was for Morgan.

Morgan received the highest scores of all candidates when members of a commissioner-appointed advisory committee used a points system to narrow the pool of applicants from 14 to 12, and then again from 12 to six.

Larsen ranked just under Morgan in both instances.

“People of this community want to make this choice,” Herbert said. “There’s anger a special election wasn’t held. To me it comes down to this: I think we selected that committee; that it was made up of truly intelligent people. Tonight, I would recommend we follow what they recommended both times.”

Lisa Larsen smiles after she was voted to fill the empty seat on the Lawrence City Commission on Tuesday night at City Hall. Larsen is pictured with her father, Robert Larsen, of Lawrence.

Lisa Larsen smiles after she was voted to fill the empty seat on the Lawrence City Commission on Tuesday night at City Hall. Larsen is pictured with her father, Robert Larsen, of Lawrence.

Soden named Larsen as her pick, noting that Larsen was on all four commissioners’ ballots when they ranked their top three choices at an Oct. 1 meeting.

At that meeting — during which commissioners named Larsen and Morgan as the final two candidates — Amyx, Boley and Herbert listed both Morgan and Larsen on their ballots. Amyx and Herbert ranked Morgan above Larsen, and Boley listed Larsen as his top pick.

Larsen was also Soden’s top pick during that vote. Soden did not list Morgan among her top three.

Boley named Larsen, saying she would make the commission “more complete.”

“Her experience as a scientist and her analytical processes and her clear talk have convinced me to support Lisa Larsen,” Boley said.

Amyx, the last commissioner to speak, reiterated the difficulty of making a decision and noted the importance that the commissioners make a clear choice. Had they not, city codes mandate the final decision be made by the city attorney.

“I know because of the split we have in our commission, I can send this to the city attorney for a final decision, but I believe that I was elected by the folks in this community to make decisions on their behalf,” Amyx said. “That being said, I believe Lisa Larsen should fill the vacant City Commission position.”

There was applause after Amyx’s comments, which made clear the commission would elect Larsen. Larsen walked up to the podium and thanked the City Commission, her friends and family.

Morgan also stood to speak.

“I wish you all and Lisa all the best,” Morgan said. “The community is ready for you to get back to work, and I’m sure you’re very excited about it. It’s with mixed emotions, but it’s not the worst thing that has ever happened to me.”

Commissioners then held a formal vote, unanimously electing Larsen to the position.

“Let’s get to work,” Larsen after being formally seated.

‘Opportunity to give back’

This is Larsen’s first experience in public office.

In an earlier interview with the Journal-World, Larsen said she first felt called to public office in the mid-2000s, when she was operating her business, Larsen & Associates Inc., and didn’t have enough time to spare.

With her business sold and time freed, she saw the open City Commission position as a way “to give back” to the community, she said.

“It was a great place to run a business, and then also a great place to live because of the diversity and forward thinking,” Larsen said. “This is my opportunity to give back, and I have the time to do it.”

With Larsen’s election, it is the first time in almost 20 years that two women hold Lawrence City Commission seats at the same time.

According to city records, the last time this happened was the 1995-96 and 1996-97 terms, when Bonnie (Augustine) Lowe and F. Jolene Anderson were commissioners.

Prior to that, Marci Francisco served as mayor and Nancy Shontz as vice mayor in 1982-83. Francisco was also mayor in the 1981-82 term, during which Shontz served as a commissioner.

The process to elect a new commissioner started soon after Farmer resigned from the City Commission on Aug. 12, two days after stepping down as executive director of local food bank Just Food amid allegations of financial mismanagement.

City codes gave the commission broad authority to fill a vacant seat by a majority vote. The steps to fill this particular vacancy were outlined in a resolution approved by the City Commission in late August.

Filling his position comprised several rounds of elimination over the past month.

“I think, I feel, I hope transparency was achieved through the process we utilized,” Herbert said.

In discussion at the end of Tuesday’s meeting about future agenda items, interim City Manager Diane Stoddard said there were “quite a few items to be determined.”

“I’ll be working with you, now that we have a full commission, and getting those scheduled,” Stoddard said.

In other business, commissioners:

• Agreed to reconsider at their next meeting their approval Sept. 22 of the Lawrence Parks and Recreation Department’s request for an additional $78,650 to use concrete for the new trail between Constant and Burcham parks. Three people spoke during a public comment period Tuesday about the need to study the possibility of flooding and erosion in the area before the project moves forward.

Mark Hecker, assistant director of Parks and Recreation, said the contractor was on schedule to start pouring concrete next week.

At the Sept. 22 meeting, the request, which was listed on the consent agenda, was approved without discussion.

• Unanimously approved an amended grant application the Lawrence Arts Center — with the city’s support — plans to submit to help fund the 2017 and 2018 Free State Festival. At a September meeting, commissioners asked that the Arts Center revise its application for a National Endowment for the Humanities grant before the commission would support it. Commissioner Leslie Soden and Mayor Mike Amyx said the original application gave the impression the East Ninth Project would be complete and that the plan for the project had already been fully developed.


Steve Jacob 2 years, 6 months ago

So basically the vote was 2 1/2 to 1 1/2. I still HATE that a commissioner gets to serve a 2+ year term without a vote. We need to make a change to the law. No one should be appointed for over a year without a vote.

Bob Forer 2 years, 6 months ago

I think Amyx was leaning towards Morgan, but did not want to see a 2-2 tie with the tie breaker going to the City Attorney, so he out chose Larsen. If that is what happened, I think it was a good move, as there would have been a lot of complaining if the ultimate decision was made by a non-elected official.

Greg DiVilbiss 2 years, 6 months ago

It did seem like that when watching. I have mixed feelings about voting for those reasons, I think your vote should be your vote and process is process.

I agree, had the tie happened there very well may have been much angst and whoever the City Attorney selected would have been hamstrung or at the very least we would have to put up with two years of whining.

So kudos to Mike Amyx for making a hard decision.

So let's see what our "finally" whole commission is about and move on.

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 2 years, 6 months ago

You do know that a governor can appoint a senator or a rep without an election if they can't complete their term. How is this any different. If anything, it's been very transparent.

Fred Whitehead Jr. 2 years, 6 months ago

A commissioner elected by the other commissioners. What a deal! How about the will of the people that voted for someone else??

Will White 2 years, 6 months ago

Still seems to me if Dr. Riorden was willing to serve, he should be chosen. He has experience and he ran in the last election. Now we have a totally rookie Commission.

David Holroyd 2 years, 6 months ago

The staff has been telling the commission for years what to do along with the Chamber officials and real estate industry. If Mr Boley is correct about Lisa Larsen's analytical skills maybe she will tirn out to be smarter and more effective than what Lawrence has had.

If she could stop the constant "change orders" because of faulty bidding, she would be a first.

I would challenge thebJournal World to tally the amount of money spent last year and to date on "change orders" it is in the hundreds of thousands, your MONEY.

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