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Lawrence no longer second-worst performing small city, new report concludes; rental registration supporter accuses landlord of 'dirty politics'

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It is not exactly the type of thing you put on a banner, but Lawrence is no longer the second-worst performing small city in America. We're now a middle-of-the-pack community.

If you remember, we previously reported on a report by the Milken Institute that found Lawrence ranked 178 out of 179 small metro areas in terms of its economic performance in its 2012 report.

Well, the Milken Institute now has put together its 2013 report, and Lawrence checks in at No. 105 out of 179 small metro areas. The report measures communities based on a number of economic statistics compiled mainly by the federal government.

Lawrence continues to suffer in the categories that measure job growth and wages. Lawrence ranked 87th in job growth for the period of 2007 to 2012. But from July 2012 to July 2013, Lawrence ranked 69th in job growth, so perhaps that is a sign the local economy is picking up.

The numbers are less encouraging on the wage front. Lawrence ranked 115th in wage growth for the period between 2006 and 2011. The report also measured wage growth for the 2010 to 2011 period. Lawrence came in 160th in the category.

But there are some notable improvements in Lawrence's numbers. In the 2012 report, Lawrence didn't crack the top 100 in any of the categories. This year, Lawrence ranks high in two categories that will please economic development leaders. Lawrence was ranked No. 2 in the category of high-tech GDP growth for the 2010 to 2011 period. Lawrence also ranked No. 34 in high-tech GDP growth for the period of 2007 to 2012. There wasn't any one big new company that has caused that spike, but it is worth noting that most of the jobs that have been created out at the incubator facility on KU's West Campus probably fall into that high-tech GDP category.

It also is worth noting what community took the top spot in this year's report. (It certainly isn't anything to put on a banner.) Columbia, Mo., was ranked as the No. 1 small performing metro in the country, up from No. 10 in the 2012 report.

Other regional cities of note included:

— Iowa City: No. 15

— Waco, Texas: No. 22

— Joplin, Mo.: No. 61

— Ames, Iowa: No. 71

— Topeka: No. 121 (up from 144 last year)

The report also ranks the top performing large metro areas. Austin, Texas, ranked No. 1. The Kansas City metro area ranked No. 68, up from No. 104 last year. Wichita ranked No. 183, down from No. 146 a year ago. The report ranked 200 large metro areas.

People can make whatever they want of the rankings. The Milken name — remember Michael Milken and junk bonds in the 1980s — sometimes raises eyebrows, but this Milken report is generally well-respected. Regardless, Lawrence's near-bottom ranking last year had a lot of locals talking, so I wanted to pass along this year's numbers.

In other news and notes from around town:

• I'll tell you what else has people talking these days: the late surge in opposition to the city's proposed rental licensing and inspection program. As we reported last week, the city received about 40 letters of opposition, mainly from tenants, who were concerned about the program possibly violating their privacy.

Now, it appears landlords have been doing their fair share of letter writing as well, sending out letters to their tenants that paint a scary — and city officials say inaccurate — picture of what city inspectors will do once in a tenant's home.

An official at the large northwest Lawrence apartment complex Hutton Farms confirmed leaders there sent out an email to all its residents last week. It included the following paragraph:

"If approved, a city inspector, trained by a former police officer, will enter your apartment and document and photograph their findings. This documentation will include not only code issues but your personal information and photographs of your personal items."

City officials have taken exception to that language. When I shared the letter with city officials, Scott McCullough, the city's director of planning and neighborhood resources, crafted a response to make it clear that any photographs that would be taken as part of a rental unit inspection, won't include photos of personal items. Instead,the photos are close-up shots of code violations — anything from mold on a wall to an improperly wired outlet. Plus, city officials said the tenant or the property owner is always welcome to accompany inspectors, and monitor what photos are being taken.

The letter really has created hard feelings with some supporters of the proposed rental inspection program.

"I would characterize it as a scare tactic that is most unfortunate," said Candice Davis, an Oread neighborhood leader who has been a longtime supporter of a rental inspection program in the city. "I think they are playing dirty politics. It was an extreme distortion of the truth."

She noted the city has run an inspection program for rental properties that are in single-family zoned neighborhoods for about 11 years. The issue of inspectors taking improper photographs of personal items has not seemed to create many concerns as part of that program.

I've got a message into an executive with Hutton Farms' management group for further comment on the letter.

What isn't known is how widely the letter may have been distributed to tenants around town. The Hutton Farms employee — she declined to give her full name — said Hutton Farms' sister complex, Tuckaway Apartments, sent out a similar letter. Plus, the employee said there were some indications the letter had been distributed at other apartment complexes around town.

Davis said she's confident fear mongering by landlords has been the main reason there has been a surge in opposition from tenants. It is worth noting that while many complaints have come from tenants recently, the Kansas chapter of the ACLU also has expressed concerns about some parts of the program.

Regardless, city commissioners still have a decision to make on the proposed program. Commissioners delayed action on the program last week, while staff members gather more information. The program is set to come before the commission again at its Dec. 17 meeting.

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  • Comments

    David Burress 8 months, 2 weeks ago

    Sunset Hills Neighborhood Association also registered concern about warrantless searches. The problem is that the rental inspectors can act as police spies on unrelated matters such as underage drinking or pot use. Not taking photos of irrelevant matters is helpful, but that needs to be written into the code. Note that Sunset Hills does still support the principle of rental inspections.

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    Richard Heckler 8 months, 2 weeks ago

    It would be rather careless to leave any eyebrow raising objects visible to anyone one did not know very well.

    Rental property inspectors can be denied entrance however that may or may not bring about a request for a search warrant.

    It did seem to me that some city commissioners were not very well versed on this matter. Why is that? Just asking.

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