Community volunteer Dustin Stumblingbear files to run for Lawrence City Commission

photo by: contributed

Dustin Stumblingbear

Former nonprofit board member and community volunteer Dustin Stumblingbear is running for election to the Lawrence City Commission.

Stumblingbear, a veteran who now spends a lot of his time volunteering, said he understands the importance of city government and its impact on people’s daily lives, and he is willing to bear the weight of those decisions on behalf of the community. Stumblingbear has run for local office before and said community members continue to express support for him.

“There’s still people who are willing to hear what I have to say and believe I have something to contribute on the City Commission, so I jumped on there,” Stumblingbear said.

Stumblingbear, a member of the Kiowa tribe of Oklahoma, lived in Lawrence for a time as a child, attended Haskell Indian Nations University as a young adult and has lived in Lawrence permanently since leaving the army in 2009. He ran unsuccessfully for City Commission in 2017, finishing fourth in a race for three seats. He also ran last year for the Douglas County Commission, and he said during and after that campaign many people encouraged him to run for City Commission again.

Stumblingbear served for six years on the board of Independence Inc., served on the city’s Human Relations Commission in 2018 and served on the City Government Study Task Force in 2021. He said last year he also attended the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office Citizen’s Academy and earlier this year became a volunteer with the Community Emergency Response Team for Douglas County.

If elected, Stumblingbear said some of the key issues he would want to focus on are homelessness, cleanup of the former Farmland Industries site and city infrastructure. Regarding homelessness, Stumblingbear said the city needs to work on a “meaningful, long-term solution” and that he wants to engage all stakeholders on that front.

“I want to work with our community, not just the agencies but also the community members and the unhoused, so that we can come up with solutions that everyone can at least have some buy-in on,” he said. “If everyone has buy-in on a solution, it’s more likely to be successful.”

Stumblingbear also wants to bring more awareness to the city’s ongoing effort — and the costs associated with it — to remediate decades of contamination at the former Farmland site, from water treatment costs to the new field operations campus.

“This is taxpayer dollars, and they deserve to know that those monies are being spent for that purpose and just how long and large this issue really is,” he said.

The city took over ownership and cleanup responsibility for the former nitrogen fertilizer plant in 2010, and in recent years depleted the trust fund dedicated to environmental remediation of pollutants that contaminate ground and surface water on the site. In August 2021, the city projected it would need to spend another $13.25 million over the next five years to create a new pollution remediation system and $20 million to $60 million in the ensuing decades to operate and maintain the system. One function of the city’s proposed field operations campus — itself now with an estimated $135 million total price tag — is to cap the site and help deal with runoff.

When it comes to infrastructure, Stumblingbear said he wants to ensure the city maintains what it has, including both roads and sidewalks, and does upgrades where it can, but without breaking everyone’s wallet.

The terms of Lawrence city commissioners Courtney Shipley, Amber Sellers and Brad Finkeldei are expiring this year. All three incumbents have filed for reelection. In addition to Stumblingbear, four others have filed for the election: Mike Dever, Justine O. Burton, Joshua Olafson and Chris Flowers. Burton has also filed for the special election for a two-year term on the Lawrence school board.

A primary will take place Aug. 1, and the general election will be on Nov. 7. Lawrence has a charter ordinance that calls for a primary if the number of candidates who file for the City Commission is more than two times the number of open seats.


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