Newly elected members of Lawrence City Commission sworn into office, Littlejohn elected mayor

photo by: Austin Hornbostel/Journal-World

From left, Brad Finkeldei, Mike Dever and Amber Sellers were sworn in for their upcoming term on the Lawrence City Commission Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2023. Later in the evening, Dever was elected vice mayor by his fellow commissioners.

The three newest members of the Lawrence City Commission were sworn into office Tuesday night, and the new commission selected Lawrence’s next mayor — Bart Littlejohn.

Incumbents Brad Finkeldei and Amber Sellers and former commissioner Mike Dever were seated at Tuesday’s City Commission meeting, with Dever replacing outgoing commissioner Courtney Shipley. Both Finkeldei and Sellers will be serving a second consecutive term, while Dever is returning to office for the first time since 2015.

That group, plus outgoing mayor Lisa Larsen, voted Tuesday to elect Littlejohn as mayor. He’d served as vice mayor since last year; traditionally, commissioners choose the mayor and vice mayor baed on the results of the general election. Littlejohn won the second most votes when he was elected to the City Commission in 2021 alongside Larsen and Sellers. He and Sellers are possibly the first Black commissioners to have been elected to the commission in more than 100 years.

photo by: Austin Hornbostel/Journal-World

Mayor Bart Littlejohn speaks with City Manager Craig Owens at a reception following the Lawrence City Commission’s meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2023. Littlejohn’s peers on the City Commission voted to appoint Littlejohn as Lawrence’s next mayor during the meeting.

“In the last couple of years, we’ve been a commission of firsts, but I am determined that we will not be a commission of lasts,” Littlejohn said. “Just as the folks that I mentioned when I came on the commission set the path for me, hopefully I can set the path for others, and I look forward to widening that circle.”

Littlejohn highlighted some areas he believed the city’s made “tremendous progress” on, such as the work to invest in infrastructure improvements, and others where there’s work still to be done. One of those areas was in adding more housing; Littlejohn said there’s a “long way to go” to address the dearth of all types of housing, especially affordable housing, that the city needs to take steps to rectify.

The same goes for the city’s efforts to address homelessness, Littlejohn said. In part, he said tackling that issue will hinge on the city’s collaborative “A Place for Everyone” plan developed in partnership with Douglas County. Littlejohn said the city’s committed to bringing 850 units of affordable housing online in the next three to five years and supporting the Lawrence Community Shelter.

“But we’re not in a vacuum, and if they are listening, I would like to put out that we would appreciate all the help that we can get at the state and federal level,” Littlejohn said. “The only way that a city can continue to be successful is through intelligent growth.”

Littlejohn also emphasized the need to increase commercial development, create opportunities for entrepreneurs to start and grow their businesses, and integrate sustainability and resiliency measures into what the city builds.

Dever, as the top vote-winner in this year’s general election, was elected vice mayor. Though that position is also traditionally decided according to past vote counts, Dever wasn’t the only nominee. Sellers nominated herself for the position, and the vote for Dever’s appointment was 4-1 with Sellers opposed. Sellers also voted against Littlejohn’s appointment to the vice mayor position last year, and said at the time she wished to nominate herself.

Dever and Sellers both spoke at the meeting, and Dever thanked his wife and voters in Lawrence for their support in his return to office. He said he’s looking forward to working with the other commissioners moving forward.

Sellers also thanked her family, friends and supporters and said she hopes to “edify and connect” the community in understanding and closing any value gaps that exist in Lawrence.

“As long as gaps exist, inequity exists; inequality exists and the ability to thrive and function successfully and collectively will never be achieved,” Sellers said. “I come to you today standing on the shoulders of my ancestors, of those who come before me and continue to elevate me to the goals which I am here to preserve and to bring justice to.”

Larsen also gave remarks, and she highlighted the progress that’s been made on a half dozen issues she tabbed as areas of focus when she was voted into the position a year ago. That includes revising Lawrence’s Land Development Code, a process that’s still in the works, and moving forward with considering changes to the city’s form of government in the 2024 general election.

“While there’s always more work to be done, I believe our accomplishments this year move us closer to meeting our goals and making Lawrence a better place to live,” Larsen said.

photo by: Austin Hornbostel/Journal-World

The Lawrence City Commission seated following the 2023 general election is pictured Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2023.


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