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Meet the 2023 Lawrence City Commission primary candidates

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Meet the candidates who are running to fill three Lawrence City Commission seats that are up for election.

The Aug. 1 primary election will narrow the eight candidates down to six, who will face off in the Tuesday, Nov. 7 general election.

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Lawrence City Commission positions are paid and nonpartisan. There are five total positions.

Check out more of our election coverage, including stories on candidate forums, at lawrencekstimes.com/election2023.

Jump to a question/section:

Briefly, why do you want to serve on the Lawrence City Commission?
What do you think is the most pressing issue facing the city, and what solutions do you have to fix it?
Free space: What else do you want our readers to know ahead of the Aug. 1 primary election?
Just for fun

Meet the candidates

Justine Burton

Pronouns: N/A
Age: N/A
Lived in Lawrence: Lifer Attended school in Eudora and Lawrence. (I left in 1973 returned 1986)
Best way to reach me: Email, HappyJack8463@aol.com
Website and/or social media links: N/A

Michael Dever

Pronouns: he/him
Age: 60
Lived in Lawrence: 38 years total
Best way to reach me: Phone: 785-550-4909; email: mdever14@gmail.com
Website and/or social media links: mdever.com

Brad Finkeldei (incumbent)

Pronouns: he/him
Age: 50
Lived in Lawrence: 23 years continuous, 25 years total
Best way to reach me: Email or phone, BFinkeldei@stevensbrand.com or 785-550-9699
Website and/or social media links: finkeldeiforlawrence.org

Chris Flowers

Pronouns: he/him
Age: My license says 44, but I had some birthdays that didn’t take. I lost count of the times I had to repeat 29 because my body kept rejecting 30 like a bad hair transplant 🙁
Lived in Lawrence: since 1999
Best way to reach me: Text me at 785-917-1800 or email at flowerslfk@protonmail.com or wcpcorner@gmail.com
Website and/or social media links: Facebook, Flowers4LFK; Twitter, @flowersLFK

August Rudisell/Lawrence Times Lawrence City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St.
Joshua Olafson

Did not respond to our questionnaire but participated in a July 15 forum

Amber Sellers (incumbent)

Pronouns: she/her
Age: 42
Lived in Lawrence: 13 years
Best way to reach me: Email, asellers@lawenceks.org; phone, 785-813-1381
Website and/or social media links: sellers4lawrence.org; Twitter, @Sellers4LCC; Facebook, Sellers for Lawrence Commission

Courtney Shipley (incumbent)

Pronouns: she/her
Age: It is interesting to me that under normal emploment circumstances that question would be an HR violation or at least interpreted as descrimanatory.
Lived in Lawrence: I’ve lived in Lawrence over 30 years.
Best way to reach me: Email, cshipley@lawrenceks.org; phone, 785-764-8998
Website and/or social media links: courtneyforcommission.com; Facebook, Courtney Shipley – Lawrence City Commissioner

Dustin Stumblingbear

Pronouns: (skipped)
Age: 44
Lived in Lawrence: 20 years
Best way to reach me: Email, teamstumblingbear@gmail.com
Website and/or social media links: (skipped)

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Q: Briefly, why do you want to serve on the Lawrence City Commission?

Burton: I would like to see more attention focused to bring North Lawrence and East Lawrence to be recognized as being part of Lawrence. Downtown buildings set vacant and should be brought up to code. Several buildings on 23rd street sit vacant for a number of years should be maintained or torn down. Some Lawrence of our strip mall spaces is empty and dilapidated. This is unacceptable. Lawrence City Commission’s focus should be on ALL of the communities not just sections. From any point of entrance into Lawrence it should be welcoming and I do not see that.

