Posts tagged with Farmer

Farmer in line to become Lawrence’s next mayor, but uncertainty remains ahead of Tuesday’s vote

Get ready for a night of pomp, circumstance and free cookies at Lawrence City Hall. This year we may want to add popcorn to the list as well because Tuesday’s installation of new commissioners and an election of a mayor seem to have more drama than usual.

Normally, the election of a city commissioner to serve a one-year term as mayor has been pretty routine stuff. It is based on tradition — more on that in a moment — and tradition calls for Jeremy Farmer to become the next mayor of the city. Usually at this point in the process, everyone has agreed and all that is left is the formality of a vote.

But within the last several days, emails have been floating around from constituents urging that Farmer be bypassed for mayor and that the current mayor, Mike Amyx, be elected to serve another one-year term.

Bottom line, I think odds are good that Farmer will be the next mayor, but it is noteworthy that some commissioners have still yet to commit to that idea. I talked with both Commissioners-elect Stuart Boley and Leslie Soden. Both of them stopped short of saying they were ready to support Farmer for mayor.

“I think we just need to wait and see,” said Boley on Monday morning.

Soden said she also was still weighing that decision.

“Tradition is definitely important,” Soden said. “But with this election it seemed pretty clear that the city is looking for a new attitude from the City Commission. I don’t know. This one is a tough one to balance.”

Soden said she thinks the commission could go one of three ways for mayor: Farmer, Amyx or herself.

“I’m weighing all those options right now,” she said.

I think Farmer is still likely to become the next mayor because Monday morning Amyx threw his support behind Farmer. It was not clear that was going to be the case, but Amyx on Monday morning said he wanted to end any speculation about his intentions.

“Tradition has served us very well,” Amyx said. “Jeremy has worked hard over the last couple of years. He has been somebody who has been involved with a great number of things. He has put in his time as a commissioner and vice mayor and also during the election two years ago. He deserves to be in the position of mayor.”

As for Farmer, he said he’s ready to serve.

“It would be a privilege to be able to serve my community in that capacity,” Farmer said.

In terms of what has caused this unusual episode of ‘guess the next mayor,’ part of it is just the general discomfort voters showed with the current commission, evidenced by the fact both of the incumbents seeking re-election — Commissioners Terry Riordan and Bob Schumm — failed in their bids. But Farmer said he understands that part of it is likely because he has irritated some constituents with a fairly aggressive style that sometimes has led to heated discussions with members of the public during City Commission meetings.

Farmer said he is working to change that demeanor.

“I’ve been trying to have a bigger ear than a bigger mouth,” Farmer said. “I want people to understand that I will be receptive. I’m going to be committed to transparency, openness and communication.”

In case you are confused about all this mayoral elections stuff, don’t feel bad. We did just have an election, so it is natural to think that the issue of mayor was settled through that process. But Lawrence, like many other cities, doesn’t directly elect a mayor. Instead, the five-member commission picks one of its own members to serve a one-year term as mayor.

An arm-wrestling tournament didn’t seem fair, so commissioners through the decades came up with a different type of tradition to pick a mayor. It basically goes like this: Whoever is vice mayor becomes mayor, and whoever was the top vote winner in the most recent election becomes vice mayor. Whoever was the second place vote winner in the election will be vice mayor the following year.

So, get out your scorecards and follow along. In 2013, Amyx was the top vote winner in the election. He became the vice mayor in April of 2013 and then became mayor in April 2014. Farmer was the second-place winner in the 2013 election, so he became vice mayor in April 2014 and is in line to become mayor on Tuesday. Soden was the top vote winner in last week’s election, so she is in line to become vice mayor on Tuesday and then mayor in April 2016. Boley was the second place winner last week and is in line to be vice mayor in April 2016 and then mayor in 2017. Matthew Herbert is the other new member elected on Tuesday. He finished third and receives only a two-year term and, by tradition, is not in the running for a mayoral spot.

Whew. Tradition can be tough to follow. But for the most part, city commissioners have followed this one. As near as anyone can remember, there have been two times in the past 30 some years that commissioners have deviated from the selection process. One time Nancy Shontz was bypassed and another time Mike Rundle was skipped.

We’ll see how this all goes on Tuesday. It does seem to have the potential to create a little tension among the commissioners, but perhaps not. The surest thing is that a new commission will be seated.

And yes, there will be some pomp and circumstance involved. There is a formal State of the City Address, a formal swearing in ceremony and, if tradition holds, a reception that includes free cookies for all.

That’s one tradition that I plan to hold onto — perhaps even with one in each hand.

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Oklahoma City tornado sparks discussion of building code standards at Lawrence City Hall

It didn’t take long for the tales of tragedy in Moore, Okla., to cause at least one city leader to begin asking questions of whether Lawrence is adequately prepared for a similar natural disaster.

City Commissioner Jeremy Farmer raised questions at last night’s City Commission meeting about whether Lawrence’s building codes for public buildings, like schools, are adequate when it comes to providing shelter from tornadoes.

“I think it would behoove us to look at ways to make our school buildings safer,” Farmer said. “If we don’t, shame on us.”

Farmer's comments Tuesday night came after he first broached the subject on his Facebook page earlier in the day. From his page: “I understand that natural disasters happen. I understand that we have better things in place to enhance warnings. But if we parade children into a hallway and tell them to cover their necks with their hands, and an EF-5 comes rolling through town, it won't matter. It’s time we stop making excuses for lives being taken because we were too irresponsible to think outside of a box, or too cheap to make sure this NEVER happens again.

“Reinforced tunnels, underground schools. Something. Smarter people than me are thinking about this. We have to figure something out. Innocent lives being taken because we didn't act when we possessed the innovation to stop it is unacceptable to me.”

Commissioners asked Planning Director Scott McCullough to produce a report summarizing what Lawrence’s building codes require in the way of storm shelters in public buildings and whether there are feasible additions that could be made to the code.

I would look for that report in the next few weeks.

As for what is really possible, I don’t know. Lawrence Public Schools spokeswoman Julie Boyle told me Lawrence public schools don’t have FEMA designated safe rooms, but obviously they do have plans to locate students and staff to interior portions of the buildings, which are better designed to withstand severe weather.

We’ll see how much, if any, serious discussion the idea of stricter building standards gets at City Hall.

Tuesday’s discussion arose after Mayor Mike Dever asked whether the city was planning to send any personnel to the Oklahoma City area to assist with the devastation following this week’s tornado.

City Manager David Corliss said the city hadn’t yet been asked for any assistance, but he plans to spread an offer of assistance to public administration officials he knows in the Oklahoma City area.

“I certainly will make it clear that we are available to do that,” Corliss said.

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