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Lawrence: Affordable housing remains high on the agenda of many commission candidates

When Lawrence voters approved a 0.05 percent sales tax to help fund affordable housing projects in 2017, there were still a lot of blanks left to be filled in. Now the city is beginning to see the approximately $1 million per year from the tax roll in, and a slate of projects was approved over the summer.

For many of the candidates vying for a spot on the Lawrence City Commission this fall, however, the work of increasing the amount of affordable housing in Lawrence is only beginning. Three of the five candidates surveyed by The Journal – Brad Finkeldei, Joey Hentzler and Rob Sands – named affordable housing as their top priority.

Stuart Boley, the only incumbent seeking reelection, chose the “effective provision of core services” as the most important area he would focus on. Another candidate, Courtney Shipley, chair of the Lawrence Association of Neighborhoods, expressed concerns about transparency. The Journal did not receive responses from one candidate, Ken Easthouse.

Voters will determine which three candidates join the commission in the Nov. 5 general election.

Read more about each of the candidates in their own words below or click on the jump link to read the survey responses of school board candidates.

Here is coverage by The Lawrence Journal-World of a recent candidate forum: https://www2.ljworld.com/news/city-government/2019/sep/11/lawrence-city-commission-candidates-share-views-on-growth-policies-incentives-other-issues/

Here are profiles of local candidates in The Lawrence Journal-World: https://www2.ljworld.com/news/city-government/2019/sep/25/candidate-profiles-for-2019-lawrence-city-school-board-elections/

Your Local Candidates: In Their Own Words Nov. 5 2019 Kansas local election

Editor’s note: To help readers make their voting choices in the Nov. 5 general election for local offices, The Journal, the Kansas Leadership Center’s quarterly magazine, sent out a survey to more than 250 candidates in communities where our magazine’s readership is the largest. What follows is information from your local candidates, in their own words.

Update: Click here for Tuesday’s unofficial election results as reported by The Lawrence Journal-World.

Click here to view survey responses of candidates for the Lawrence USD 497 Board of Education

Lawrence City Commission

Brad Finkeldei, candidate for Lawrence City Commission

Please provide a brief introduction and a description of why you are running for office.

The people I’ve met and the experiences I’ve had volunteering, as well as working, raising a family, spending time in schools, neighborhoods and downtown, have all worked to broaden and deepen my understanding of and regard for Lawrence. It is my desire to continue my service to the community by using these experiences as a community leader on the City Commission.

Should you be elected, what is the single most important issue that you would like to see improvement on during your term in office? Please write a few sentences explaining your choice.

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. Because the issue is complex and without an easy solution, it is essential to develop buy-in and cooperation from all those that impact affordable housing, including local governmental agencies, social service agencies, advocacy groups, private developers and residents.

As an office holder, how would you try to mobilize efforts to address the important issue you identified above? If you have a sense of specific steps you might take, please share those.

I will start by convening all of the stakeholders in a series of meetings where we can share ideas and work towards collaborative solutions. When some concrete ideas were developed, we would then share those with the general public and seek feedback and guidance.

Learn more about Lawrence City Commission candidate Brad Finkeldei in this Lawrence Chamber of Commerce video.

Here is a profile of Finkeldei from The Lawrence Journal-World. https://www2.ljworld.com/news/city-government/2019/sep/18/city-commission-candidate-finkeldei-wants-the-city-to-better-support-social-services/

Stuart Boley, candidate for Lawrence City Commission

Please provide a brief introduction and a description of why you are running for office.

I am a retired IRS agent and was first elected to the city commission in 2015. Serving the community as a commissioner has been an honor and an amazing opportunity for me as a retiree to learn and grow. We have just hired a new city manager and I’d like to be able to provide continuity and experience on the commission during a second term.

Should you be elected, what is the single most important issue that you would like to see improvement on during your term in office? Please write a few sentences explaining your choice.

Effective provision of core services is the most important area for me to focus on during a next term. These services, including public safety, utilities and parks and recreation, need effective management and commission support.