Dever: I believe now is the time where my previous city commission experience, leadership and institutional knowledge can best serve our community and I feel the need to act. I also can invest the time and energy it takes to do the job, after an 8-year hiatus. What I want to immediately focus on as a commissioner, is the current and past response to unhoused citizens in Lawrence and identifying ways to better utilize the existing medical, mental health, drug addiction and short-term housing resources currently available. We need to assure citizens that the City has a specific near-term plan in place to urgently move unhoused individuals to existing shelter and transitional housing services. The current inhumane conditions the City has allowed to persist within our homeless and transient community is unsafe and unsustainable.I want to help be a part of the leadership to see that happen. I also believe the creation of residential housing from the public and private sector, and a long-term plan to accommodate the needs of a growing community, must be a top priority for the City.

Finkeldei: It has been an honor to serve this community both during the pandemic and as we have moved beyond the pandemic into a brighter future. I am passionate about continuing to serve our community by expanding our housing stock at all price points, working to solve our issues surrounding our houseless population, and fostering business growth. I want to e continue to work together to build a community where all enjoy life and feel at home.

Flowers: I’d like to serve because we need fresh voices on the commission. I’m a renter and make less than $40k a year. We need more blue collar workers in politics. We also need people who are willing to look at criminal justice reform. We need less rules and ordinances and more freedom. If elected, I will fight to decriminalize magic mushrooms. We did it for marijuana users, why not for psilocybin users?! Studies have shown that it can help those with PTSD, and I know there are some citizens in town using mushrooms for their mental health through a process known as microdosing. I would also like to improve our roads and quit wasting some of our money. The city can run a survey in which most of the respondents will say they don’t want something built, yet the city will spend the money and build it anyways.

Sellers: Serving on the City Commission comes with great humility, a bit of scrutiny, and deep gratitude. I know my voice can catalyze change, and I am excited to build real progressivism with energy, innovation, and purpose. My 20+ years of professional legislative, research, and public policy work is a unique quality in that I have experience tracking and interpreting the impacts of state legislation on local governing. Having worked in public health, I utilize that knowledge of policy and programs to drive meaningful change. These characteristics should be considered, especially when working with city staff to set priorities and address the needs within the community. Additionally, my ability to inform and engage people directly while teaching policy implementation speaks to my passion for civic engagement – a vital characteristic for a Commissioner.

Shipley: My motivation to serve has always been to help maintain a community in which future generations can thrive. Having grown up here with access to all the amenities and culture Lawrence has to offer, I believe I have a duty to work toward keeping Lawrence a place of opportunity for everyone. It has been my privilege to serve as commissioner for four years, one of those years as the first Latina Mayor of Lawrence. We have accomplished much, set up some exciting plans, and grappled with complicated issues. I would like to see things, such as the Strategic Plan, through that will set Lawrence up for continued success.

Stumblingbear: I have lived across the United States yet it is my experiences in Lawrence that have shaped me the most into who I am today. I am of the Kiowa Tribe and was raised that I serve my community as long as I am able. I wish to serve on the Lawrence City Commission to enact policies that will allow all our residents to thrive, succeed in life, and have joy as I have been able to do. This focus includes policies around environmental and financial sustainability, affordable housing for all income levels and all family sizes, working with our county partners in providing assistance to our community’s unhoused population, and maintaining a robust infrastructure maintenance plan for our current and future needs.

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Q: What do you think is the most pressing issue facing the city, and what solutions do you have to fix it?

Burton: Taking care of the individuals that are homeless and providing housing for families.(there is no fast and easy solutions to either one of these topics). However, when I am driving around Lawrence I see empty houses and think why aren’t these houses being rehabbed for use. Sometimes, surrounding towns give individuals who are homeless bus tickets to Lawrence because they don’t have the resources and perhaps these counties should be obligated to reimburse Douglas county for our services.

