Update, 1:15 p.m. Tuesday, May 24:
The second meeting seeking public feedback about this issue has been postponed to 6 p.m. Tuesday, May 31 because of a power outage at City Hall.
The meeting will still be held via Zoom and in the City Commission Room at City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St. Register for the Zoom meeting at this link. Those who already registered to attend via Zoom do not need to re-register.
The headline of this article was also updated to reflect the meeting date change.
City leaders need feedback from the public in order to decide whether to ask voters if the local government should be restructured.
Among recommendations of a city task force — which completed its research and report on city government structure nearly a year ago — are a directly elected mayor who would serve a four-year term, and six city commissioners broken down by districts.
Members of the Lawrence City Commission will need to decide whether they want to put this question on the ballot for voters in the November election. City staff members are trying to gather input in order to advise the commission of whether the public wants that vote to go forward.
City spokesperson Porter Arneill led Monday’s meeting, the first of two planned public engagement sessions. Task force chair and former city commissioner John Nalbandian gave an overview of the report.
The only attendees present via Zoom for Monday’s meeting were Dustin Stumblingbear, who had served as a member of the task force, and this reporter. There were no attendees at City Hall in person to ask questions or share their thoughts.
The next meeting is set for 6 to 7 p.m. Tuesday, May 24. It will be held via Zoom and in the City Commission Room at City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St. Register for the Zoom meeting at this link.
A Lawrence Listens survey had received 113 responses as of Monday, according to the city website. The deadline to provide feedback via the survey is 11:59 p.m. on June 6. The city also welcomes feedback via email at email@example.com.
Currently, the mayor and vice mayor positions rotate each year to the commissioners who receive the most votes in elections. 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.”
Currently, five city commissioners are 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, and it could also increase engagement within districts, according to the report.
A couple of Lawrence locals shared their opinions on the task force’s recommendations through a column and a letter to the Times:
Matthew Herbert: 4 reasons why city commission districts are a bad idea for Lawrence (Column)
Letter to the Times: Districts would make city commissioners closer to constituents
More information is available at this link. Here’s the full report from the task force:Government-Task-Force-Report-5-2021
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Mackenzie Clark (she/her), reporter/founder of The Lawrence Times, can be reached at mclark (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.