As an office holder, how would you try to mobilize efforts to address the important issue you identified above? If you have a sense of specific steps you might take, please share those.

We need to consider carefully the funding and expenditures for these services. Governing is most effective when programs are considered in the context of the entire budget rather than in one off decisions. We’re in the process of adopting priority based budgeting to assist in decision making and I’d like to continue participating in those efforts.

Learn more about Lawrence City Commission candidate Stuart Boley in this Lawrence Chamber of Commerce video.

Here is a profile of Boley from The Lawrence Journal-World. https://www2.ljworld.com/news/city-government/2019/sep/15/city-commission-candidate-stuart-boley-wants-city-to-focus-on-core-services/

Courtney Shipley, candidate for Lawrence City Commission

Please provide a brief introduction and a description of why you are running for office.

I chair the Lawrence Association of Neighborhoods. I serve on the Board of Zoning Appeals as well as the Lawrence Preservation Alliance and Friends of Oak Hill Cemetery Board. I have also served on the Advisory Board for the Transient Guest Tax Grant Program. I am running for City Commission to improve our local government’s transparency and to increase public engagement.

Should you be elected, what is the single most important issue that you would like to see improvement on during your term in office? Please write a few sentences explaining your choice.

Having attended City Commission meetings regularly for several years, I’m concerned by the lack of transparency. With the implementation of Plan 2040 on the horizon, we need to know that commissioners are working to ensure healthy neighborhoods and further the common goals and values of Lawrence. The changes to the Sidewalk Hazard Mitigation policy is a great example of how the commission has not provided transparency or adequately engaged the public. Commissioners should represent the needs of the public. Lawrence has a history of strong public engagement that should be fostered and celebrated, and not ignored. I have the listening skills it takes to build healthy consensus.

As an office holder, how would you try to mobilize efforts to address the important issue you identified above? If you have a sense of specific steps you might take, please share those.

As Commissioner, I will seek out the public to speak with them about their concerns: both everyday issues and the bigger concerns that demand adaptive and creative solutions. There are a few instruments which could expand public engagement, social media for example. Lawrence Listens is a polling system the city has in place which was never used to gather information about sidewalks. Its use could be greatly expanded. More importantly, commissioners must also listen to each other to build consensus. A commissioner can’t make progress alone. It takes a clear majority to move issues forward. We need commissioners who want to work together to solve tough problems.

Learn more about Lawrence Commission candidate Courtney Shipley in this Lawrence Chamber of Commerce video.

Joey Hentzler, candidate for Lawrence City Commission

Please provide a brief introduction and a description of why you are running for office.

I was born, raised, and educated in Kansas. My values are rooted in fairness and community by my family, and I have made it my mission to fight for equal opportunity throughout my professional life and community service.

I am director of advocacy at Kansas Appleseed, a statewide nonprofit advocacy group. I work to advance laws and change policy at the local, state and federal levels on a range of issues including food stamps, foster care, juvenile justice, Medicaid expansion and more. I serve on the executive board of the Douglas County Extension Council and as vice president of the Douglas County Young Democrats.

I’m running for City Commission because Lawrence is a very special place to me. Since over a decade ago, even before I moved here, this city has been calling me home. 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. The history of Lawrence also makes it a special place in Kansas. Our city is literally forged in flames over the belief that all people are born equal. That speaks to me.

Yet we have a long way to go. Since moving here, I have come to realize that not all of our neighbors experience the same safety and space to build their lives. We can, and must, do better to ensure equal opportunity and fair systems for every single resident. When all Lawrence residents are able to participate fully in the social, economic and political life of our city, our neighborhoods will be stronger and our futures brighter.

My work in the legislature, involvement in the community, and conversations with my neighbors have convinced me that Lawrence must lead our state by demonstrating smart and compassionate policy-making. Where else will that happen than here – in our city that rose from the ashes to fight and bleed for what is right. And now is the time to take that fight up again. If elected to City Commission, I will use my voice to move our city forward for all residents; to advance unapologetically bold and progressive policies to tackle climate change, to address appalling racial disparities in our community, and to advance affordable and adequate housing for all residents.

