City Commission filing deadline today, as field grows to 14; an early look at campaign finances for city seats; one candidate has to give up job to run
When it comes to Lawrence City Commission candidates, we’re at 14 and counting. Greg Robinson, a Lawrence attorney who was a vocal opponent of the police headquarters sales tax proposal, has filed for a seat on the commission. I’ll catch up with him later and provide a fuller report.
If the thought of 14 people campaigning for three seats makes you want to put a bumper sticker over your eyes and stuff your ears full of hanging chads (remember those), I’ve got good news for you: Today is the day we stop counting The filing deadline for the City Commission is at noon today. UPDATE: The filing deadline has now passed. 14 is the final number.
But don’t worry, we’ll have plenty of other things to count: The number of yard signs in a block, the number of times a candidate mentions the word ‘jobs’ in his or her campaign speech, and, of course, the number of people who pass out from a lack of oxygen at a candidate forum that involves at least 14 candidates making opening and closing statements. (My suggestion to forum organizers: Hire Genghis Khan as time keeper.)
One item we’ll particularly count, though, is money. Lawrence City Commission candidates often spend more than $15,000 — sometimes a lot more — to get elected these days. That means fundraising. The first batch of campaign finance reports are in for those candidates who got an early start and began raising funds in 2014. All totals are as of Dec. 31. Here’s a look at those totals.
— Stan Rasmussen, an attorney for the U.S. Army, has the early lead in raising funds. He has $8,815 from 36 donors, including a $500 contribution from himself.
— Kristie Adair — a Lawrence school board member, co-owner of Wicked Broadband, and leader of a new entrepreneurship center — has raised $5,050 from 15 donors, including a $500 donation from herself, a $500 donation from her husband, Joshua Montgomery, and a $500 donation from Wicked’s parent company, Community Wireless.
— Matthew Herbert, a Lawrence High civics and government teacher, raised $3,030 from nine donors, including $1,380 from himself.
— Leslie Soden, the owner of a pet care business, raised $2,075 from 11 donors.
— Stuart Boley, a retired auditor for the IRS, raised $1,600 from four contributors, including a $100 donation from himself.
— City Commissioner Bob Schumm filed for re-election and had a campaign finance account in 2014, but he did not raise any money during the last year. The account had about $278 at the end of 2014.
City Commissioner Terry Riordan also has filed for re-election, but he did not have a campaign finance account in 2014. He has filed the paperwork to start a new one in 2015. That’s the situation all the other candidates are in as well. They started campaign finance accounts in 2015, and thus weren’t required to file a report for 2014. We will get campaign finance reports, however, before the March 3 primary. That batch will look a lot different from these, as everyone will be in full campaign mode by that time. You can see the individual reports at the county clerk’s website. Those reports provide a full listing of people who have made contributions thus far, and if the contribution is above $150, it should list the business or industry of the donor.
In other news and notes from around town:
• There is one candidate in the race who already has experienced a financial setback. Mike Anderson is the host of the local comedy program “The Not So Late Show,” which airs on the local cable network WOW. But Anderson has told me he is being forced to put the show on hiatus — and thus his paycheck too — during the campaign. Anderson said his understanding is that federal regulators would require WOW to provide equal air time to any candidate who wanted it. In other words, if Anderson was on TV for 30 minutes as part of his show, other candidates would get the chance to be on WOW for 30 minutes as well.
“Even if I just talked about dung beetles for 30 minutes, that would still trigger it,” Anderson said. (I’m now officially counting the number of times candidates mention the phrase dung beetle.)
Anderson said regulators — honestly, I’m not sure if it is the FCC or the FEC — would allow him to continue with his show minus the equal time provision, if all other candidates in the race would sign a waiver saying they don’t object. Anderson said he approached many candidates with a promise that he would not talk about his campaign or City Commission topics during his show. He said a majority of the candidates at that time were agreeable, but a couple were not. He said the unexpected hiatus of the show has not caused him to consider dropping out of the race.
“No, running for this seat is something I’ve wanted to do for quite awhile,” Anderson said. “This will just mean a few more peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches.”
