Audio-visual engineer Joshua Olafson files to run for Lawrence City Commission
photo by: Contributed
Joshua Olafson, an audio-visual project engineer who’s lived in Lawrence for the past decade, has filed to run for the Lawrence City Commission.
Olafson works as a project engineer with AVI-SPL, an audio-visual integration company. He’s been with the company for about eight years and moved to Lawrence from Colorado Springs in 2013. Before he started his current role, Olafson’s work involved installing AV equipment like the video wall used at the University of Kansas’ School of Business and the video walls located inside the Kansas City Chiefs’ Hall of Honor.
Outside of work, Olafson said he also uses his AV expertise for volunteerism. He said he’s helped churches around town with installation work along those lines. In the years since moving to town, Olafson said he’s fallen in love with the atmosphere and the community.
But he said that’s made it especially hard to watch as businesses are struggling in downtown Lawrence, schools are closing around the city and homeless folks aren’t getting the help they need. A first-time candidate for public office, Olafson said seeing how all of those issues tie into the larger, systemic issue of affordable housing was the main driver behind his decision to run for a seat on the commission.
“Really, what motivates me is I want to serve,” Olafson said. “I want to be somebody who can enact change. I don’t have a political background, but I want to take action. I’ll do that in any capacity I can, so I decided to jump in with both feet.”
Olafson said that means pushing for policies that will lead directly to more housing in the community, which he said correlates with avoiding negative outcomes like school closures. He also wants to see more tangible action around supporting the city’s homeless population, rather than just talking about what needs to change.
Olafson also said some of the city’s policies on property taxes and fees need to be revisited because they contribute to the overarching issue of housing access; it’s hard to own a home when you can’t afford the taxes on it. But he said that also extends to rising rent prices for small businesses.
“I know that change is hard and I know that people fear change, but if we’re not going forward, we’re going backwards,” Olafson said. “I want to make sure we’re going forward. I want to respect and honor Lawrence history, because I think it’s important. I think there’s some beautiful history here in Lawrence and there’s some incredible people, and I want to respect and honor that, but I also think we have to change some of our policies so that Lawrence isn’t left behind as neighboring cities prepare for growth.”
Olafson said that making sure Lawrence is a safe haven for everyone who lives here is especially important considering the recent passage of SB 180, Kansas’ new law barring transgender people from using restrooms and other public facilities that align with their gender identity. On Friday, the City of Lawrence put out a statement saying it’s committed to protecting trans people and won’t make any arrests under SB 180. Olafson said the legislation is “hateful” and not consistent with Lawrence values.
“The heart of Lawrence is a safe place for people of all genders, of all races, to come and experience freedom and love,” Olafson said. “I just feel that, in general, I want to make sure that continues to be the case.”
The terms of Lawrence city commissioners Courtney Shipley, Amber Sellers and Brad Finkeldei are expiring this year. All three incumbents have filed for reelection. Along with Olafson, four others have filed for the election: Dustin Stumblingbear, Mike Dever, Justine O. Burton and Chris Flowers. Burton has also filed for the special election for a two-year term on the Lawrence school board.
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. That means a primary will take place Aug. 1, followed by the general election on Nov. 7.