City candidates discuss their priorities at forum; topics include affordable housing, economic development and city infrastructure

Lawrence City Hall is pictured in this file photo.

Issues such as affordable housing, economic development and city infrastructure were high on the list of priorities that City Commission candidates outlined in a community forum on Sunday.

The League of Women Voters, NAACP, Lawrence Public Library and other community partners hosted the virtual candidate forum on Sunday evening for City Commission and Lawrence school board candidates. The forum, which was moderated by League of Women Voters Vice President Kristin Salmans, began with a “speed dating” format in which candidates were given two minutes each to give presentations.

In her statement, incumbent Lisa Larsen, who has served on the commission since 2015, said some areas of focus for her have been infrastructure, affordable housing, economic development, and climate issues on the local level. Larsen noted various actions or policies she’s supported in her time on the commission, including funding for affordable housing projects, an economic incentives program that has brought new jobs to the city’s business park, and the city’s commitments to green energy and energy efficiency.

“All of these issues and policies are reflected in our community’s strategic plan, which we put together this last year,” Larsen said. “So if re-elected to the commission, I will continue to move forward with policies just like this.”

Bart Littlejohn said his priorities on the commission would be equity; housing affordability, availability and accessibility; and economic development, including for those who are currently left out. Littlejohn said that when he was president of the Pinkney Neighborhood Association, he got to know his neighbors and worked toward success by starting conversations and building coalitions, and he would continue in that mold.

“And I plan on transferring that mentality to the city of Lawrence as a whole,” Littlejohn said. “It’s my goal to work as hard as possible, to bring as many people together as possible, so I can provide solutions that get us focused on equity, housing and economic development.”

Incumbent Stuart Boley, who has served on the commission since 2015, said he supported strong and welcoming neighborhoods, trusted public safety resources, economic development, streets and storm water systems, and parks and recreation services, including the Lawrence Loop citywide trail system. Boley spoke to the importance of city services.

“Our community deserves excellent city services that are fairly priced and equitably provided,” Boley said. “As a member of the next commission, I would offer experience and continuity to the challenges we face.”

Amber Sellers said her priorities were human infrastructure, affordable housing and the creation of a comprehensive housing plan, and expanding the city’s lens of economic development to focus on small businesses. Sellers, who is a regulation specialist with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment Bureau of Family Health, also said there should be a higher level of engagement between people, policies and city governance.

“When I made the decision to run for City Commission, it was to be the bridge and to be the connector to the community,” Sellers said.

Ma’Ko’Quah Jones said that important issues for her included environmental justice, support for social service organizations and ensuring local policies meet the needs of the underrepresented and marginalized members of the community. Jones, who is chair of the Sustainability Advisory Board chair and a community organizer, said that she’s also experienced issues such as homelessness, and that those experiences would inform her work on the commission.

“That’s what I hope I’ll bring to the City Commission and that’s what I hope people will vote for, is my personal experience,” Jones said.

Milton Scott said important issues for him are city infrastructure, affordable housing, and high city utility rates and their impact on affordability. Scott said he grew up in public housing in a community of high poverty, and that after working for years as a public housing administrator he had the understanding and experience to address the issue of affordable housing.

“I think I will be able to move the needle in that area,” Scott said.

About 50 people total attended the forum. Traditionally, the event has been a candidate picnic and potluck in the park, but it was conducted virtually because of the coronavirus pandemic. Following the introductions, attendees were broken into smaller virtual groups, and candidates rotated through the groups to talk further with attendees and answer questions.

The general election for the three open City Commission seats will be Nov. 2. The last day to register to vote in that election is Oct. 12.

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