• There has been some talk this week about vote totals in City Commission races. Some of you have asked how many votes are cast during a City Commission primary election. So, I looked up the article from the last City Commission primary two years ago. In that race, we had 11 candidates. The top six vote winners move onto the general election.
In that primary, the top vote winner — it happened to be Mike Amyx that year — won 2,989 votes. To finish in the top six, you had to get above 1,531 votes. The seventh-place finisher received 1,296 votes, and was left out of the general election. Just seven of the 11 candidates received more than 1,000 votes. Candidates eight through 11 received anywhere from 39 votes to 351 votes.
Now, when the field gets cut to six, the vote totals change quite a bit. In the general election two years ago, top finisher Mike Amyx won 6,999 votes, second-place finisher Jeremy Farmer 5,256 votes and Terry Riordan 4,816. Fourth-place finisher Leslie Soden just missed out with 4,719 votes. (All these were the unofficial totals we reported on election night. They change a bit after the election canvass, but you get the idea.)
The big question with this election will be whether voter turnout is significantly different than it has been in the past. Will Rock Chalk Park and the police headquarters issue get more people out to vote than normal? Will Joshua Montgomery at Wicked Broadband have success in getting KU students and other technology-oriented voters to the polls to support enhanced broadband services? What other issue may emerge that could alter voter turnout? It is tough to predict, but what is clear is that with 14 candidates, the interest level is high thus far.
Here in another couple of months, my household will be in full Winter Olympics mode. That will mean several things: Jokes about communists (the games are in Russia this year); spontaneous performances of the Olympic theme song, complete with cymbals, by my wife; and whether I like it or not, figure skating on the TV.
Perhaps in the future, though, we can get our ice skating fix locally. I've gotten wind of an ice skating idea that is percolating at Lawrence City Hall. Folks in the parks and recreation department are exploring the feasibility of a seasonal, outdoor ice rink in downtown Lawrence.
Mark Hecker, assistant director for parks and recreation, told me several areas are getting a look. They include an area near the Outdoor Aquatics Center and part of South Park. But the most intriguing location is the plaza area that will exist between the city's new parking garage and the expanded Lawrence Public Library once it's completed next year.
The idea has some momentum at City Hall, in part because City Manager David Corliss is intrigued by it. He said he's interested in finding a way to bring more people to downtown Lawrence in winter. The idea of placing a temporary rink in the plaza area has some synergies, he said, because there would be adequate parking in the adjacent garage, restrooms are available in the new garage, and nonskaters could easily find something to do in the library or make the quick walk over to Massachusetts Street.
Whether the plaza area will be big enough to accommodate a rink isn't known. The financial feasibility of all this is also a question. To be clear, city officials aren't thinking of simply flooding an area and waiting for it to freeze. They do that occasionally in a low lying area of Watson Park, but it usually is only worth the time if there is going to be three to four weeks of freezing weather.
Instead, city officials are exploring renting a portable ice rink that comes with the appropriate ice making equipment. The financial feasibility of the idea likely will involve finding a corporate sponsor, and also charging a fee for skaters. Obviously, Crown Center in Kansas City has done well for years with its rink. Even for people who don't skate, it seems to add to the area's reputation as a holiday shopping destination.
That's certainly behind some of the thinking at Lawrence City Hall.
"We like the idea of a Winter Wonderland type of concept in the downtown core," Hecker said.
It's far from a done deal, but city officials seem to be serious about exploring the concept.
If it comes to be, I know somebody who can provide the theme music.
In other news and notes from around town:
• There is something else that is slipping and sliding just a bit in Lawrence: Retail sales numbers. The latest city sales tax report shows that taxable sales in the city fell by about 7.5 percent during the most recent reporting period. Totals for the entire year are still decent, but this does mark the third month out of the last four that the city has registered a decline in taxable sales in the city.
The most recent report details the taxes the city received from the state's Department of Revenue in November, but due to a lag in reporting and processing, it really measures sales that occurred from mid-September to mid-October. So, it appears really early-bird Christmas shoppers weren't out in full force, and, let's face it, Jayhawk football fans weren't roaming the city in the numbers they used to either. I never put too much stock in one month's worth of numbers, but the 7.5 percent decline is fairly significant.
