Lawrence City Commission candidates mostly agree on environmental issues, Parks and Rec at forum
At a forum Saturday, candidates for the three open Lawrence City Commission seats were in broad agreement on a slate of questions about environmental issues and the Lawrence Parks and Recreation Department.
The forum, hosted by the Lawrence chapter of the NAACP, drew an audience of about 25 people to the Watkins Museum of History. Lois Orth-Lopez, assistant secretary of the NAACP chapter, moderated the event.
All six candidates were in attendance: incumbent Stuart Boley, a retired auditor and community volunteer; attorney Brad Finkeldei; call center supervisor Ken Easthouse; nonprofit worker Joey Hentzler; Rob Sands, a five-year member of the Lawrence-Douglas County Metropolitan Planning Commission; and Lawrence Association of Neighborhoods chair Courtney Shipley.
The candidates were in agreement on many of the issues, to the point that some of them joked it was difficult to find something to add when answering a question last.
One question dealt with a proposed fee that would be charged for single-use plastic and paper bags. The candidates were asked how they would use the proceeds from the 16-cent-per-bag fee if it were to go into effect. All of the candidates agreed with the recommendation of the city’s Sustainability Advisory Board — that the money should not be used to enhance the city’s general fund, but should instead be used to cover the cost of the program itself, to educate the public on its details and goals, and to provide free reusable bags to low-income shoppers.
Sands said the proposal wouldn’t be a lucrative revenue stream for the city in the first place, noting that it would yield less money the more it discouraged people to cut back on single-use bags.
And Hentzler said that while he agreed with the Sustainability Advisory Board on the need for the fee and on how it should be used, he wanted the City Commission to consider whether it would have a disproportionate impact on people of color. Throughout his campaign, Hentzler has advocated for the city to formally analyze the effects of all fees, projects and policies on minority groups before adopting them.
The candidates also were asked about another green issue: how the city could mitigate the consequences of climate change.
Shipley said the issue tied into a central theme of her campaign: the need to update the city’s stormwater master plan. Citing this summer’s floods, she said the stormwater plan should promote gravel parking lots and green spaces as ways to reduce runoff.
Sands agreed that the stormwater plan needed an update, and he added that the city should transition to a full electric vehicle fleet. And Boley said the city could reduce its impact on the environment by encouraging infill development, which would let the city “grow up and not out.”
All of the candidates also opposed charging entry fees to use Lawrence Parks and Recreation facilities other than swimming pools and Eagle Bend Golf Course, and Easthouse said he was in favor of using proceeds from the city’s transient guest tax, which is charged on hotel and motel stays, to help cover the department’s costs.
The last day to register to vote in this year’s school board and city elections is Tuesday. Advance voting for the election starts Wednesday. Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 5.
More coverage of the 2019 Lawrence City Commission election
Read up on all the candidates and issues in advance of the Nov. 5, 2019 election: ljworld.com/2019-election/