Dever: Many long-term residents and business owners have told me they believe that the nationwide housing crisis has impacted Lawrence more severely than other communities of similar size in our region. We, as a community, need to take a more comprehensive approach to the ongoing hurdles that are involved in serving the homeless community. The City’s disjointed approach to public safety concerns created by poor management of the homeless population has impacted all residents. We need to reevaluate the current approach and create a model that the community and leaders can implement effectively. Lawrence can move forward with a better plan for everyone. What I want to focus on as a commissioner, is the current and past response to the unhoused in Lawrence and identifying ways to better utilize the existing medical, mental health, drug addiction and short-term housing resources currently available. We need to assure citizens that the City has a specific and transparent near-term plan in place to urgently move unhoused individuals to existing shelter and transitional housing services. The current inhumane conditions the City has allowed to persist and grow within our homeless and transient community is unsafe and unsustainable.

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Finkeldei: We have an urgent and critically important need to expand our housing stock for all price points. We must continue to invest in affordable housing projects but we also must find ways to expand our workforce and market housing. This can be accomplished most readily through increasing density of housing throughout the community, developing projects on recently annexed land, as well as by annexing new land adjacent to our city limits. Completing the important work of re-writing our Development Code to reach our community wide housing goals is a critical step to get increased density. In the meantime, we have funded through the CIP, utility and street projects that will open new areas to be annexed and housing built. We must continue this multi-prong approach to be successful.

Flowers: I think our housing situation is the most pressing issue, because it’s also connected to our homeless problem. We need more housing. One step we can take is to approve more housing projects. Last year, Commissioners Shipley and Sellers voted no to stop a duplex project from being built by Kasold Dr. I believe one of the reasons given was that it wasn’t a right fit for the character of the neighborhood. If we want to create housing, we can’t be denying projects because people living in single family homes don’t want duplexes in their neighborhood. I’d also like to see us do away with the ordinance that limits the number of unrelated renters to three. If we allowed more people to live together in a house, then that could reduce the total number of houses we need to house everyone. We also need to do a better job of working with nonprofits. Last year the DARE Center had to renew their special use permit. For those that don’t know, DARE is a place for the unhoused to drop in to rest and provides some services like a shower and laundry. DARE had requested a permit good for 10 years, but the city would only give it 5. Yet I’ve seen the city recommend 10 years for a special use permit for a business that served alcohol in an area not zoned for bars. It costs money to get a special use permit, so by only giving 5 years instead of 10 on a permit, it means that the organization will spend twice as much on the permit process in a 10 year time frame. We shouldn’t be holding our nonprofits to higher standards than we do our businesses.

Sellers: Addressing affordable housing and houselessness in our community has been a point of conflict – politically, socially, and culturally. The full landscape of the issue is sometimes challenging to comprehend fully. Any meaningful impact must acknowledge that an increased behavioral health workforce, additional permanent housing, and temporary sheltering are tantamount to moving towards functional zero. Creating residential housing must balance the desire for market-rate housing with the need for moderate-income and permanent supportive housing for unhoused individuals. More affordable housing, including mid-market density housing benefit from state tools and policies. The Kansas Affordable Housing Tax Credit enacted in 2022 leverages state housing tax credits alongside federal LIHTC funds. The expansion of the Reinvestment Housing Incentive District program utilizes a percentile rebate back to developers who complete improvements to property (or properties) within an approved RHID redevelopment plan.

Along with current work to revise our zoning codes, Lawrence can grow homeownership in an economically diverse way that brings housing equity our city has not seen in decades. Additionally, the Kansas Legislature must appropriate some of the projected $3.2 billion in surplus dollars for the Community Plan to End Homelessness to be successful and assist communities in bringing new permanent supportive, low, and moderate-income housing online through collaborative development with the private sector and area community housing development organizations.

Shipley: Like many other cities we are faced with the consequences of years of unsustainable development patterns that have led to high cost of services and infrastructure replacement. Sprawl is expensive. In our current rush to provide more housing we need to remain dedicated to modern and sustainable development and transportation solutions. This is why the current efforts to modernize our development code is crucial and I’m glad to have prioritized that during my time on the commission. Yes, affordable housing is the ultimate goal. But it must be done thoughtfully and strategically or we will deliver the same financial gut punch to the next generations.

