City Commissioner Leslie Soden files to run for Douglas County Commission
photo by: Nick Krug
Lawrence City Commissioner Leslie Soden has filed for the Douglas County Commission and believes she can be a valuable set of fresh eyes for the county as it struggles with its jail issues.
“It is a little tumultuous and people don’t feel like some of their concerns have been taken seriously,” Soden said of county government in the aftermath of voters rejecting this month a countywide sales tax to fund additional mental health services and a $44 million jail expansion.
Soden said those were some of the same issues the city of Lawrence was going through when she was elected to the commission in 2015. City voters had just rejected a tax proposal for a new police headquarters building, and they were still upset about how the city handled the controversial Rock Chalk Park project.
Soden filed Thursday afternoon as a Democrat for the 1st District County Commission seat, which includes most of Lawrence north of 19th Street and west of Massachusetts Street. The seat currently is held by Mike Gaughan, who is not seeking re-election.
Soden thinks the county can benefit from a new approach on the jail project. She said she’s open to a jail project, but said it would have to be smaller than what has been proposed.
“That issue is really what fired me up a little bit,” Soden said. “I was on the fence about it for so long. I felt both sides were right, and I understood where both sides were coming from. But what really flipped me was the $44 million price tag. I totally agree that we need renovations of the jail, whether we do that with modular units or maybe we hire another judge to process people faster. But I just couldn’t do ($44 million).”
Soden said if she wins election, she will resign her seat as a Lawrence City Commissioner. Her term would have about a year left, and city commissioners would be allowed to appoint a replacement to serve the remainder of the term. Soden plans to stay on the City Commission while she campaigns for the County Commission.
She said she believes the city is in a good place currently, which made her more comfortable in seeking the county seat. Soden, who served a year as mayor, cited work that the commission has done to improve its strategic planning, the hiring of City Manager Tom Markus, and better use of metrics to measure the city’s success or failures on issues.
Soden, 46, has owned Pet Minders of Lawrence — a business that provides services to pets of owners who are away — for the last 12 years. She also works as an Uber and Lyft driver, she said.
In addition to the jail issue, Soden said she also wants to discuss whether the county commission should be expanded to five members, saying she thought now was a “prime time for positive change and transformation” at the county.
Soden’s filing ensures there will be a primary election on Aug. 7. Patrick Kelly, director of the Lawrence College and Career Center, also is seeking the Democratic nomination for the 1st District seat. The general election will be Nov. 6. The filing deadline to enter the race is June 1.