Voters Guide: Lawrence City Commission candidates discuss their vision in their own words
photo by: Contributed and file photos
Editor’s note: The Journal-World asked the City Commission candidates to provide brief statements outlining their vision for the city. The candidates’ statements appear here as submitted, and have only been edited for spelling.
My Vision: STRENGTHENED FOUNDATION and GREATER COORDINATION
A renewed city wide strategic planning effort launches this fall. The resulting plan will provide guidance for decision making, expenditure of resources and the work of city staff. I anticipate the plan will focus on city core services, including police, fire and medical services, transportation infrastructure and public transit, water and wastewater services, storm water infrastructure, and parks and recreation. We bring an open mind to the ideas and experience of our new city manager and successfully incorporate all voices in our community as we make decisions regarding programs and services.
The city and county come to a positive resolution of the issues that have divided us recently, resulting in enhanced equity and management efficiency. The city/county relationship is strengthened because of our willingness to engage in these tough conversations and not because we simply ignored our differences.
The city’s budgeting and financial reporting processes continue to improve. The work of the past four years has brought progress, especially the new best practice of bringing in a new auditor every few years. The next audit will reflect many fewer adjustments than the recent one. Financial reporting systems are upgraded to enhance staff capabilities. Transparency continues to be a high priority for our management and finance staff.
We will experience growth as a community. Successes in both economic development and in providing affordable housing will result from the application and coordination of effort and resources by the city, our citizens and businesses.
Lawrence is a unique city in all of the Midwest, let alone Kansas. We have a love of arts and music, a slight obsession with basketball, a soft spot for folks who need help, and a community atmosphere that is the envy of every other city in Kansas. We think we’re pretty great, and I happen to agree. With that, though, comes some realizations: if we are so great, why do we have so many problems? Our affordable housing shortfalls have been ongoing for years, our economic development is routinely underwhelming, and despite our enlightened ideals, we have a long way to go from living up to them.
In the next four years, I hope to address those problems and more. We need to address affordable housing, understanding we cannot simply force people to lower prices. We need to set a path for long term economic growth, to transform us from a bedroom community wedged between two larger metro areas into a regional economic power in our own right. And we need to plan for the future whatever it may be, and not the future we are hoping for with policies that only benefit the here and now.
Four years isn’t enough time to solve all of our big problems in Lawrence. But by acknowledging them, we can begin the work that won’t be finished in one political term. We need that kind of vision for the future.
My vision for the City of Lawrence for the next four years is no different than my vision for Lawrence over the next fifty years. That is, my vision for Lawrence is that it is a thriving, caring, dynamic and welcoming community. A place where everyone who wants to work in Lawrence can and everyone who wants to live in Lawrence can afford to do so. It will also be a great place to raise your kids as well as a great place to retire.
I envision a community that is walkable, bikeable and responsive to changes in transportation. A community that has a variety of housing types, densities and residential living options. A community with a downtown second to none. And a community where everyone has the opportunity to experience the arts — music, theatre, sculpture, murals, poetry — as well as recreational activities — youth and adult sports, hiking, cycling, running, and other outdoor experiences.
And I envision a community that cares for each other. One in which we feed the hungry and shelter the homeless. That we have excellent health care — both mental and physical. And that we help each other in times of need.
Some will say this vision is just an unattainable dream. However, I would say that, although obtaining this vision will be difficult, I look forward to partnering with those in the community that have a similar vision, because it is only with everyone working together that we can make this unattainable dream a reality.
My vision for Lawrence is a community that lives up to its professed progressive values. City Commission should lead with smart, bold policies to take action on Climate Change, invest in a green economy, and make sure we take care of our neighbors as we enter a future of increasingly extreme weather events. This includes common sense proposals like solar panels on city buildings and a progressive utility rate structure.
The City should ensure working class families have access to safe, affordable housing. Lawrence should strengthen its rental inspection process and protections for tenants. We can help seniors, residents with disabilities, and low-income residents stay in their homes while making sure big developers and property managers pay their fair share. All neighborhoods in Lawrence should be a part of solving our housing problem.
Everything that City Commission considers should include analysis of racial and health disparities. The 2018 Health Equity report showed Black and Latinx residents live, on average, 5 and 4 years less than White residents, respectively. Residents in North and East Lawrence live 8 years less on average than residents in other parts of our community. This is an emergency. The City should recognize its historic disinvestment in these neighborhoods and communities and pursue policy and development agendas to make sure all residents can lead happy, healthy lives. Together, we can build a more democratic economy and just systems for all our neighbors in Lawrence.
I think we are starting to see some stark differences in candidates that ARE worried about the issue of housing affordability and availability, and those that are not. In the next two years, if the number of building permits hold, The city WILL run out of infill lots. During that time, prices of lots inside the city, existing home prices, rents, and property taxes are all going to climb higher than we have seen even in recent history. In the next four years, the city commission is going to have to make some serious housing positive decisions that allow citizens choice in where and how they want to live. We have two years to hire a new Planning Director; adopt more flexible codes that encourage good, appropriate, and slightly more dense infill; write a strategic plan with the new city manager that prioritizes affordable and available housing; and determine what policies are working and which are failing. The next two years after that, staff and the city commission will have to scale those policies that worked, and continue to build on any successes. This takes commissioners that have experience in planning and zoning, the ability to work with others over the long term to achieve shared visions, the ability to speak the same language as staff to get at the heart of the problem, and the leadership skills to interact constructively with members of the public.
My vision for the next four years as a City Commissioner begins with my belief that our City can be accessible, welcoming, and affordable for all; promote engagement with its citizenry; and value its community partnerships.
When the new Commission implements an equitable, comprehensive Sidewalk Maintenance policy, by the second or third year we could see observable, functional change in neighborhoods where pedestrian traffic reaches downtown, schools, and public transportation.
The new Commission should direct a new Stormwater Masterplan be completed by 2020. Within four years we can begin implementing modern mitigation solutions based on updated floodplain information and, if feasible, extrapolations based on climate change impacts.
Although Plan 2040 will be a regular topic of commission meetings for years, its impact on growth in our community will be indefinite. Therefore, we should honor its intention to provide for sustainability, schools, greenspace, healthy built environment, economic development, and accessibility.
As a growing community we must also find new fiscal strategies to address infrastructure maintenance. A Cost of Growth Study will help identify the gaps that presently exist when new development occurs so that we can craft policy that accounts for generational maintenance.
The next commission must be vigilant in considering racial, gender, and health equity when crafting policy. Like homelessness, equity issues cannot be solved in four years, however the next commission can dedicate itself to working with community partners to address systemic disparity.
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/