Lawrence City Commission discusses field operations campus, public camera policy

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The city’s plans for a 75-acre field operations facility in eastern Lawrence moved forward at Tuesday’s Lawrence City Commission meeting.  

The proposed facility would consolidate several municipal operation divisions into one campus at the city’s Farmland site in eastern Lawrence. The project is intended to address previously voiced needs from the city’s Public Works, Water/Wastewater and Parks and Recreation departments that could be better served by sharing space and resources.  

In neighborhood meetings in June and August, city staff and a design team from Dake Wells Architecture gathered input from residents from the Brook Creek neighborhood who would be impacted by the project. According to engineering program manager Andy Ensz, the neighbors voiced several concerns, ranging from noise and odors to disruption of open space. 

In response, Dan Maginn of Dake Wells Architecture said city staff and the design team plan to relocate the facilities further east from the neighborhood and would conduct a sustainability analysis to look into how to preserve greenspace and energy. Commissioners approved a reallocation of about $384,000 that originally was allocated to the project’s design phase for these steps.

“There are a lot of moving parts and we would need to study exactly what goes where,” Maginn said. “It’s our goal that the campus be a good neighbor, and an example of sustainable design that the city can be proud of.”

In other business, commissioners and city staff heard an update from Interim Police Chief Adam Heffley on the formation of the city’s drone and public safety camera policy. The policy would allow the installation and use of camera systems throughout the city for traffic and public safety purposes. These cameras would be overseen by numerous departments in the city and would be limited to public spaces.

The review of this policy follows a September meeting in which city staff and commissioners reviewed various shortcomings and goals of the Lawrence Police Department, and commissioners raised concerns and questions about the surveillance policy. Since then, Heffley said he has met with an ACLU representative and representatives from the Douglas County Libertarians to gather feedback and address community concerns about the policy possibly intruding on people exercising their First Amendment rights.

“I completely agree with them and share their concern that that is a tool that can be used, and if not controlled properly, abused,” Heffley said. “This policy, like most of our policies, requires adherence. And with the violation of that, there’s progressive discipline, including forfeiture of any access to that system and then on up to including termination, depending on the nature of the violation.”

No action was taken on the item, but commissioners thanked Heffley for the update and commended the work that has gone into drafting the policy so far. Mayor Brad Finkeldei noted that this type of surveillance is becoming more common in commercial use and said he anticipates this will soon move into municipal operations as well.

“I know it’s an ongoing process for some of other departments, but I appreciate us moving this forward,” Finkeldei said. “We need to be ready for that process and I think this is the first step towards that.”

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