Voter Guide: City Commission candidate profiles

Six candidates — from left, Matthew Herbert, Lisa Larsen, Dustin Stumblingbear, Jennifer Ananda, Mike Anderson and Bassem Chahine — are seeking election to the Lawrence City Commission this year.

Editor’s note: The following are condensed versions of candidate profiles that the Journal-World ran in July.

The terms of city commissioners Lisa Larsen, Mike Amyx and Matthew Herbert are expiring this year. Read about the backgrounds of the six candidates vying for the three commission seats and the issues important to them.


Jennifer Ananda

Ananda, an attorney and social worker, moved to Lawrence 17 years ago from Girard to attend the University of Kansas. While at KU, Ananda earned undergraduate degrees in film and English and later graduated with a law degree and a master’s in social work. Ananda is currently the deputy Title IX coordinator and policy specialist for KU’s Office of Institutional Opportunity and Access.

Ananda said the main focus of her campaign is sustainability, which includes the environmental, human and future sustainability of Lawrence.

She said she believes Lawrence can be more in the forefront when it comes to environmental sustainability. That includes more bicycle and pedestrian improvements, solar energy, electric vehicle charging stations, as well as incentives for builders to use environmentally sustainable methods and products.

City Commission candidate Jennifer Ananda

Ananda said human sustainability means ensuring the availability of mental and physical health care, addiction treatment and affordable housing. She said environmental and human sustainability are what will make the future sustainable, and incorporating those aspects into the city’s comprehensive and strategic plans will make sure those plans continue to be relevant.

Another key issue for Ananda is growth and development. She said a main component of growth should be bringing jobs to Lawrence that pay a living wage. She also said she would like to take a “deeper look” at the city’s economic incentives policy to ensure it has specific enough guidelines to encourage such projects.

Above all, Ananda said the goal is for Lawrence’s evolution to have the community’s support.

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Mike Anderson

Anderson, an actor and former local talk show host, moved to Lawrence from St. Paul, Minn. in 2004 to attend KU. He earned his doctorate in communications and while studying at KU taught courses in problem solving, research methods and public speaking. This is Anderson’s second run at a seat on the commission, following a candidacy in 2015.

City commission candidate Mike Anderson

Anderson said the main focus of his campaign is the economy and the arts. He said that he thinks some people think those issues are mutually exclusive, but that he sees them as correlated.

Anderson said he thinks the most special thing about Lawrence is the arts and that the city can do more to encourage the arts and entertainment industry in Lawrence.

Anderson said he thinks local leaders can look more to what other cities similar to Lawrence are doing and learn from their successes. He said the city is losing money by not having a conference center, and he is supportive of the idea to build one downtown. In addition, he said the commission’s choice to scale down the East Ninth Street project from an arts corridor to a more basic design is a missed opportunity.

In addition to the arts, Anderson has other ideas to improve economic growth in Lawrence. Specifically, Anderson said he thinks the city could do more to encourage entrepreneurship, including providing a revolving loan program or philanthropic scholarships. He said other ways to strengthen the economy and attract business to Lawrence include increasing the focus on technical training, attracting retirees, using economic incentives wisely, providing access to high-speed internet and improving the city’s walkability.

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Bassem Chahine

City Commission candidate Bassem Chahine

Chahine, a Lawrence businessman, moved with his family from the United Arab Emirates to Lawrence at the age of 16.

He earned a degree in business administration from KU in 2008 and holds master’s and doctoral degrees in business administration from the University of Phoenix. Chahine is the owner and operator of Medwakh.com, a business based in North Lawrence that manufactures and distributes hookah-related tobacco products.

Chahine said the main focus of his campaign is economic development. He said Lawrence is growing and he doesn’t think the city has enough large employers that provide full-time jobs that pay a living wage. Though Chahine noted the city has KU as an employer, he said the city needs to work more with the university and the chamber of commerce to actively recruit more businesses.

Chahine said the city could better utilize economic incentives to attract primary employers as well as provide more incentives for existing businesses to expand. He said he thinks the community needs a plan with specific objectives for how it will add jobs to the city quickly. He said he’d like to see more KU graduates able to find jobs in their field in Lawrence.

