Editorial: Get informed and go vote – preferably in that order

photo by: Journal-World Photo Illustration

Lawrence Journal-World Editorial

Of course, you should get out to vote on Tuesday, if you haven’t already done so through the popular advanced voting options that are now available.

If you haven’t figured out the importance of voting, you simply aren’t paying attention in today’s world. If you aren’t paying attention, one could argue, perhaps you shouldn’t vote. But that’s not the way it works in America. Being an educated voter is not a requirement, only a recommendation.

You can learn a lot about the candidates for local City Commission and school board races by checking out our voter guide on the homepage of LJWorld.com. At last count, it had 30 articles, including profiles on every City Commission and school board candidate, plus multiple articles on how they stand on certain issues.

Here’s a brief primer: Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesday. Voters will select three City Commission candidates from a field of six, and will choose four school board candidates from a field of five. Neither race has any districts. All of the seats are at-large, meaning any voter can vote for any of the candidates.

The City Commission race features a variety of issues. Some are a tad emotional, like whether the city ought to force property owners to pay to maintain the public sidewalks that run through their properties. Some voters are fired up about that one. The field is slightly divided on that issue. Four candidates — Ken Easthouse, Joey Hentzler, Rob Sands and Courtney Shipley — all have made statements generally supporting the city taking on the responsibility of maintaining those sidewalks. Stuart Boley and Brad Finkeldei have made statements generally supporting the current system of property owners maintaining those sidewalks, although with some modifications to the program.

Other issues facing the City Commission may be more dense but perhaps even more important. The issue of the city’s future growth policies will shape the community for years to come. While getting excited about a policy debate can be difficult, it will play a major role in how affordable a community Lawrence is for decades. The field is very divided on this issue. Easthouse, Finkeldei and Sands all have expressed concerns that the city may be poised to become too restrictive on future annexations, which they believe will create a supply and demand imbalance that will increase home prices. Boley, Hentzler and Shipley all have made statements indicating the city should become more restrictive in its annexation policy in an effort to control the city’s operating costs by controlling sprawl.

An issue that stands to get lost in the shuffle but should not is the topic of the city’s finances. The city’s last audit report was an embarrassment. More than $60 million in transactions had to be adjusted before auditors would sign off on the city’s finances. It was the second year in a row the city had a poor audit report. On a separate but related issue, it sure seems that city commissioners were asleep at the switch when it came to monitoring the finances of the utility department. At a time when the city was increasing water and sewer rates by 8%, a Journal-World review found the utility department was sitting on a huge pile of cash in its reserve funds. There still hasn’t been an explanation about why the reserve fund was allowed to grow so much larger than budgeted and why some of that money can’t be used to offset rate increases.

The field hasn’t been split on this issue much. Who is going to advocate for lax financial practices, after all? Boley — as the lone incumbent and a former auditor who touts the financial acumen he brings to the commission — probably has the most to answer for on that issue.

The school board race has produced less division on issues. The field has been pretty united on issues of equity for students and school security at district facilities, although the last issue has produced some differences on what role school resource officers — a special type of police officer — should play at district schools.

But in general, the school board field is closely enough aligned that voters are going to have to do the hard work of really studying the candidates and their nuances to make their choice.

And that is fine. There should be some hard work involved with elections. What will happen on Tuesday will be important. The least we all can do is put in the effort to be thoughtful and informed voters.

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