VOTER GUIDE: 6 candidates vying for seats on the Lawrence City Commission in general election

photo by: Rochelle Valverde/Journal-World

Lawrence City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St., is pictured on Jan. 31, 2023.

In the upcoming general election on Tuesday, Nov. 7, Lawrence voters will decide which three candidates will serve on the Lawrence City Commission.

Incumbents Brad Finkeldei, Amber Sellers and Courtney Shipley, former commissioner Mike Dever, and newcomers Justine Burton and Dustin Stumblingbear are all running for a seat on the City Commission. All of the seats are at-large positions, meaning the same six names will be on ballots throughout the city.

Voters will be able to choose up to three candidates, and the top three vote-winners will get four-year terms on the commission.

The deadline to register to vote in the general election is Tuesday, Oct. 17, and advance voting by mail or in person at the Douglas County Elections Office, 711 W. 23rd St. #1, begins the following day.

Below, voters will find a brief summary of each of the six candidates’ backgrounds and their reasons for seeking election, taken from the Journal-World’s election guide published in advance of the August primary election and from past stories on each candidate published after they filed for election. These summaries will also include a section highlighting issues each candidate has mentioned consistently at forums and other events during the past month.

Justine Burton

Occupation: Founder and executive director of StopGap Inc., a nonprofit organization which supports youth aging out of the foster care system, and caregiver with Home Instead senior care.

Justine Burton is pictured in this 2018 file photo.

Why she’s running: Burton said she decided to run for election because she sees a need to come up with alternatives for people experiencing homelessness and wants to make Lawrence a community where people can work together to make the community a better place for everyone.

What she’s saying: Burton has routinely called for the City Commission to make an effort to spur more development in North Lawrence and East Lawrence, areas she has said are neglected in comparison to the development occurring throughout the rest of the city. She’s especially focused on the need to repair dilapidated infrastructure and make the main thoroughfares into the city more welcoming, and to balance spending plans like the city’s Capital Improvement Plan in such a way that they encompass a vision for all of Lawrence.

• • •

Mike Dever

Occupation: Environmental consultant and owner of GuideWire Consulting. Dever served on the commission from 2007 to 2015, including two terms as mayor.

Mike Dever

Why he’s running: Dever said he decided to run because he felt the city needed stronger direction, and that his personal experience, education and leadership capabilities could serve the public.

What he’s saying: Like other candidates, Dever has said that one of the biggest issues facing the city right now is homelessness. But Dever has said it will take a more comprehensive short-term plan to solve the problem. He has also called for more clarity and public transparency about how the city coordinates its resources and works with community partners. He has said that current city initiatives on homelessness, such as the city-run campsite in North Lawrence and the Pallet Shelter Village of transitional housing that will be opened in the Pinkney neighborhood, have not been executed well.

• • •

Brad Finkeldei (incumbent)

Occupation: Attorney with Stevens & Brand LLP. Finkeldei was elected to his first term on the commission in 2019.

Brad Finkeldei

Why he’s running: Finkeldei said that now that the city has come through the COVID-19 pandemic and is making progress, he wants to continue that by finishing processes like revising the city’s Land Development Code, the rules for where and how the city should grow.

What he’s saying: Finkeldei has regularly said that the land development code is a vital part of a number of things the city needs to do, including boosting the city’s affordable housing stock and encouraging sustainable housing development. The city is currently in the process of updating the code, and Finkeldei chairs the city’s Land Development Code Update Steering Committee. He has also stressed the need for Lawrence to be looking ahead and preparing for the next large-scale industrial business development that could come to the area, beyond the Panasonic battery plant coming to nearby De Soto.

• • •

Amber Sellers (incumbent)

Occupation: Works in state policy with the Bureau of Family Health in the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. Sellers was elected to her first term on the commission in 2021.

photo by: Contributed

Amber Sellers

Why she’s running: Sellers said she developed a better understanding of the high-level aspects of how the city functions during her first year on the commission, which now puts her in a space where she can connect that with addressing policy issues.

What she’s saying: Sellers has said that instead of developing with a goal of attracting new residents who move to the area to work at the Panasonic plant, the city should instead have a more insular focus. She has said that Lawrence’s future needs related to schools and housing exceed any needs related to the possible impact from the plant. Sellers has also said the community’s role in police oversight is part of a “bigger continuum” where relationships between public safety officers and the community help to build a pathway to accountability.

• • •

Courtney Shipley (incumbent)

Occupation: Works as a property manager. Shipley was elected to her first term on the commission in 2019.

photo by: contributed photo

Courtney Shipley

Why she’s running: Shipley said she hopes to continue to move forward on various initiatives, including the implementation of the city’s strategic plan.

What she’s saying: Shipley has expressed an interest in advancing a number of priorities, including developing more 15-minute neighborhoods — where a resident’s workplace, school and shopping options are within a 15-minute walk or bike ride of their home — and bolstering the city’s code compliance office in an effort to address issues such as the presence of deteriorating and abandoned houses in some neighborhoods. Shipley has also expressed support for the City Commission’s more recent choices related to spending on initiatives to address homelessness, noting that doing so represents more of an effort to fill the gaps and take a leadership role in solving such issues.

• • •

Dustin Stumblingbear

Occupation: Community volunteer and former nonprofit board member.

photo by: contributed

Dustin Stumblingbear

Why he’s running: Stumblingbear said he understands the importance of city government and its impact on people’s daily lives, and he’s willing to bear the weight of those decisions on behalf of the community.

What he’s saying: Stumblingbear has said that he thinks the City Commission should be focusing more on developing affordable housing for all family sizes and income levels that is spread evenly across the city. He’s said that new housing developments should include more infill development, but that the city also should consider expanding its boundaries and coming up with creative ways to add mixed-use properties that blend residential and commercial interests. He has also emphasized that housing needs vary from one individual to another, and that the community should consider all family sizes and ages when it comes to future development.

Editor’s note: This story has been revised to reflect that all City Commission terms are for four years.


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