City Commission approves new meeting procedure, advisory board policies, including changes to general public comment period

photo by: Rochelle Valverde/Journal-World

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

Late Tuesday night, the Lawrence City Commission approved a number of changes to how the governing body receives general public comment, including one that moves the comment period toward the end of the weekly meeting agenda.

The changes were part of more than a dozen resolutions and ordinances that would codify new advisory board, ethics and meeting procedure policies, which were all grouped under a single agenda item.

Around 11:15 p.m., commissioners voted 4-0, with Commissioner Amber Sellers abstaining, to adopt the resolution addressing meeting procedures with a series of amendments. As proposed, the resolution would have moved the general public comment period — reserved for items not scheduled for discussion on the regular agenda but germane to city business — to the end of the weekly meeting agenda and would have required commenters to sign up in advance with their name and address.

Instead, commissioners decided to move general public comment from its current position near the beginning of the meeting to the eighth item on the list following the city manager’s report. Under that order, the only two items that will take place after the general public comment period will be commission items and the City Commission calendar.

During the meeting, commissioners discussed the balance between hearing comments during that period and public comments specific to each agenda item. Commissioner Brad Finkeldei said he didn’t see moving the general public comment period as imposing a “limit” but instead as an opportunity to prioritize feedback on the business before the commission each week.

Generally, though, the group reached a consensus on avoiding moving the period to the very end of the meeting.

“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I’m not of the mind to push public comment to the end,” Commissioner Amber Sellers said. “We’ve had these conversations. We’ve talked about it as it relates to where we get in the agenda, the inequity that it creates by moving it to the end. That is not creating accessibility.”

The group also decided not to require that people providing general public comment sign up in advance with their name and address, but instead those commenters will be encouraged to provide a name and ZIP code at each meeting.

The last amendment to that resolution will allow commissioners to motion for meetings to continue past 11 p.m., which was included in the city’s existing policies but not in the new ones.

The general public comment period will no longer be broadcast live — another change approved Tuesday that didn’t receive any amendments — but commissioners requested that it be filmed so it can be included with the recording posted online after each meeting.

Per the resolution, those changes will take effect immediately.


Commissioners unanimously adopted another two resolutions. Resolution No. 7472 enacts standard policies and procedures for advisory boards, commissions and task forces — with a pair of amendments approved as part of the vote related to sections on vacancies and training — and Resolution No. 7473 lays out a new ethics policy for elected officials, appointees, volunteers and city employees.

A set of ordinances approved Tuesday — again by a 4-0 vote with Sellers abstaining — align advisory boards to the work of the city’s strategic plan. That includes combining the Multi-modal Transportation Commission and Public Transit Advisory Committee into a “Connected City Advisory Board,” while other boards remain intact and grouped under specific branches of the plan.

Finally, commissioners voted unanimously to adopt another set of ordinances that “sunset” a group of six volunteer boards, including the Sustainability Advisory Board.

Ahead of the meeting, dozens of community members submitted written comments opposing the proposed changes to public comment, as well as a recommendation from city staff to dissolve the Sustainability Advisory Board. More people who spoke at Tuesday’s meeting in person also voiced concern about the proposed public comment and Sustainability Advisory Board changes. The City Commission has previously recommended against dissolving the board.

While commissioners went ahead with “sunsetting” the board as it currently exists, they directed the group to work with city staff to develop a purpose statement between now and September, when the new policies will take effect for advisory boards and commissions. From there, the City Commission can consider adopting a “reimagined” sustainability policy board.

The other items on the agenda for Tuesday night — consideration of an ordinance adopting recommendations from the city’s Community Police Oversight Work Group in the city’s code and a work session on strategic actions related to the prosperity and economic security outcome area of the city’s strategic plan — were both deferred until a future meeting.

In other business, commissioners:

* Approved an ordinance by a 3-1 vote, with Vice Mayor Mike Dever opposed and Commissioner Amber Sellers abstaining, amending the section of the city’s code related to disorderly conduct to include “fighting words,” which the city now defines as “words that by their very utterance inflict injury or tend to incite the listener to an immediate breach of peace.”

The ordinance appeared on the meeting’s consent agenda, which includes items that are generally considered routine and can be approved by one vote from commissioners without any discussion, but was pulled for further discussion and an individual vote by Commissioner Lisa Larsen.

The ordinance also removes the definition of “using offensive, obscene or abusive language or engaging in noisy or offensive or other conduct tending reasonably to arouse alarm, anger or resentment in others,” which Commissioner Brad Finkeldei said was language that was recently struck down by the Kansas Supreme Court.

Assistant City Attorney Laura Graham told commissioners that the city consulted with the Kansas League of Municipalities about the new language, which plans to adopt the same definition when publishing updated policies later this year. The state of Kansas’ statute already includes the new language.

Some members of the public, meanwhile, pointed to previous court decisions — including some at the U.S. Supreme Court level — as reason that the fighting words doctrine is too vague and could be used to violate people’s free speech rights when it’s actually applied legally.

* Unanimously approved a joint resolution with the Douglas County Commission adopting “A Place for Everyone” as the community’s strategic plan to end chronic homelessness.

The resolution originally appeared on the meeting’s consent agenda but was pulled for further discussion and an individual vote by Larsen. Each commissioner voiced support for the plan, with Dever calling it a “blueprint” for the community’s future actions and Sellers calling it a “rising tide that could help lift a lot of boats here in this community.”

The County Commission will consider adopting the joint resolution as part of its Wednesday meeting.

* Held a public hearing on the 2024 Annual Action Plan regarding the city’s Community Development Block Grant and HOME Investment Partnerships Program, and opened a 30-day public comment period for the plan.


Welcome to the new Our old commenting system has been replaced with Facebook Comments. There is no longer a separate username and password login step. If you are already signed into Facebook within your browser, you will be able to comment. If you do not have a Facebook account and do not wish to create one, you will not be able to comment on stories.