Former East Lawrence neighborhood president files for seat on Lawrence City Commission

An East Lawrence resident who nearly won a seat on the Lawrence City Commission two years ago is back for another run at the commission and another round of debate about tax breaks and other financial incentives handed out by the city.

Leslie Soden, who missed out on winning a seat in the 2013 elections by about 100 votes, became the fourth candidate to file for one of the three at-large seats up for election. She said her campaign will include a lot of talk about changing the city’s economic development strategies.

“For the last four years our economic path has been one where we give big tax breaks to developers and raise taxes on regular people,” Soden said. “That is not sustainable and it has to change.”

Soden, 43, is a small-business owner. She runs Pet Minders, a pet sitting business, and she’s been a Lawrence resident for the last 15 years. She currently serves as a member of the city-county Joint Economic Development Council and is a past president of the East Lawrence Neighborhood Association.

During her last campaign, Soden was a critic of the process the city was following to build Rock Chalk Park sports complex, which included a no-bid contract for about $12 million worth of infrastructure work.

“I have a track record of having issues with that project,” Soden said. “It may be a stellar success in the future, which we all hope it to be, but there are a lot of issues with that project that we can’t repeat.”

Soden said she also expects the campaign to have significant discussion on how to move forward with a new police headquarters. Voters in November rejected a proposed sales tax to fund a new $28 million facility.

Soden said she does believe the working conditions of the police department need to improve. She said she wants more information about expansion possibilities at the existing Investigations and Training Center near Bob Billings Parkway and Wakarusa Drive. She said she also wants to have a larger discussion about public safety needs, including restoring funding for the WRAP program, a Bert Nash service that, according to their website, “…is designed to improve child development and learning, increase connectivity to the broader community, and provide resiliency, wellness and mental health support within one of children’s primary natural environments: their school.”

The seats currently held by Commissioners Mike Dever, Terry Riordan and Bob Schumm are set to expire. Candidates have until noon on Jan. 27 to file for one of the three at-large seats. If seven or more candidates file for a seat on the commission, there will be a primary election on March 3 to narrow the field to six candidates. The general election will be April 7.

Soden is the fourth candidate to file for the race. The others are Stuart Boley, a retired IRS agent; Stan Rasmussen, an attorney for the U.S. Army; and Matthew Herbert, a Lawrence High government and civics teacher.