Lawrence City Commission candidate profile: Lisa Larsen
Toward the beginning of her career, candidate and incumbent Lawrence City Commissioner Lisa Larsen had two things she wanted to do.
The first one, running her own business, she accomplished 25 years ago when she started her environmental consulting firm. The second one, holding public office, presented itself a couple years ago when the commission sought to fill a vacated seat.
“The stars just aligned,” Larsen said. “The timing just happened that I had recently semi-retired, sold my business, and was just working part-time and this position came up and I jumped at it.”
Larsen, 57, was one of 14 people who applied to fill the seat vacated by former mayor Jeremy Farmer. The commission elected Larsen to fill the seat in October 2015. Larsen said she’d like to continue on the commission because she thinks its new strategic plan has set a good course for Lawrence, and she is focused on seeing it out.
“I want to stay with the commission so I can make sure that gets done,” Larsen said. “And that we also continue on this path of making sure we have adequate economic growth so that we can pay for everything that the citizens want. I think that can be a balance.”
Larsen earned her bachelor’s degree in geology from Fort Hays State University. Growing up, Larsen lived in various states before her father retired from the military and her family moved to the small, central Kansas town of Larned.
Larsen, a licensed geologist, moved her environmental consulting firm to Lawrence about 20 years ago. Previously, Larsen worked for the Board of Public Utilities in Kansas City and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment in Lawrence and Topeka. She sold her firm, Larsen & Associates, in 2014.
Larsen said she thinks her experience managing people with her company and her time working in a regulatory role with the state have helped her understand the nuance of serving a regulatory role.
“We as a city are also regulators to a certain degree,” Larsen said. “It’s helped me to have a different perspective on how staff have to deal with the day-to-day grind, so to speak, of being on that side of the law.”
If elected, Larsen said the overarching issue she would like the focus on is the commission’s strategic plan. The plan includes eight short-term priorities, such as comprehensive facility maintenance, priority-based budgeting and long-term financial strategy.
“That does provide a tent for a lot of the other issues that I talk about,” Larsen said. “I’m 100 percent committed to seeing that strategic plan come to fruition. It provides us what I would consider to be laser focus on very specific issues that I believe will help Lawrence be a better community.”
Also within the plan is economic development, another of Larsen’s top issues. She said although she believes economic development is a key component to making Lawrence a better community, the impact on neighborhoods must also be considered.
“We have to do it in a respectful way and make sure we take the consideration of neighborhoods, our neighbors,” Larsen said, “because the reason we need economic development is so neighbors in our community can have a dignified life and have the amenities that are important to them.”
Regarding incentives, Larsen said the commission should continue to judge each project based on its own merits within the guidelines of the recently revised economic incentives policy. She also said she’d like to encourage small businesses as well as projects that incorporate sustainable components.
“All these small businesses out there, they are doing a lot more sustainable development than I think they get credit for,” Larsen said. “Going forward, I’d like to continue to see that. Anytime new economic development, new businesses can incorporate that into their plan, then it is a win for all of Lawrence.”
A third issue concerning Larsen is the shortage of affordable housing, which national health rankings have designated as “severe” in Douglas County. Larsen said the city should continue to provide dedicated funding for affordable housing. She noted that the $100,000 provided by the city last year enabled five local nonprofits to leverage additional funds, resulting in the construction of three homes that housed 21 people.
“If we can continue in that mode, where the professionals who do affordable housing, our nonprofits, can collaborate with each other and get that much of a return on our money, then I see it as a win for the city,” Larsen said.
The terms of commissioners Larsen, Mike Amyx and Matthew Herbert are expiring this year. Eight candidates have filed for the election: Herbert, Larsen, Jennifer Ananda, Bassem Chahine, Dustin Stumblingbear, Ken Easthouse, Mike Anderson and Christian Lyche.
The primary election on Aug. 1 will narrow the field to six candidates. The general election will be Nov. 7.
Address: 1117 Avalon Road
Occupation: retired environmental geologist
Education: bachelor’s degree in geology
Family: two children and five grandchildren