While many eyes have been set on the 2020 presidential election, Lawrence will be electing its City Commission this November, which may be even more impactful for residents and University of Kansas students.
Three seats are up for election on the City Commission, with six candidates in the race. The first and second place finishers will receive a four-year term, and the third place finisher will receive a two-year term. Voter registration ends Oct. 15, with the election Nov. 5.
The first place finisher will also become the mayor of Lawrence for two years, and the second place finisher will be vice mayor then mayor after two years.
The Kansan spoke to each candidate about why they decided to run, and different ways to improve relations between the University and the city.
Stuart Boley is a retired IRS Agent who spent the past four years on the City Commission. Boley believes his experience with finance and budget issues is valuable to the team of five commissioners.
The most important issue for Boley is the city's core services: public safety, streets, utilities, and parks and recreation programs. Boley graduated from the University in 1977 and believes the core services are important for students.
“If the city manages core services well then that will help provide a positive living experience for students, both off and on campus,” he said. “Enhancing the relationship between KU and the city could result in better economic development for the community so that more graduates wouldn't need to leave to find work, as I did long ago.”
Ken Easthouse is a supervisor at Maximus Federal. Easthouse became involved in Douglas County politics by helping the county clerk run elections in 2012.
“Since then, I’ve met with dozens of community and city leaders and have heard the same complaints over and over about [how] our city functions: poor communication from city offices, a lack of commitment to economic development, and the feeling that we are never really being told the whole story from our leaders,” Easthouse said.
For Easthouse, economic development is important to retaining graduates in Lawrence, and his campaign has introduced an ordinance to make it illegal for employers to drug test, specifically for marijuana use.
“I don’t think anyone who takes a spring break out of state or treats their medical conditions should fear for their jobs or job prospects,” he said.
Brad Finkeldei is an attorney who graduated from the KU School of Law. Finkeldei said his desire to serve his community led him to run for City Commission. The most important issue for him is the affordable housing crisis.
“The recent passage of the affordable housing sales tax measure gives our community an urgent and critically important opportunity to develop an outcomes-based, community-wide system to address the affordable housing problem,” he said.
Finkeldei was student body vice president as a KU undergrad, but he believes the University and city don't work together like they did during his time in college.
“Such a student-city relationship does not exist in Lawrence today,” Finkeldei said. “My goal would be to make creating such a working relationship a priority.”
Joey Hentzler is the director of advocacy at Kansas Appleseed, a statewide nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy organization. Hentzler said he’s running because Lawrence is a special place to him.
"Since over a decade ago, even before I moved here, this city has been calling me home," Hentzler said. "As a gay kid growing up nearby in Topeka, Lawrence represented freedom — a place where I could grow and be myself — a place where I could hold my boyfriend's hand and walk down Mass."
Hentzler said his campaign is focusing on issues that students care about, like affordable housing and climate change. He has proposed a Green New Deal for Lawrence and hopes to decarbonize the city and invest in green energy, similar to a national climate change proposal from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Edward Markey.
Rob Sands has been an active duty member of the Kansas Army National Guard for 15 years. Sands finds his time volunteering on the Planning Commission to be rewarding, but he feels a call to be more engaged. For him, the most important issue facing Lawrence is affordable housing.
“We have citizens that work here that can’t afford to live here, and our city policies and decisions by city commissioners are artificially restricting the building of new homes, which makes all homes more expensive,” Sands said.
Sands has worked with the University through the Planning Commission, but he said the relationship between the University and city has room for improvement.
“What is good for KU is good for the city, and vice versa. As a planning commissioner, I asked to see KU’s central planning documents and hear presentations from their staff,” Sands said. “And while city staff and KU’s central planning staff interact regularly, elected and appointed officials don’t have the same benefit. There’s room to improve that relationship.”
Courtney Shipley is a property manager, she but finds that her dedication to volunteerism on community boards is more important to the race.
Shipley hopes to create a community that honors its people and its values, so that people not only want to live here but want to be involved here. Shipley hopes to help students by addressing climate change and making public transportation viable, accessible, and easy to use.
“I believe community engagement has been a key to Lawrence’s success in the past and should be intentionally increased and encouraged,” she said.