For the year, sales tax collections are up about 1.6 percent. It's worth remembering that 2012 was a strong year for retail sales locally, so the fact we're above last years totals is encouraging. But, it also is worth noting that Lawrence in 2013 is performing worse than the state as a whole when it comes to retail sales. The statewide growth rate for taxable sales is 2.6 percent so far in 2013.
Lawrence isn't alone. It has been a mixed bag for several of the larger retail communities in the state. Here's a look at some of the winners and losers:
— Dodge City: up 1.6 percent
— Emporia: up 2.5 percent
— Garden City: up 5.2 percent
— Hays: down 12.3 percent
— Hutchinson: up 3.2 percent
— Junction City: down 1.0 percent
— Kansas City: up 5.1 percent
— Leavenworth: up 4.1 percent
— Leawood: up 0.9 percent
— Lenexa: up 5.2 percent
— Manhattan: down 1.2 percent
— Olathe: up 3.4 percent
— Ottawa: up 4.5 percent
— Overland Park: up 1.8 percent
— Salina: up 1.4 percent
— Shawnee: up 3.4 percent
— Topeka: up 0.4 percent
— Sedgwick County: up 2.3 percent.
• It was a late night at the Lawrence City Commission meeting on Tuesday, so news of the commission's discussion on a pay raise for commissioners got a little bit short-changed in our coverage. As we reported, staff members were directed to create an ordinance that would bump the annual commission salary to $20,000, up from $9,000 today. The mayor would get a bump to $25,000, up from $10,000 today.
The proposal, however, is a bit different than some had envisioned. Previously, there was a thought that none of the pay increases would take effect until after a new commissioner had been elected or an existing commissioner had been re-elected. In other words, no one would be guaranteeing themselves a pay increase.
But Commissioners Terry Riordan and Bob Schumm lobbied for a slightly different idea. The new proposal is that the pay increase would go into effect for all five commissioners after the April 2015 election. Three of the five seats — those held by Schumm, Riordan, and Mike Dever — are up for election in 2015. Mike Amyx and Jeremy Farmer's seats aren't up until 2017. Riordan said it wouldn't be fair for some commissioners to be making $20,000 while others are making only $9,000.
Ultimately, Dever sided with Riordan and Schumm to move the proposal forward. Amyx and Farmer abstained from the vote because they did not want to be in a position of voting for a proposal that would guarantee themselves a pay increase.
None of this is official yet. Commissioners still will have to vote on the actual ordinance that increases the pay. That vote likely will happen sometime in January. As for the concept of city commissioners getting paid more, it was widely accepted at Tuesday's meeting. Two members of the public spoke in favor of it. None spoke against it.
Although there was a city survey that showed Lawrence's proposed salaries would make Lawrence among the higher paying in the area, Riordan said he thought the survey results mainly showed that commissioners in other communities are "grossly underpaid."
Probably the most interesting item of the discussion is that one member of the public commented that if City Hall wants to do something to encourage more people to run, it should place some limits on campaign spending for City Commission races.
Commissioners didn't take any action on that idea, but Riordan said he was intrigued by it.
"That may be worth looking at, at some point," Reardon said. "That probably would affect it more than anything else."
More LJWorld City Coverage
New Lawrence PAC raises $14K as City Commission election draws near; Farmer top candidate fundraiser at $11K
The largest fundraiser during the heat of this year’s Lawrence City Commission race wasn’t a candidate. It was the newly formed political action committee Lawrence United.
According to new reports filed at the Douglas County clerk’s office, the Lawrence United group raised $14,400 during the key Feb. 15 through March 21 reporting period.
The group raised all of its money from just 10 donors. Lawrence builder Tim Stultz and Blue Jacket Ford LLC — a development company headed by construction owner Roger Johnson — both donated $5,000 apiece to the PAC.
