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Outgoing Lawrence City Commissioner Courtney Shipley warns against ‘toxic behavior’

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Courtney Shipley’s time as a Lawrence city commissioner came to an end Tuesday evening, and on her way out, she warned fellow commissioners against acting as individuals to direct city staff members.

Shipley was elected to a four-year term in 2019. She served as vice mayor in 2021 and mayor in 2022.

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She came in fourth place in the general election last month and there were three seats on the ballot, so Tuesday was the final meeting of her term.

“Lawrence has the finest, most talented staff — some 800 people — and I will never have the words to express how grateful I am to work with all of you,” she said.

As her parting gift to city staff, Shipley said, she wanted to remind those present of what the role of a commissioner is and what it isn’t.

“Neither the mayor nor individual commissioners are empowered to instruct, direct, coerce, intimidate or bully individual employees,” she said.

She said city staff members, from lifeguards to executive staff members, are not there to be bullied or intimidated by individual commissioners, advisory board members or members of the public. There’s a chain of command in order to adhere to basic employment practices and preserve local democracy; “that’s accountability and transparency,” she said.

She said attempts of commissioners to influence or direct staff outside of “this transparent arena,” referring to the commission room and its representative democracy based on majority consensus, “is regarded as anti-democratic at best and corruption at worst.”

“These behaviors have been allowed in the past and it contributed to a culture of fear and confusion within this organization that this commission has worked to reverse for many years,” Shipley said. “This community can ill afford a return to such toxic behavior. Our staff deserve basic civility and respect inside and outside of the organization.”

She said she’ll be among the people in this community who are watching to make sure staff members get that respect.

She also thanked her husband and family for supporting her during her term.

“I’m so blessed to have been able to meet so many great people and cherished friends over the last four years,” she said.

More coverage from the meeting:

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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.

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