Lawrence City Commission to discuss option of directly elected mayor, other possible changes to city’s form of government

photo by: Mike Yoder

Lawrence City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St., is pictured Thursday, July 7, 2016

Lawrence city leaders will soon discuss the possibility of changing the city’s form of government, including having a directly elected mayor or election by districts.

As part of its study session Tuesday, the Lawrence City Commission will discuss alternative structures to the city’s current form of government, as well as potential procedures for making those changes. To inform the discussion, city legal staff will present a summary of all forms of city government, including the possibility of combining elements from multiple forms, and present options for how changes could be made.

Commissioner Jennifer Ananda, after finishing her yearlong term as mayor last month, suggested that the commission should consider whether it would benefit the city to have a directly elected full-time mayor. Her fellow city commissioners agreed that the topic was due for reconsideration, and Commissioner Lisa Larsen has also said she is interested in studying election by districts.

Lawrence has a commission-manager form of government, which employs an elected commission and an appointed professional city manager. The city doesn’t have a system of districts that would require the commissioner for each seat to live in a certain geographic area. Instead, the commission’s five members are elected at large and can come from anywhere in the city. Commissioners elect the mayor to a one-year term, and by tradition they choose based on whoever received the most votes in the most recent election, though there have been exceptions. The mayor presides over commission meetings and has ceremonial duties, but has no additional powers and, like other commissioners, works part-time.

According to a memo from city legal staff, there are two methods under Kansas law for a city to modify its form of government: a citywide election or a charter ordinance, which would have to be passed by four of the five commissioners and could still be put to a citywide vote if a valid protest petition were filed. If the commission wishes to consider the issue further, city staff is recommending that a committee be created to consider alternative forms of government and that any proposed changes be done by a citywide election.

The City Commission will convene virtually at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday with limited staff in place at City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St. The city has asked that residents participate in the meeting virtually if they are able to do so. A link to register for the Zoom meeting and directions to submit written public comment are included in the agenda that is available on the city’s website, lawrenceks.org.

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