Should you be elected, what is the single most important issue that you would like to see improvement on during your term in office? Please write a few sentences explaining your choice.

Housing is central to building a just community in Lawrence. For over 5,000 households it is simply too expensive to live in Lawrence – let alone thrive here. We have included policy options to restructure our housing economy, based on proven models in other municipalities, to ensure permanently affordable housing. We propose collaboration with nonprofits across the city to move more units out of the broken housing market and into permanently viable options for both renters and new homeowners looking to put down roots.

Achieving this change to our housing market will require bold investments. I am the only candidate to include revenue policies on our platform that would shift the tax burden away from low-income residents and toward wealthier residents and big developers. Moreover, affordable housing means nothing if it is not adequate and safe for residents. Although Lawrence is a town that runs on the labor and talent of every day folks, wealthy landlords and big developers take most of the profits. Our platform includes strengthening rental unit inspections to protect tenants from unsafe conditions and unfair treatment, including security deposit theft and failure to respond to maintenance requests. Other affordability measures include decreasing utility costs for residents by expanding the city’s weatherization grant program which helps lower monthly costs and reduces carbon emissions.

Lastly, city commission should adopt a Housing First approach to house Lawrencians experiencing homelessness. It is the morally just way to help our neighbors in need and the cost-effective policy option to handle chronic homelessness. It is an abject failure of Lawrence values when the city bulldozes homeless residents’ tents and belongings north of the river while taxpayer-subsided luxury apartments sit empty downtown. This issue is personal to me. My own family has been touched by homelessness. When our campaign talks about moving Lawrence forward for all residents, we mean it.

As an office holder, how would you try to mobilize efforts to address the important issue you identified above? If you have a sense of specific steps you might take, please share those.

As my organization’s representative in the Kansas statehouse, I have experience navigating policymakers and their agendas to achieve meaningful change. As a community organizer, I have experience mobilizing residents and affected individuals. Some examples: organizing door to door canvasses during our community’s recent debate on jail expansion and mobilizing hundreds of Lawrencians for a rally for Sanctuary City ordinances. The most important part of organizing is listening to your neighbors – this is a lesson I plan to carry forward as a city commissioner.

Learn more about Lawrence Commission candidate Joey Hentzler in this Lawrence Chamber of Commerce video.

Here is a profile of Hentzler from The Lawrence Journal-World. https://www2.ljworld.com/news/city-government/2019/sep/19/city-commission-candidate-hentzler-wants-the-city-to-live-up-to-its-progressive-roots/

Rob Sands, candidate for Lawrence City Commission

Please provide a brief introduction and a description of why you are running for office.

I am an active duty member of the Kansas Army National Guard with over 19 years of total service. I’ve deployed overseas three times, and I’ve just been promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. I’ve lived in Lawrence for over 18 years. I also volunteer on two city boards: the Lawrence/Douglas County Municipal Planning Commission, and the Metropolitan Planning Organization. I’m running for city commission because I love Lawrence. Plain and simple. I’ve earned two degrees from KU, I met my wife here, we started our family here. Lawrence is a wonderful city with so many great things about it, but we can do so much better in so many ways. My time volunteering on city boards is rewarding, but I feel a call to be more engaged.

Should you be elected, what is the single most important issue that you would like to see improvement on during your term in office? Please write a few sentences explaining your choice.

My number one priority is making housing affordable for everyone. Lawrence homes in the $100k-$250k price range are at about half of the amount we need for a healthy market. Folks are spending more money for less house because of the increase in demand. 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. But development costs don’t just affect builders, sellers, renters and buyers; they also affect how much impact nonprofits have in providing affordable housing. Tenants to Homeowners and Habitat for Humanity have to work within the market as well, and while they get other breaks to the cost of construction, their efficacy is still affected by the increased costs. That’s just the rent or mortgage. The city is also assessing some neighborhoods with unwanted traffic devices, mandating that they replace sections of sidewalk without appeal, and now they are talking about increasing the mill levy and increasing water rates, too. Our city is making decisions that increase the burden to live here, and preventing many from choosing to live here.