Stumblingbear: I feel housing for our residents of all income levels and family sizes is the most pressing issue facing our community. This issue connects directly to our unhoused population, some of whom have lost their homes due to financial instability pre and post-Covid 19 along with the rapid inflation of the past couple of years. During the Covid-19 pandemic it was repeatedly stated that service workers were essential to a fully functioning economy and as such needed to keep working. I feel the housing for these individuals who faced the pandemic head-on is equally essential. We need housing that is affordable for young families and teachers so that our local school district can stop hemorrhaging qualified staff and students. Young and budding entrepreneurs need the ability to affordably live in Lawrence and have staff that can afford to live in Lawrence also. Affordable housing for all people in Lawrence is linked to economic development, sustainability, and a more equal dispersion of the tax burden.

I want to focus more money to those agencies in Douglas County who are currently building affordable housing such as Tenants to Homeowners and the Lawrence-Douglas County Housing Authority. I also believe that going forward we need to work as a community to update our Land Development Code. Public input sessions for the Land Development Code Update are taking place July 19-21 with the details available on the city’s website.

Q: Free space: What else do you want our readers to know ahead of the Aug. 1 primary election?

(We did not require an answer to this question.)

Burton: We need to take care of all of our community members. It seems as though some people have tunnel vision when it comes to our community welfare. We have two areas I would say are food deserts, North Lawrence and far East Lawrence. No one should have to walk from North Lawrence to Dillions on 18th and Mass and back carrying backs of groceries same for East Lawrence. Yet, some people talk about put a grocery store downtown. That says to me they have no regards for the feelings and struggles of others.

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Dever: The current City Commission, and the leadership at City Hall has drafted plans and is putting in place the funds required to address several near-term critical infrastructure, annexation and affordable housing initiatives. I want to help guide those plans and initiatives forward while also focusing on the numerous urgent needs in other parts of our city.

The commission should work more diligently with downtown businesses and landowners to improve the general safety and cleanliness of downtown, encourage reinvestment of shared and underutilized spaces and address increasing density through mixed-use and residential projects. I also think the City needs to focus more local and federal dollars on our aging neighborhood streets, sidewalks and utilities so that we can encourage others to invest in housing and infill projects that consume fewer city resources due to the existence of city services and utilities. With improved surrounding infrastructure, older neighborhoods and their local schools, can flourish. Increased density in some of our aging neighborhoods through ADU, multi-family and creative housing projects will help support stronger, more resilient, multi-generational and diverse neighborhoods.

I want the commission to be a serious body who takes the work of the people and transparency seriously. I understand the complexity of the issues related to the unhoused population and the lack of housing for all citizens. I will commit my full attention, ability and resources while working with other commissioners to manifest real change in our community.

Finkeldei: Creating jobs is essential for Lawrence to remain a healthy and vibrant community, so it is essential that the City is a key player in economic development. A growing tax base allows us to hold the line on property taxes and is vital for funding critical governmental services. This is particularly important with Panasonic coming to our region. We need to continue to work to fully utilize the students educated by USD 497, Peaslee Tech, the University of Kansas and Haskell Indian Nations University to create an accessible, well-trained, and plentiful workforce.

Flowers: I urge everyone to check out The Times’ previous coverage of the candidate forums to get a better idea about me. There is something I’d like everyone to know that isn’t related to city politics. I’ve read an article by a veterinarian that’s stuck with me. When it comes time to put a pet down, a lot of people don’t want to go in the room and be with the pet when it happens due to it being too emotional. However, the vet wrote that in their final moments, the pet is often looking for its owner. You are the center of your pet’s world. When it is being put down is when your pet needs you the most. It may be emotional for you, but think of the pet. It’s in a room with a stranger being put to death. Don’t you think it would rather have you by its side, comforting it in its final moments, instead of waiting outside in the waiting room? I had never realized this before reading that article, and just wanted to share this info with pet owners reading this.

