In the annual State of the City address, outgoing Mayor Leslie Soden touted changes the city has made across several realms, including policing, affordable housing and economic development.
“Last year we touched nearly every department of the city in terms of crafting new plans, policies and guidelines,” Soden said in the speech, delivered at the Commission’s special meeting Monday. “All will provide more open decision-making, better transparency, improved guidance as to goals and accountability, and more clearly defined expectations.”
Regarding policing, Soden noted the new mental health team and the Community Police Review Board, which provides increased oversight of complaints made against officers. She also mentioned the creation of a parking plan and the Parks and Recreation Department's master plan and formalized sponsorship policy.
Regarding housing, Soden said she is invigorated by the work of the city’s Affordable Housing Advisory Board, including the grants it has helped administer to affordable housing projects via the city’s housing trust fund. She said with the recently approved affordable housing sales tax — which will generate about $1 million annually for the trust for the next 10 years — that she is optimistic.
“I can’t wait to see those new projects break ground next year,” Soden said. “And with a permanent stream of revenue from the new sales tax, I am very optimistic about (the board’s) future achievements.”
Soden also praised a new incentives program. This year, the Commission adopted a two-year Catalyst Program, which provides incentives and a simplified application process for businesses that locate or expand in the city’s business parks. She also noted the $11.3 million in energy-efficient upgrades the city put in place, which were set up to pay for themselves over the next 20 years.
Soden read from a long list of other accomplishments, including the approval of road projects such as East Ninth Street and Kasold Drive, as well as the implementation of the Commission’s first strategic plan, used to better prioritize budgeting decisions.
“I’m pleased with our progress,” Soden said in conclusion. “And I know we will continue to work together to contribute to Lawrence’s future.”
Following tradition, the Commission elected top vote-winners Stuart Boley as mayor and Lisa Larsen as vice mayor. Boley thanked his supporters and fellow commissioners for providing him the opportunity to serve in the position. Boley said he hopes his new responsibility will provide him a new point of view.
“It very well may be an opportunity to be listened to in a little bit different way and for me to listen to people in a little bit different way,” Boley said. “That’s one of the things that’s really exciting for me about this new responsibility.”
Recently elected Commissioners Larsen, Jennifer Ananda and Matthew Herbert were also sworn in during Monday’s meeting. Both Larsen and Herbert are now serving their second terms. Newcomer Ananda replaces longtime Commissioner Mike Amyx, who did not seek re-election. Commissioners and members of the public warmly thanked Amyx for his years of service, and Soden presented him with a plaque and a key to the city.
Once Ananda was seated, multiple commissioners remarked upon the fact that this is the first time the Commission has been majority women. Ananda said the milestone is an important one for the community, and she is looking forward to working with the Commission. Ananda said she will be true to her principles and hopes to be accessible to residents.
“I’m really excited about the work that we have coming up and the future of our community,” Ananda said.