June 20, 2021
Lawrence, US 80 F
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A 4-year mayor and 6 Lawrence city commissioner districts among task force’s recommendations

The people of Lawrence should directly elect a mayor to serve a four-year term and six city commissioners broken down by districts, according to the city government study task force.

The task force members voted Thursday evening to finalize their draft report, and they’ll present it to the Lawrence City Commission on a date yet to be determined.

The short-term task force has met seven times over the past few months. Members have researched Lawrence’s form of municipal government and weighed it against other possible options.

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Currently, the mayor and vice mayor positions rotate each year to the commissioners who receive the most votes in elections. But the task force agreed that a four-year term for mayor would provide greater focus and continuity.

The report notes also that “campaigns for mayor might well improve the discourse over the city’s future and increase resident interest in municipal government in contrast to our current election of commissioners, none of whom directly campaign for mayor.”

Five total city commissioners are currently elected at large — meaning by voters across the whole city — rather than by voters split into districts. 

The task force is recommending that only the mayor be elected at large, and that six commissioners be elected to four-year terms by districts, staggered so that three are elected every two years. 

If broken into six districts of about 16,000 residents, with 11,000 voters each, the cost and barrier of running for that office would be lower than attempting a citywide campaign, according to the task force’s report. That could encourage a wider range of candidates to seek office, the memo states, and it could also increase engagement within districts. 

That’s the one point that was not fairly unanimous: task force member Rachel Reed said Thursday that she wanted to move forward with a unified voice, but she did not like that the recommendations don’t include two at-large city commissioners. 

But the task force nixed that option “due to the potential to cause confusion among voters without much apparent benefit,” their report states. 

Task force chair John Nalbandian said it’s up to the city commission, anyway — the commissioners can take the recommendations and do what they want with them.

The task force also discussed term limits but decided that wasn’t an issue they needed to address. The group’s final meeting was set for next week, but it has been canceled. 

Task force members included Nalbandian, Reed, Jim Carpenter, Eileen Horn, Dustin Stumblingbear, Burdett Loomis, Hugh Carter, Bonnie Johnson, John Wilson, Ursula Minor and Sami Turner.

Here’s the full draft:

Task-Force-Draft-Report-05-24-21

— Mackenzie Clark (she/her), reporter/founder of The Lawrence Times, can be reached via email at mclark@lawrencekstimes.com or 785-422-6363.

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