Three companies that include Thomas Fritzel, the Lawrence businessman driving the public-private partnership for Rock Chalk Park, gave a total of $3,000 to the PAC. Lawrence-based McGrew Real Estate also donated $1,000 to the PAC. All the other donations received by the group were at the $200 level or less.
The pro-business PAC has endorsed candidates Rob Chestnut, Jeremy Farmer and Terry Riordan.
Those three candidates also did well in their individual fundraising efforts. Farmer, the political newcomer who serves as the CEO of the Lawrence food bank Just Food, raised the most money of the six candidates in the race: $11,265. Farmer finished second in last month’s primary election.
Rob Chestnut, the CFO for a Topeka publishing company, raised $8,949 during the period. Chestnut was fourth in the primary election. Only the top three vote winners in the April 2 general election will receive a seat on the commission.
City Commissioner Mike Amyx, the lone incumbent in the race, raised $5,960. The downtown barbershop owner is seeking his fifth term on the commission. He was the top vote winner in the primary.
Terry Riordan, a Lawrence pediatrician, raised $5,315 from supporters. Riordan also contributed $9,000 of his own money to the campaign. When combined with a similar loan Riordan made to his campaign during the primary season, Riordan has now invested more than $18,000 of his own money in the campaign. Riordan finished third in last month’s primary election.
Scott Criqui, an executive with Lawrence’s Trinity In-Home Care, raised $4,555. He was fifth in last month’s primary.
Leslie Soden, the owner of a Lawrence pet care business, raised $2,718. Soden was sixth in the primary election.
The Lawrence United Group gave $500 each to Chestnut, Farmer and Riordan. (Note: In a previous article, Riordan had told me the group gave him $100. But Riordan called me this weekend to tell me he had misspoken then. He quoted that number off memory and realized the amount was $500 when he looked at his records.)
But the group’s bigger impact on the race is that it has sent out several mailings urging support of the three candidates it has endorsed. Businesses and individuals are limited to making contributions of no more than $500 to any candidate during any one reporting period. Individuals and businesses, however, can make unlimited contributions to PACs, and the PACs can spend as much money as they choose advocating for a candidate.
Lawrence has had other PACs in the past. In the 1990s, a group called Progressive Lawrence campaigned for candidates who it thought would give the neighborhoods more of a voice in the City Hall process. Progressive Lawrence no longer exists, but there are other organizations that are in the political giving business. The plumbers and pipefitters union — it is based out of Wichita but has operations here — gave $200 each to Chestnut and Amyx, according to the latest reports. And the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, based out of Washington, D.C., gave $500 to Criqui. Criqui has been a frequent advocate for greater equality for the LGBT community.
But this year, Lawrence United sure appears to be the most active and best funded political organization operating in the City Commission race.
There is a question among campaign watchers, however, whether the PAC’s support will help more than it hurts. Thus far, the PAC largely has been supported by business interests in the community.
That has put some candidates at recent events emphasizing that they won’t be beholden to any special interests if elected.
“I have told people that if I have to choose a side to win an election, I would rather lose the election,” Farmer said during a forum hosted by Lawrence’s 6News last night.
Farmer went on to say that he clearly doesn’t equate taking a donation from any group as creating an expectation that he’ll vote in any particular manner, if on the commission.
“My integrity is not for sale,” Farmer said.
At the Monday night forum, Riordan said he thought some people had “overblown” the importance of the group’s endorsement. He said he consented to the endorsement because he and the group agree on the importance of creating sustainable jobs in Lawrence.
“They will have my attention in the future, but everybody else will too,” Riordan said.
Chestnut said he also supported the group’s main message on jobs, but he said he doesn’t “know that much about Lawrence United.”
It will be interesting to see what the final week of the campaign brings from the PAC in terms of advertising. At the end of the reporting period, March 21, Lawrence United still had about $20,000 in its coffers.
The complete reports for all the candidates are available for viewing and show the names and amounts of contributors. You can find them here:
• To see Amyx's report, click here.
• To see Chestnut's report, click here.
• To see Criqui's report, click here.
• To see Farmer's report, click here.
• To see Riordan's report, click here.
• To see Soden's report, click here.