As an office holder, how would you try to mobilize efforts to address the important issue you identified above? If you have a sense of specific steps you might take, please share those.

Most people in Lawrence agree that housing costs are getting higher; we just may have disagreements in the policy intervention. Lawrence has wonderful, passionate citizens that don’t hesitate to make their voices heard, and I love that about this city! We don’t have to raise the heat at all to make progress, but in order to make progress on change, we have to have elected leaders that speak to our shared sets of values, and don’t spitefully lecture citizens. Part of addressing the housing cost is to listen to those that have experience or information: our Affordable Housing Advisory Board, local housing non-profits, and home builders large and small. We don’t have to take in all their suggestions carte blanche, but their expertise should be valued along with the input from our neighbors.

Learn more about Lawrence Commission candidate Rob Sands in this Lawrence Chamber of Commerce video.

Here is a profile of Sands from The Lawrence Journal-World. https://www2.ljworld.com/news/city-government/2019/sep/20/city-commission-candidate-sands-wants-a-comprehensive-fix-for-affordable-housing/

The Journal did not receive responses to its survey from Lawrence City Commission candidate Ken Easthouse. Learn more about him in this Lawrence Chamber of Commerce video.

Here is a profile of Easthouse from The Lawrence Journal-World. https://www2.ljworld.com/news/city-government/2019/sep/16/city-commission-candidate-ken-easthouse-wants-more-comprehensive-debates-at-city-hall/

Lawrence USD 497 Board of Education

Erica Hill, candidate for Lawrence USD 497 Board of Education

Please provide a brief introduction and a description of why you are running for office.

Everyone deserves to achieve to their highest potential academically, socially and emotionally. This will be my priority during my campaign and as a member of the board of education.

Should you be elected, what is the single most important issue that you would like to see improvement on during your term in office? Please write a few sentences explaining your choice.

I will be committed to the implementation of the district’s strategic plan that includes strategies to address achievement gaps, increase high school completion rates, and advance post-graduation success. Everyone deserves to achieve to their highest potential academically, socially and emotionally.

As an office holder, how would you try to mobilize efforts to address the important issue you identified above? If you have a sense of specific steps you might take, please share those.

I have designed a leadership academy for underserved youth in our community. It was implemented this summer. The students have presented capstone projects on their experience and there have been several articles and posts about the academy. Showing tangible outcomes is one way I plan to mobilize others in my community to create paid internships in high school students. Through community collaboration we can positively impact achievement gaps, improve graduation rates and post-graduation success.

Here is a profile of Hill from The Lawrence Journal-World. https://www2.ljworld.com/news/schools/2019/sep/18/community-partnerships-key-to-improving-lives-of-local-students-says-school-board-candidate-hill/

Shannon Kimball, candidate for Lawrence USD 497 Board of Education

Please provide a brief introduction and a description of why you are running for office.

I have served as a board member, leader, and advocate on the USD 497 Lawrence Public Schools board of education since 2011. During my eight years of school board service, I have twice served as board vice president, and twice as board president. As board president in 2017-2018, I led the board’s work to select the district’s current superintendent, Dr. Anthony Lewis. I have also served on the district’s facilities, policy, and boundary committees and as a liaison to the Lawrence Schools Foundation, the City of Lawrence Public Incentive Review Committee, and numerous site councils at schools throughout the district. Before my election to the board in 2011, I volunteered as a community member of the Lawrence Public Schools Elementary School Facility Vision Task Force.

I have been engaged in education policy leadership at the local, state, and national levels. As an active member of the Kansas Association of School Boards for several years, I have served on its board of directors, as a member of its nominating committee, and, in December 2017, I was selected by school board members from across the state to serve as the Association’s president beginning July 1, 2019. I also was elected last fall by school board members from across the Western Region to serve on the National School Board Association’s Policies and Resolutions committee.

