Mike Amyx seemingly knows every nook and cranny in this community.
A running joke among those who attend Lawrence City Commission meetings is that whenever the commission talks about a neighborhood, the odds are high that Amyx has lived in it and has a story to tell about it.
Indeed, Amyx is an authority on many matters in Lawrence. But more so, Amyx is an authority on a topic that is critical not only to Lawrence but to the entire country — public service. Amyx has served 22 years in local elected offices, primarily with the city, but also with Douglas County. He’s served six terms as a Lawrence mayor.
Amyx’s time as a local elected official is about to end. He chose not to seek re-election to the City Commission, and his term expires on Jan. 8. Before that date arrives, Lawrence residents should take time to thank Amyx for his service.
Certainly, his decisions as a commissioner have not been met with unanimous approval. But it is worth remembering that leaders aren’t elected to gather praise, but rather to create progress. Still, many good people forsake elected office because they don’t want to have those uncomfortable conversations when they have taken a position that runs counter to that of a friend or a neighbor.
You couldn’t have blamed Amyx if he had been wary of such discomfort. Friends and neighbors never have had a problem finding Amyx. For decades he has staffed the first chair of his family-owned barber shop at Ninth and Massachusetts street. A meeting with Amyx usually only required the force needed to push open his business’ front door.
That put Amyx into an unusual category: An approachable politician. A politician you actually enjoyed talking to. It also made him a popular one. Amyx rarely faced many obstacles in winning elections in Lawrence. Voters seemed to value the connection that he had made with the community.
That connection is important, and it brings up the natural question of whose ear Lawrence residents now will turn to in Amyx’s absence. The current City Commission is still inexperienced by the standards of previous commissions. The city manager has significant experience in running communities, but he still is relatively new to Lawrence.
Such a scenario creates the potential for a vacuum of leadership. The commission and city staff should guard against it. While the city manager is extremely able, the weight of an elected official is tough to replicate. Assuming none of them know how to cut hair, the current crop of commissioners may be at a disadvantage in seeing the number of people Amyx does in a single week.
But truthfully, the barbershop angle probably has been given too much credit in Amyx’s success. The real key hasn’t been that Amyx sees so many people. It has been that he listens to so many people, and then makes a point to take their concerns with him to City Commission meetings.
When he is at those meetings, he conducts the people’s business in a professional manner. While Amyx has a savvy mind for politics, it is not one geared towards gimmicks and stunts. In a day when every politician seemingly needs a brand, Amyx has kept his simple. He said it well in a recent Journal-World article.
“It’s my hometown,” Amyx said, “and I take a lot of pride in it, as so many of us do.”
Almost every politician is capable of saying that sentence. Far fewer make it the core of their service. Every government needs someone who does.
Mike Amyx has. Perhaps the only thing more difficult than finding a place Amyx hasn’t lived in Lawrence is finding a nook or a cranny of the community that hasn’t benefited from his service.