Why So Little Interest?
How many Lawrence residents are interested in the growth, development and welfare of their city? Really interested, not just casually interested, offering lip service, advice in the barber’s chair or bitching at the daily coffee club?
Truly interested and concerned?
Apparently not too many. Only six individuals have entered the upcoming election for city commissioners. Not enough for a primary contest.
The commissioners, with advice and/or help of a new incoming city manager, will mold actions and policies that could determine the development of the city for the next 15 to 20 years. They are the individuals who could okay a new master plan for downtown Lawrence and they will have a similar voice in most every other aspect of the city’s development.
Could there be any more important elected position in Lawrence?
Apparently the vast majority of citizens think everything is going great in Lawrence. They have been pleased and agree with the actions of recent city commissioners as well as the carry-overs from the current commission who will be a part of the new commission; they think everything has been going smoothly in city hall and that there is nothing to worry about regarding the future of Lawrence.
Conversely, those who have a record of valuable achievements and could be excellent members of the city commission are reluctant to be the target of harassment from politically correct zealots and elect to bypass a bid for a commission post.
The fact is, Lawrence and the University have been drifting in recent years but not enough citizens are sufficiently concerned to get involved and call for leadership, vision and courage to elevate both Lawrence and KU into positions of higher excellence.
Granted, a large percentage of Lawrence’s population is relatively new and does not know what Lawrence and the University were like 20 or more years ago. Maybe that’s one of the problems. Or, it could be that such a large number of Lawrence residents work in nearby Topeka or Kansas City and don’t know that much about the City or the University when they were alive, exciting, growing and recognized for their excellence. They were the envy of the rest of the state as well as similarly-sized university cities around the country.
What’s better in Lawrence today than it was 20 years ago? Clearly LMH Health is a better health center; Bert Nash is better and the community is more aware of problems relative to mental illness; Rock Chalk Park is a welcome addition although the way it was put together and various financial situations are a concern; the Community Shelter was a good project but it faces serious fiscal and management challenges; the South Lawrence Trafficway is a major improvement; and, the Lawrence Loop is a big plus for the city.
How about matters that are not as good today?
Clearly Downtown Lawrence is not as vibrant and strong; it’s weak with fewer locally-owned businesses offering a smaller selection of merchandise, particularly for people older than 25 years; and out of town ownership results in less commitment by operators of the stores to invest in the community.
There is far less community/city/university inter-relationship as in past years; fewer locally owned stores combined with greater sales shifted to large “box” stores leaves smaller retail outlets with less fiscal strength to participate in numerous worthy city/civic projects.
According to various rankings, KU dropped in its overall academic excellence; the school does not enjoy clout and respect is used to merit in Topeka as well as the rest of the state; there is no local ownership of the Journal-World, Midcontinent Cable (initially Sunflower Cable) and its local television operation, and no local ownership of radio station KLWN….all of which were committed to do what they could to improve and invest in the community; in the past those in City Hall (commissioners and city managers) operated with a philosophy of “how can we be of help” rather than telling potential business investors, industry officials and others wanting to invest in the city, “you can’t do that.”
Today, national search firms and developers say they like Lawrence, they point to its many assets, BUT, say they will not make a major investment in Lawrence with the current negative, discouraging message from city hall, the city commission and the soon-to-retire city manager.
It is highly unlikely anyone else is likely to be a candidate for the city commission.
There could be one practicing attorney on the new city commission and possibly three who identify themselves as community activists, neighborhood leaders or social advocates. They may have other interests such as zoning appeals and planning commissions, etc. but they identify themselves as neighborhood activists.
It’s good, proper and healthy for the city to have city commissioners interested in the welfare of neighborhoods and what affects these neighborhoods – good and bad.
However, it also would be good, proper and healthy to have some commissioners who could be identified as being private business owners and activists, job-providing activists, experienced growth builder activists, art activists, environmental activists, etc.
Running a city is big business and it is important to have city commissioners who merit the respect of the entire community for their knowledge, honesty and commitment to build Lawrence into the nation’s finest “university city.”
Likewise, it is important to have the leadership on Mt. Oread that inspires the faculty and students as well as people of Lawrence, legislators in Topeka and taxpayers throughout the state.
A winning combination of those in City Hall and in Strong Hall could do wonders for both.
Hopefully those elected as city commissioners, the new city manager and the relatively new KU chancellor will be able to combine their talents and energize their associates and citizenry.
It can’t be accomplished with a lackadaisical attitude relative to the city and university’s leadership.