Born and raised on a farm near Atwood, Kansas, I earned my B.A. with Highest Distinction in Political Science and Spanish from the University of Kansas, and my Juris Doctor Magna Cum Laude from the University of Michigan Law School. After clerking on the United States Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit for two years, I began working with public schools, first as an attorney in private practice in Atlanta, Georgia, and then as an education specialist at the Georgia Department of Education. My work covered a broad spectrum of law and policy issues affecting public education, including curriculum, budgets, facilities, school governance, parental involvement, and implementation of state and federal requirements related to school finance, special education, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, good governance practices, and issues surrounding equity and adequacy in school funding.

I am seeking my third term on the Lawrence Public Schools board of education because our district still has work to do to fulfill the promise of providing a high-quality public education that prepares each and every one of our students for success in college, career, and life. We have made progress over the past eight years, most noticeably in adopting a strategic plan that focuses on improving key academic outcomes with an emphasis on equity, and in ensuring that all of our students have high-quality 21st-century learning environments. I will bring needed policy and leadership experience to the board, both of which will be crucial to successfully implementing our strategic plan and further closing achievement and opportunity gaps for our students.

Should you be elected, what is the single most important issue that you would like to see improvement on during your term in office? Please write a few sentences explaining your choice.

Our district is doing great work for students. My top priority has been and will continue to be supporting and expanding our initiatives to raise achievement for all students while further closing achievement and opportunity gaps. We are engaged in many efforts that further this priority, including the recent adoption of the district’s first strategic plan in over a decade; expansion of career pathways and workforce preparation at our College and Career Center; growing the district’s community and higher education partnerships (Jayhawk Blueprint with the University of Kansas, expansion of post-secondary opportunities at Peaslee Tech, completion of the new Boys & Girls Club teen center); completing successful implementation of $179.5 million in bond construction projects so that all USD 497 students have access to high-quality, 21st century learning spaces; and emphasizing forward-thinking curriculum and planning to prepare for meeting our future teaching and learning and facilities needs. These are all important and positive initiatives, but despite these efforts we have seen a plateauing over the past couple of years in our graduation rates and assessment results. Now that the ongoing school funding litigation has reached a resolution and our district will have some certainty in terms of future funding over the next three to four years, I believe we must recommit to our focus on curriculum, instruction, and equity work to grow and improve our indicators of student success.

As an office holder, how would you try to mobilize efforts to address the important issue you identified above? If you have a sense of specific steps you might take, please share those.

Our work on this priority will undoubtedly be challenged by the constraints of planning within our current resources to expand and enhance the programs and experiences that we provide for our students. To make progress, our district will need to take a hard look at how our resources – time, dollars, staff, and facilities – are currently being used, and evaluate whether existing programs are leading to the successful outcomes that our board has identified as goals in our strategic plan. I will work to engage all stakeholders – staff, parents, students, and the community at large – in these discussions, so that our solutions to these challenges align with the goals and values of our community. I will also support our district’s school redesign work – USD 497 has four schools participating in the Apollo cohort of the Kansans Can School Redesign Project, with support from the Kansas State Department of Education. The successful launch of these redesign projects will also require extensive engagement of our school families, staff, and our community at large. Finally, I will continue to use my years of experience as a local board member to advocate for policies that support our schools with other Lawrence community leaders, with our state legislators, and at the national level.

Here is a profile of Kimbell from The Lawrence Journal-World. https://www2.ljworld.com/news/schools/2019/sep/17/school-board-member-shannon-kimball-wants-a-third-term-to-see-current-projects-through/

Paula Smith, candidate for Lawrence USD 497 Board of Education

Please provide a brief introduction and a description of why you are running for office.

