2020 Primary Voters Guide: Sara Taliaferro wants to bring thorough problem solving to Douglas County Commission

photo by: Contributed photo

Sara Taliaferro

Sara Taliaferro wants to bring a thorough process of problem solving to the Douglas County Commission, a skill she said she’s developed through her work in the community over the years.

Taliaferro, 57, said she’s been working as a community member on issues of homelessness and affordable housing for 25 years, including serving on a City of Lawrence task force for homeless services. She said in her experience, people often have ideas for fixing problems, but have not considered enough perspectives to have a deep and lasting impact.

“When you have a complex community problem, there isn’t going to be one single or one little checklist of things you can do that is going to change systems,” Taliaferro said.

Taliaferro is one of three Democratic candidates running for the County Commission’s 2nd District seat. If elected, Taliaferro said her method of problem solving — which she said includes listening to personal stories of people affected by an issue, looking for themes in patterns of those stories, speaking to all stakeholders and then creating a list of novel solutions — would be beneficial to the county.

“As a commissioner, I want to offer our community a much different way forward for our problem solving,” she said.

One of the issues she hopes to address is the county’s controversial plan to expand its jail, which many in the community have opposed. Taliaferro said she does not support the $29.6 million project, and the community needs “a complete reset” on the issue.

She said the county needs to consider more issues before an expansion project, including creating more alternative-to-incarceration opportunities for people in the justice system and providing more affordable housing and behavioral health services.

“We’re not doing enough to divert people on a more restorative path that doesn’t take them to jail in the first place,” Taliaferro said.

Housing and mental health also are issues Taliaferro said must be addressed during the coronavirus pandemic. As the county expects to receive funding from the federal government for pandemic relief, Taliaferro said the county needs to invest some of it into behavioral health and housing support.

As for land use, a common issue for the commissioners to consider, Taliaferro said each land use case often has many interrelated decisions. She said she believes the Lawrence-Douglas County Metropolitan Planning Commission does a good job considering the broader community needs when discussing land use and the joint city-county master plan, Plan 2040, offers strong guidance as well.

However, Taliaferro noted many land use cases, such as when the county issues conditional use permits, come with rules that the county is meant to enforce. But she said the county has been lax on that enforcement, which she believes needs to be fixed.

“They have these rules in place but haven’t been enforcing them, so they’ve argued themselves out of addressing it when it becomes a problem because they never have before,” she said. “That doesn’t make sense to me.”

Taliaferro is originally from Lawrence, but when she was young her family moved to Pennsylvania, where she graduated from high school and earned a bachelor’s degree in biology. She moved back to Lawrence to attend KU for graduate school and currently lives in Lawrence with her husband, Mark Jakubauskas, and their twin daughters.

She is now the owner and illustrator for Happy Beetle Studio, which provides natural science illustrations for books and journals.

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