Another issue Chahine said he is concerned about is the city’s infrastructure. He said making sure the city’s streets, sidewalks, water lines and sewers are in good shape also helps create the sense of community that can attract primary employers.

City commission candidate Matthew Herbert

Chahine is also focusing on public safety. He said a key component of the issue is handling mental health differently. He said he sees mental health as an issue for both the city and the county to address, and that mental health and drug courts should provide an alternative to criminal courts.

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Matthew Herbert

Herbert, who grew up in Lawrence, joined the commission in 2015. He holds bachelor’s degrees in education and history and a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction from KU. Herbert owns a property management company and teaches government and comparative politics at Lawrence High School.

Herbert said his main issue is asset management. Herbert said the city has built several buildings in recent years, but has been deficient in the long-term financial management of those buildings. Herbert said he thinks the commission needs to look to alternative forms of revenue to maintain those assets.

For instance, Herbert said the Dwayne Peaslee Technical Training Center serves a great purpose but needs to be more financially sustainable. He said he thinks other funding sources should be pursued, such as corporate partnerships or program sponsorships from the various industries for which Peaslee Tech provides training.

City commission candidate Lisa Larsen

Another issue concerning Herbert is making sure the commission, in addition to efforts to attract businesses, keeps in mind that there are artists and people working in creative fields that can work from any city. Herbert said attracting those residents is especially important given the city budget’s reliance on sales tax revenue. He said elements that make Lawrence a desirable place to live include arts and culture attractions, completion of the Lawrence Loop, strong Parks and Recreation programs, and well-maintained parks and infrastructure.

He said infrastructure improvements should be equitably paid for and distributed, including in older parts of the city. Herbert said that also means reconsidering the city’s use of benefit districts and its ordinance that requires property owners to pay for repairs to sidewalks adjacent to their property.

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Lisa Larsen

Larsen, a retired geologist, was chosen by the commission in October 2015 to fill the seat vacated by former mayor Jeremy Farmer. Growing up, Larsen lived in various states before her father retired from the military and her family moved to the central Kansas town of Larned.

Larsen earned her bachelor’s degree in geology from Fort Hays State University, and after several years working in the field started her own business. She moved her environmental consulting firm, Larsen & Associates, to Lawrence about 20 years ago. She sold her firm in 2014.

Larsen said one of her top goals is ensuring the commission’s strategic plan comes to fruition. The plan includes eight short-term priorities, such as comprehensive facility maintenance, priority-based budgeting and long-term financial strategy.

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.

Regarding economic 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 and projects that incorporate environmentally sustainable components.

Larsen is also concerned with the shortage of affordable housing, which national health rankings have designated as “severe” in Douglas County. Larsen said she supports the city’s decision to include affordable housing funds in its five-year capital improvement plan. She noted that last year those dollars were distributed to local nonprofit organizations, which used them to leverage additional funding.

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Dustin Stumblingbear

Stumblingbear, a retired veteran, moved to Lawrence in 2009. Stumblingbear is a member of the Kiowa tribe of Oklahoma and was born in Tucson, Ariz. He spent most of his youth living in either Albuquerque, N.M., or Lawrence.

After serving six years in the army, which included two tours in Iraq, Stumblingbear retired as a specialist in 2009. Currently, Stumblingbear serves on the board of Independence Inc., which provides advocacy, support and training for people with disabilities.

Stumblingbear said a main focus of his campaign is the city’s shortage of affordable housing. Stumblingbear said Lawrence residents — including those working in lower-paying jobs — don’t just need affordable places to live, but also quality places to live.

Stumblingbear said he thinks the city should continue to work with nonprofits such as Habitat for Humanity and Tenants to Homeowners to help fund affordable housing projects. Stumblingbear said he is in favor of repurposing the 0.05 percent sales tax to fund affordable housing. If approved by voters, the sales tax would provide about $1 million annually for affordable housing from 2019 to 2029.

Another issue Stumblingbear is focusing on is infrastructure. He said the city needs maintenance plans to ensure the long-term quality of water pipes, sewage lines, roadways and sidewalks. He said the city should focus on projects that will lower maintenance costs over the long run.

A third issue concerning Stumblingbear is economic development. He said he’d like to increase the city’s tourism and sales tax revenue by bringing more major sporting and arts and culture events to Lawrence.

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City commission candidate Dustin Stumblingbear