Lawrence city commissioners on Tuesday will resume a discussion on the city’s form of government and whether to ask voters if they want to directly elect a mayor.
The ongoing conversation is about potential changes to the city government. A task force suggested that rather than the current five city commissioners who are elected at large — meaning by voters across the whole city, rather than by districts — the city should have six commissioners who each represent a district of Lawrence.
The task force also recommended that voters should directly elect a mayor to serve a four-year term. Currently, the mayor and vice mayor positions rotate every year to the commissioners who receive the most votes in elections.
The change, according to the commission’s meeting agenda materials, would also lead to all five commissioners being elected to four-year terms. Currently, three commissioners are elected every two years — two are elected to four-year terms, and the third-place candidate is elected to a two-year term.
The mayor position, under the task force’s recommendations, would not have different responsibilities from regular commissioner positions. Mayor Courtney Shipley raised several concerns during the Aug. 9 meeting, including that a directly elected mayor position could make campaigning for the seat much more expensive and competitive for a position that sounds like it has more influence than it actually does.
However, if the commission agrees Tuesday to put the question on voters’ ballots, and if voters on Nov. 8 vote in favor of the change, the commission would need to pass ordinances establishing the responsibilities of the mayor and commissioners under the new form of government, according to the meeting agenda.
If voters do approve the measure, two commission seats and the mayor position would be up for election every four years beginning in November 2023. In the other odd-year elections (beginning in November 2025), two commission seats would be up for election.
Following discussion at their Aug. 9 meeting, commissioners came to a consensus that they did not want to ask voters if they want to elect six councilmembers by districts. Some said they might be in favor of four commission seats elected by districts and two elected at large.
But they also said that as the Douglas County Commission has already decided to ask voters on Nov. 8 whether that governing board should expand to five seats, this year might not be a great time to put another question on the ballot.
Here’s the question that would appear on the ballot, according to the commission’s meeting agenda materials:
“Shall the City of Lawrence, Kansas, abandon the Commission-Manager form of government and adopt the Mayor-Commission-Manager form of government and become a city operating under the Mayor-Commission-Manager form of government?”
Commissioners must decide by Sept. 1 whether they want to present the question to the county clerk for Nov. 8 ballots. Tuesday’s is the last regularly scheduled meeting before that date.
The commission accepts written public comment in writing ahead of meetings — comments must be received by noon the day of the meeting at firstname.lastname@example.org — and live public comment during meetings in person and virtually. Register to join the Zoom meeting at this link.
Are you ready to vote? You can register, double-check your registration and/or request an advance ballot by mail at KSVotes.org. The deadline to register to vote in the Tuesday, Nov. 8 general election is Oct. 18.