Outgoing mayor speaks to unprecedented year; new mayor expects more challenges in the year ahead
photo by: Screenshot/City of Lawrence
Lawrence’s outgoing mayor said Tuesday that the city has shown strength this year despite many challenges, and her successor said he expects the city will overcome even more hurdles in the year ahead.
At its meeting Tuesday, the Lawrence City Commission followed its tradition and chose Brad Finkeldei, the top vote winner in the 2019 City Commission election, as the city’s new mayor. Finkeldei assumed the role from Jennifer Ananda as part of Tuesday’s meeting. Courtney Shipley, who won the second-highest number of votes in the 2019 election, will take over the position of vice mayor, which Finkeldei formerly held.
In a speech, Ananda highlighted the city’s resilience and flexibility amid a global pandemic and widespread protests for racial justice.
“I know that the word ‘unprecedented’ has been way overused in 2020, but never has this word been more apt,” Ananda said. “I don’t think that anyone could predict all of the challenges that this year would bring, from the pandemic to the much-needed challenge of beginning the work of dismantling systemic oppression built into the very foundation of our system’s structures to learning to run a city remotely.”
Ananda brought up several big accomplishments of the commission in the past year. Some of these were more mundane items, such as work on a new strategic plan and allocations of funds to address infrastructure needs. Others were unique to 2020’s hot-button issues, however, including the creation of a unified command structure so local leaders could cooperate to address pandemic-related needs. Regarding racial justice issues, Ananda highlighted that the city has contracted with a consulting firm to conduct a study of police department operations and the role police play in the community.
Also in her remarks, Ananda suggested changing the structure of city government so that voters would elect their mayor directly. She said that the city has grown in population and the pandemic has highlighted the need to have such a form of leadership. She suggested that the city set up a committee to study the issue, and Commissioner Lisa Larsen and Finkeldei both agreed that the possibility should be considered.
In his speech, Finkeldei also focused on the challenges of the pandemic. He said as he considered the past year and what 2021 will hold, he has been reminded of the state motto, “ad astra per aspera,” which means “to the stars through difficulties.” Finkeldei said the motto spoke to the tasks before the city for the coming year.
“Not to the stars through easy times; not to the stars with a few bumps in the road; but to the stars through difficultly,” Finkeldei said. “We have been faced with many difficult times in 2020, and we’ll be faced with more difficult times in 2021, but we will reach the stars through this difficulty.”
Finkeldei said that for him, the star the city is trying to reach is the mission statement included in the recently created framework for the strategic plan, which calls for creating a community “where all enjoy life and feel at home.” Finkeldei said finalizing the plan and focusing on achieving the goals it lays out would be key efforts in the year to come.