Rock Chalk Park opponent files for City Commission seat; other campaign updates; pair of restaurants set to open next week

This is the way it goes in Lawrence these days. As soon as you get your turkey bib, your gravy fountain and your 42-inch pumpkin pie pan put away from Thanksgiving, we jump right into the next season. I, of course, am talking about Lawrence City Commission election season.

We’re in it, and we now have our second official candidate for the race. Lawrence resident Matthew Herbert has filed for one of the three seats that will be up for election on the five-member commission. Herbert is a Lawrence High civics and government teacher, and also operates a rental business, Renaissance Property Management.

Based on his website, he’s concerned with some of the past actions of the City Commission. He criticizes the increasing use of tax abatements and other financial incentives for private projects.

“As a Lawrence city commissioner I will promote economic development so long as it is done the right way,” Herbert says. “It would be my expectation that private industry finance private development with private dollars.”

Herbert also made it clear he was not a fan of the process used to move forward with the Rock Chalk Park project. He called the process, which involved nearly $12 million worth of infrastructure being built without a bid, a “fiasco.”

“The ‘no-bid’ contract that was handed out is inexcusable,” Herbert said. “As a city commissioner you are a steward of the public’s money. Mega-million dollar deals need to be both bid and bid with transparency. Whenever possible this type of expenditure must be put to a public vote.”

I’ve got a call out to Herbert and hope to bring you more information about him later today.

I’ve also been talking with some other potential candidates recently. Current City Commissioner Terry Riordan told me last night that he hopes to make a decision on whether to seek re-election in the next couple of weeks.

“I’m going out and talking to people I know, and seeing what they think,” Riordan said.

Riordan, who is a longtime physician in the community, acknowledged it has been kind of a controversial time period on the commission. He’s only in his second year on the commission, and thus got in on just the end of the Rock Chalk Park debate. But concerns about that project have lingered, and the City Commission took some criticism for the unsuccessful effort to pass a sales tax to support a new police headquarters facility. And don’t forget rental licensing. Those new regulations, which Riordan was a strong supporter of, made a lot of neighborhood residents happy, but left some landlords miffed. So, indeed, it has been an active two-year term for Riordan.

“I would like to be confident that I’m doing what the citizens want,” Riordan said of his current conversations.

For what it is worth, I think Riordan would like to run again.

“I’ve loved it,” he said of his time on the commission. “It is a tremendous opportunity to help the community.”

I’m less clear on the plans of current Lawrence school board member Kris Adair. I also chatted with her last night — we were all at a City Commission meeting — and she said she is still pondering a run for the City Commission. She said she doesn’t plan to make a decision until after Christmas.

Adair has a few things to think about. She has said she likely would resign her position on the Lawrence school board if she won a term on the City Commission. Adair also finds herself involved in an issue that is pending before the City Commission. She is a co-owner of Wicked Broadband, which is seeking a $300,000 loan guarantee from the city as part of a pilot project to bring Google Fiber-like high-speed Internet service to parts of downtown Lawrence.

Commissioners had a study session on that topic on Tuesday, but reached no decisions. But it looks like that issue will be decided one way or another before the April elections. Again, for what it is worth, Adair is starting to sound like a candidate. She’s taken a strong interest in economic development issues. As we have previously reported, she’s behind a project to start the Lawrence Center for Entrepreneurship in a commercial building near Ninth and Iowa streets.

She said the center is expected to be open by Feb. 1, and she plans to serve as its director. The facility will serve as a center to help Lawrence residents build new businesses. It will include co-working space for businesses, a data center, a lab that can be used for some prototype work, and will host several entrepreneurship-based classes.

If she runs, it sounds like a change in economic development policy will be a major part of her campaign. She delivered public comment at last night’s City Commission meeting highlighting the poor results of the community’s job creations efforts over the last 10 years.

I’m also expecting at least two other Lawrence residents to file for the commission relatively soon. Eric Sader, a Lawrence attorney who also has a background in the social services industry, has told me he expects to file for a seat in early December. Leslie Soden, a small-business owner who has been active in the East Lawrence Neighborhood Association, continues to indicate she will run for a seat. She ran two years ago and narrowly missed winning a seat on the commission.

Current Commissioners Mike Dever and Bob Schumm both have terms that are expiring. Neither has made an official announcement, although Schumm has made comments indicating he is leaning toward running. Dever has said he likely won’t make a decision until January. If Dever runs again, he would be seeking his third consecutive term on the commission.

Certainly, Greg Robinson, a leader of the police sales tax opposition group, has been mentioned as a possible candidate, although I don’t have a clear sense on whether he will run. I’m hearing other names that are early in the process as well. All indications are there will be a large number of candidates in the race.

If seven or more candidates file for a seat on the commission, we’ll have a primary election to whittle the field to six on March 3. The general election will be April 7. The filing deadline for the race is noon on Jan. 27.

In other news and notes from around town:

• Prior to Herbert’s filing, Stan Rasmussen, a Lawrence-Douglas County planning commissioner and an attorney for the U.S. Army, was the lone candidate who had filed. I briefly reported on his filing last month, but he wasn’t immediately available for an interview because of some work responsibilities.

But we did get together for an interview recently, and he said he’ll spend a lot of time in the campaign talking about the need for good long-term planning.

“You don’t go buy yourself a fancy new car in the summer and then say in September that I forgot I had tuition coming due,” Rasmussen said. “I have heard the questions from people about how did we put some of these wants and nice things ahead of a police facility that seems more like a need. Whether that is accurate or not, that perception is out there.”

Rasmussen said he fully expects another proposal for a police facility to emerge.

“The process of building consensus in the community for where and what and how we’re going to pay for a new police station will be really important,” he said.

He also said that the City Commission needs to be mindful of making sure the entire community feels like it is benefiting from new projects.

“I really want to work towards shared prosperity,” Rasmussen said. “If I put myself in the shoes of someone who lives in Prairie Park, going to Rock Chalk Park is probably not where I’m going to go to work out. I think it is understandable that some people feel a little left behind.”

Rasmussen also told me that he is resigning his position on the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission because he does not think it would be appropriate to run a campaign while serving on that board.

• You may want to drag out that Thanksgiving bib after all. Next week will be a big week for restaurants that have been known to make my tie look like a Picasso painting. Buffalo Wild Wings will open its new location at 27th and Iowa streets on Monday. It will be giving away free wings for a year to the first 100 people who are in line for the 10 a.m. opening of the restaurant.

As we previously reported, Buffalo Wild Wings has closed its downtown location to move to the new South Iowa spot, which is caddy-corner from Dick’s Sporting Goods.

I’m also being told that Dickey’s Barbecue Pit expects to be open by the end of next week, according to the landord of the space at Sixth and Wakarusa. As we previously have reported, that chain is taking the spot previously occupied by Johnny Brusco’s pizza.

One restaurant tid-bit that I’m getting some questions about but don’t yet have any answers on is Texas Roadhouse. Some of you have been to some area Texas Roadhouse locations and have been told by employees there that the steakhouse chain is coming to Lawrence, likely along South Iowa. I’m working to get some more information on that front, but at the moment have no confirmation on those rumors.