Sellers: When I took office in 2021, I shared with the Lawrence community that my sleeves were rolled up and ready to work from day one. To accomplish true prosperity and economic security, we must breathe innovation into our economic development strategies for new small business growth. Understanding the nuances and roadblocks of the small business experience, especially those from systemically and structurally divested populations, is critical. One way to move this effort is by reimagining current funding from our Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) to expand opportunities for equitable small business growth citywide.

We cannot continue to operationalize programs and policies that do not support the need for direct funding that grows the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Lawrence. As your City Commissioner, I will continue to build policy and move the City’s Strategic Plan forward so all in Lawrence firmly believe they can live, grow, and thrive here.

Shipley: The community spoke quite clearly that it wanted the city to take greater responsibility in the houselessness issue. Our 5-year housing and homelessness strategic plan (A Place for Everyone: A Community Plan to End Homelessness) addresses best practices and gaps in our community. The public engagement on this plan created space for all the perspectives in the community to be in the room together working collaboratively and being honest about experiences and issues. All of our community partners are engaged and committed to this work and we need to continue to work with our partners on long term solutions.

Stumblingbear: I am a United States Army National Guard veteran who twice deployed to Iraq and left the service after 6 years with 14 awards including the 2 Army Commendation Medals, the Army Achievement Medal, and the Combat Action Badge. I have committed my energy to Lawrence as a volunteer on the board of directors for Independence, Inc. I have stepped up as a member of the Community Emergency Response Team. I give my time and energy to being an election worker for Douglas County. I have served on the Human Relations Commission and the Government Restructuring Task Force. I attend public engagement sessions for our many city’s strategic plans. Some examples are the Community Plan to End Homelessness, the Board & Commissions Structure Committee, and the Community Police Work Group. I work to interact with community groups such as neighborhood associations and the Lawrence Association of Neighborhoods, among others. I attend or watch many advisory board meetings as well as the Planning Commission meetings. I share this to show I give this level of effort and dedication as an interested citizen. I will give this same level of effort and dedication when you elect me to the Lawrence City Commission. I am Dustin Stumblingbear. Vote for me.

Just for fun

We did not require candidates to answer these questions to participate, but readers have enjoyed a chance to get to know their candidates on a slightly more personal level through our questionnaires in previous elections.

Favorite color?

Burton: None
Dever: Blue
Finkeldei: (skipped)
Flowers: Green
Sellers: I still love curry yellow…robust, yet sweet!
Shipley: Black
Stumblingbear: Purple

Favorite food?

Burton: NONE. I just love to eat
Dever: Thai Food
Finkeldei: BBQ Ribs
Flowers: Ice Cream
Sellers: Thai, specifically…panang curry!
Shipley: Any kind of noodle.
Stumblingbear: Chicken Kiev

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Astrological sign?

Burton: Virgo
Dever: Aquarius
Finkeldei: Cancer
Flowers: Cancer
Sellers: Capricorn- ambitious, persistent, goal-oriented, and practical
Shipley: Libra, obviously.
Stumblingbear: My astrological sign is Sagittarius being born on the Winter Solstice.

Favorite pastime?

Burton: Travel
Dever: Cycling
Finkeldei: Reading
Flowers: Going on trips where I don’t leave my home.
Sellers: I enjoy gardening and listening to music – all genres
Shipley: Since Covid times, I’ve been watching Britcoms and British comedy panel shows to scrub my brain.
Stumblingbear: (skipped)

Random fun fact about you?

Burton: None
Dever: I have visited all 50 states
Finkeldei: I am an identical twin.
Flowers: I once choked and had to have the Heimlich maneuver applied.
Sellers: I competed in my first on-land triathlon in 2020.
Shipley: I love languages, I have studied several. During my time Mayor I was able to give speeches in all three languages of our sister cites.
Stumblingbear: I lived through a car bombing.

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