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Bart Littlejohn, Amber Sellers sworn in as newest Lawrence city commissioners

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Commission elects Courtney Shipley as mayor, Lisa Larsen as vice mayor

New Lawrence City Commissioners Bart Littlejohn and Amber Sellers were sworn into office Tuesday night, joined by recently re-elected incumbent Lisa Larsen. 

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And in keeping with tradition, Mayor Brad Finkeldei nominated Commissioner Courtney Shipley as the next mayor; the new commission unanimously voted in her favor. In turn, Shipley nominated Larsen for vice mayor, and the commission promptly affirmed. 

It was emotional for the newly elected leaders, the commission they joined, and the two commissioners who attended the final meetings of their terms Tuesday, Jennifer Ananda and Stuart Boley

Carter Gaskins / The Lawrence Times Newly elected Lawrence City Commissioner Amber Sellers, right, is greeted by Courtney Shipley, center, and Brad Finkeldei on Dec. 7, 2021.

Sellers said she didn’t think words could express the feelings she’s experienced since election night. She said she has served the public as an employee of the state, and she takes on this new capacity of service “with a humble heart.”

“This is going to be a transformational journey for us,” Sellers said. 

She said she wants to work together, and to be held accountable as she will hold others accountable.

“These sleeves have been rolled up for a while,” Sellers said, “so, yeah — ready to work!”

Carter Gaskins / The Lawrence Times Bart Littlejohn speaks after being sworn in as a Lawrence city commissioner on Dec. 7, 2021.

Littlejohn said he looked forward to working with fellow commissioners, and he was grateful to those who had helped him get where he was, including previous candidates who paved the way in their runs for office.

“I want to thank my fellow candidates, and all out there, as well as those who may not have even voted for me,” he said. “You helped me to see some of my blind spots and I hope you continue to do so going forward.”

“… I ran because I wanted to help, and I believe that we’re best when we work for everyone,” he said. 

Carter Gaskins / The Lawrence Times Vice Mayor Lisa Larsen speaks after being sworn in again as a Lawrence city commissioner on Dec. 7, 2021.

Larsen seemed surprised by her own emotions as she thanked city staff for their work. 

“You know, I’ve always believed that public service is a noble cause,” she said, pausing briefly. “And I want to thank our employees for their hard work and dedication to our community. I greatly appreciate your service.”

She said she thinks it’s important that the city work this year to navigate budget considerations, reduce expenditures and work toward financial sustainability. 

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“I believe it will be shortsighted to take on any new endeavors until we get our own house in order and we work to properly fund the current programs that help community members live a better, more equitable life,” she said.

“I believe every challenge comes with an opportunity that will make our community better. It will force us to think beyond the norm in that we make programs more efficient and work better for our community. I’m up for the challenge.”

Carter Gaskins / The Lawrence Times Courtney Shipley was elected mayor of Lawrence on Dec. 7, 2021.

In her comments as new mayor, Shipley thanked city staff for their work throughout the pandemic. 

“Their dedication should be the envy of all Kansas municipalities,” she said. “I also would like to thank our executive team for their ceaseless efforts to align operations and the budget with our new strategic plan and for consistently cultivating partnerships to solve emerging community issues.” 

She said in the next year, the city will continue to update the land development code and develop neighborhood and area plans through an enhanced approach to public engagement, environmental sustainability, and equity and inclusion. 

“I hope to see a level of communication facilitated among neighborhoods and stakeholders never before seen in Lawrence,” she said.

“… In my view, our mission to create a community where all enjoy life and feel at home calls on Lawrence as a community to recognize historic and systemic injustices, educating ourselves about Lawrence’s legacy of colonization and white supremacy, and acknowledging the negative impact they have on the lives of our Indigenous, Black and Brown neighbors,” Shipley said. “Those are steps we can take to show our earnest desire to make Lawrence feel safe for all people.”

The new commission meets next at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 14. 

Carter Gaskins / The Lawrence Times Amber Sellers, right, embraces Bart Littlejohn after both are sworn in as Lawrence city commissioners on Dec. 7, 2021.
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Mackenzie Clark (she/her), reporter/founder of The Lawrence Times, can be reached at mclark (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com or 785-422-6363. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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