I am passionate about our district and outcomes for all students and believe I have a unique experience by having attended the Lawrence district schools and a graduate from our very own Lawrence Alternative High School in 1997. I’m running for school board because I believe in the value of education. I care about the experiences of students, teachers, parents, guardians and the community that they have access to quality education. I have lived in Lawrence more than half my life and raised five children in our district, three are Lawrence High School graduates and two are currently attending Lawrence High as a sophomore and senior. I graduated from Haskell Indian Nations University with a bachelor’s in Indigenous and American Indian Studies and currently hold a master’s degree in Geography from the University of Kansas. I have recently worked with the United Way of Douglas County as the community engagement and volunteer director and accepted a new opportunity with the Kansas State Department of Education serving as the director of Mentor Kansas. Over the last year, I have worked with the Native American Student Services program serving as a committee chair and an active member of the district Equity Council. I have attended school board meetings to learn about the district strategic plan and participated in the superintendent community input sessions as a community member and parent. It is my goal to ensure we are transparent with families, parents and guardians, supporting teachers and initiatives that continue to improve student success.

Should you be elected, what is the single most important issue that you would like to see improvement on during your term in office? Please write a few sentences explaining your choice.

The single most important issue I would like to see improvement on is achieving equity and academic success for all students. We recently saw an increase in achievement gaps in Lawrence USD 497 for almost all minorities and students of color in math and English, language and arts.

As an office holder, how would you try to mobilize efforts to address the important issue you identified above? If you have a sense of specific steps you might take, please share those.

Growing and diversifying our options for kids by focusing on individual plans of study that may be personalized to better fit their needs.

Here is a profile of Smith from The Lawrence Journal-World. https://www2.ljworld.com/news/schools/2019/sep/20/school-board-candidate-smith-wants-to-help-all-students-find-success-in-education/

Thea Perry, candidate for Lawrence USD 497 Board of Education

Please provide a brief introduction and a description of why you are running for office.

As a former teacher and parent, education has always been at the forefront of my advocacy work. During my time as a PTO president at a Lawrence elementary school, I saw the impact of years of state funding cuts to education. I worked alongside education groups and legislators to restore state funding, joining the “Walk to Topeka” and organizing rallies and organizational meetings with communities around the state. The funding restoration was a victory despite being lower than hoped; rebuilding has begun. In January, my daughter and I met with our senators and representatives in Washington D.C. to advocate for increased funding of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, a historically underfunded mandate to ensure equity for our students with disabilities. Now my work has returned to my own school district, and it is my hope to utilize the connections made and knowledge gained during years of advocacy work to serve the students, families, teachers, and staff of our Lawrence schools.

Should you be elected, what is the single most important issue that you would like to see improvement on during your term in office? Please write a few sentences explaining your choice.

We must work to close the achievement gap experienced by marginalized students. If we are sincere about confronting the inequity and disparate outcomes in our district, our disciplinary practices and the distress that leads to those events must be evaluated. Statistically, suspension and expulsion lead to poorer long-term outcomes. Restorative justice methods and best practices should be a component of policy in every school. We cannot pretend these issues exist only in our schools or can be addressed in a vacuum. I support collaboration and communication with community partners and other local governing bodies around the forces, structures, and behaviors that result in inequity in our schools and poorer health outcomes of our community members of color.

As an office holder, how would you try to mobilize efforts to address the important issue you identified above? If you have a sense of specific steps you might take, please share those.

Our history of racism and white supremacy must be taught and examined. This work can be supported with training, education, and community support. It is imperative that we center the experiences and feedback received from people of color and other marginalized communities as we work to raise the level of racial consciousness in our schools. I applaud the district’s efforts to increase leadership and staff of color. I hope to see approaches and practices in our classrooms informed by Critical Race Theory, which informs us that racial consciousness is linked to behaviors and methods employed in the classroom.

Here is a profile of Perry from The Lawrence Journal-World. https://www2.ljworld.com/news/schools/2019/sep/19/surviving-cancer-motivated-school-board-candidate-perry-to-run-for-office/

The Journal did not receive responses to its survey from Lawrence USD 497 Board of Education candidate Carole Cadue-Blackwood.

Here is a profile of Cadue-Blackwood from The Lawrence Journal-World. https://www2.ljworld.com/news/schools/2019/sep/16/school-board-candidate-cadue-blackwood-wants-to-be-voice-for-underprivileged-students/