• To see Lawrence United's report, click here.
UPDATE: Since I wrote this article this morning, Jeremy Farmer's campaign has provided me with a copy of his campaign finance report. It places him in second place in total amount of money raised during the Jan. 1 to Feb. 14 time period. I've added his totals to the list below.
The doctor has the prescription for fundraising.
The first deadline of the year for campaign finance reports for Lawrence City Commission candidates was Monday, and Terry Riordan — a longtime pediatrician — was the runaway leader.
Riordan raised $11,265 from about 84 donors, which was more than double the amount any other candidate raised during the reporting period. But Riordan didn’t stop there. The doctor also loaned his campaign $9,100, giving it $20,365 in contributions for the reporting period.
Riordan is a first-time candidate but he has an experienced team of volunteers running his campaign. Many of the same people who worked on the campaign for Mayor Bob Schumm — who was the top vote winner in the last City Commission election — are working on Riordan’s campaign.
The latest numbers show there's plenty of competitiveness in this year’s race — and a good deal of open wallets. Scott Criqui, an executive with Trinity Home Care, raised $4,550 from contributors during the period. Technically that amount is good for the third-highest amount of money raised during the reporting period, which covered donations made from Jan. 1 through Feb. 14.
But there is a sizable caveat to those numbers. Criqui got his campaign started so early that he did significant fundraising in 2012. A separate report for his 2012 activity shows he raised another $8,092. In addition, Criqui also is dipping into his own wallet for the race. He has donated $2,600 to his campaign.
Here’s a look at the numbers for the entire field. The contributions listed are just for the Jan. 1 through Feb. 14 reporting period:
• Riordan: $11,265 from 84 donors. (Plus $9,100 from Riordan)
• Farmer, executive director of Just Food: $7,785 from 54 named donors. (Plus $900 from Farmer. Also, of the $7,785 raised, $560 came from donors of $50 or less, which state law does not require to be itemized. So, in addition to the 54 named donors, Farmer had at least another 10 donors or more.)
• Mike Amyx, Lawrence city commissioners and barber shop owner: $4,610 from 49 donors.
• Criqui: $4,550 from 65 donors. (Plus $1,500 from Criqui)
• Rob Chestnut, chief financial officer for a Topeka publishing company and former city commissioner: $4,536 from 40 donors
• Judy Bellome, retired executive of Visiting Nurses Association: $3,690 from 43 donors.
• Leslie Soden, owner of a Lawrence pet care business: $2,695 from 15 named donors. (Of the $2,695 raised, $995 came from donors of $50 or less, which state law does not require to be itemized. So, in addition to the 15 named donors, Soden also had at least another 19 donors or more.)
• Reese Hays, an attorney for the Kansas Board of Healing Arts: $690 from six donors. (Plus $331 from Hays)
• William Olson, a Lawrence bar manager: $0
• Michael Rost, a Topeka insurance attorney: $0
The Douglas County Clerk’s office hadn’t received reports from two candidates — Jeremy Farmer and Nicholas Marlo — by this morning.
Marlo has not run an active campaign, but Farmer — the executive director for Just Food — has. It will be worth watching what his fundraising totals are.
I have covered a lot of Lawrence City Commission elections, and I generally pay close attention to the amount of money raised. I watch the numbers not because I think having a lot of money to spend in a local campaign makes a big difference. Instead, I watch them because donor numbers are a good indicator of the size and enthusiasm of a candidate’s base of support.
These numbers show we have an interesting primary shaping up. It appears there are at least seven candidates that are making a serious effort to raise funds. Only six of them will advance through the primary, which will be held next Tuesday, Feb. 26.
The more interesting numbers will be released in March, when candidates are required to file fundraising reports for the critical February and March time periods. Those will come just a few days before the April 2 election, and usually are a good gauge of how the race is shaping up.
At the moment, it is clear that three candidates — Riordan, Criqui and Farmer— have an early lead in fundraising. But the two candidates with perhaps the most natural name recognition because of their time on the commission — Chestnut and Amyx — are in that next group of candidates. It appears the coming weeks will be full of competitive campaigning.