Lawrence City Commission News Story

by Emma Frieze | April 12, 2023

About the Story

Through this news story, I covered a particular topic that was discussed in the Lawrence City Commission meeting on April 12. It was very interesting to attend the meeting in person and to learn about issues that were impacting my local community. When writing this story, I utilized my skills in journalistic reporting.

Thank you for reading.

This news story was created for JMC 305: Writing for Media, Honors at the University of Kansas in spring 2023.

Lawrence City Commission votes not to reappoint Jim Carpenter as a planning commissioner

The Lawrence City Commission voted 3-2 not to reappoint Jim Carpenter to the Lawrence-Douglas County Metropolitan Planning Commission during the city commission’s regular meeting on Tuesday, April 11.

Carpenter has already served as a planning commissioner for two three-year terms. According to Resolution No. 7224 of the City of Lawrence, city appointees are limited to two consecutive terms as a general policy, or reasons for the exception must be stated at the time of reappointment. Mayor Lisa Larsen was responsible for recommending an applicant for this position, and the city commission had the opportunity to approve or express disapproval of the recommendation. In the written agenda for the meeting, the mayor said that Carpenter should be reappointed because of his “institutional knowledge” as the city’s Land Development Code is currently being updated.

“I still stand by that,” Larsen said during the meeting. “The planning commission as it is now—it can warrant having that institutional knowledge stay on board, and in the middle of doing the code revisions, I think it will be important for having someone with his experience to further navigate that.”

Commissioner Amber Sellers asked Larsen how many people had applied for the position. Larsen said that she had talked to three additional applicants. She also said that there could have been other applicants, but she could not remember and would need to look again. This raised concern among some city commissioners and members of the public about the fairness of the application process.

“Oftentimes, I think we get a little too comfortable with tradition because that keeps us from being vulnerable, and it keeps us from, maybe sometimes, being accountable,” Sellers said. “I will not be voting in favor of Mr. Carpenter’s reappointment today to the commission, not because I don’t think he is capable, not that I don’t think he’s competent, but because there are individuals in this community, for one reason or another, who have not had the opportunity.” This was echoed by Commissioner Bart Littlejohn, who said that although Carpenter is “very knowledgeable” and an “asset,” he was not certain that giving Carpenter another term would allow for a “diverse opinion” within the planning commission.

Commissioner Courtney Shipley shared a different perspective. Shipley said, “What is unclear to the public perhaps is the extent to which this is truly an ideological appointment. There are monetary forces at work that see this position, a position on planning commission in particular, as one of the most influential.” Shipley said that she appreciated comments about making space for new people on city boards. However, Shipley also said that she was “not naive to the position jockeying that does continue to happen in this town.”

Citizen Chris Flowers asked in a public comment if the city commissioners had actively tried to find other applicants for the position. He said, “Last [meeting], there was talk about honoring the mayor’s decisions when it comes to appointments … I think if something is being done out of the norm, the commission should be questioning it.” Presenting an opposing viewpoint, citizen Steven Watts said that it was “disruptive” to not reappoint someone who had been described by city commissioners as competent.

Commissioner Brad Finkeldei, Littlejohn and Sellers voted as a majority against reappointing Carpenter. Larsen and Shipley voted in favor of reappointing Carpenter.

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