Congratulations and thanks are certainly owed following the City Commission and school board elections. Congratulations to all the winners, and thank you to everyone who ran and played a role in the campaigns. It can be hard, uncomfortable work, but the community would cease to function if people didn’t give of their time and talents for a greater cause.
Now, though, it is reasonable to ask what we will next owe.
One interpretation of Tuesday’s results is that voters are ready to open their wallets. They want excellent government services, and they haven’t seen anything yet that causes them to balk at the price tag.
Consider that voters overwhelmingly approved all three sales tax proposals despite these facts:
- Lawrence residents are facing their largest property tax increase in years after the city, the county and the school district all passed significant property tax increases for 2018. Not long ago, it would have been considered bad politics for the city to raise its own mill levy right before asking voters to approve a series of critical sales taxes. This year, voters yawned.
- City commissioners decided they are going to build a new police headquarters building, despite voters rejecting a similar proposal in 2014. This time commissioners decided to bypass voters and move forward on their own authority. In the past, voters may have protested, but this year they didn’t even blink.
- City officials have been struggling to give away all of the funds that the city currently has set aside for affordable housing projects, but voters approved a tax that will add a million dollars a year to the funding stream. It is reasonable to expect government to have a more concrete plan of how to spend taxpayer dollars, but voters were not bothered. Affordable housing is a critical issue, and voters spoke with their hearts.
It will be interesting to see if elected leaders believe they have a green light to do more. Expect the Lawrence City Commission to become more liberal or progressive. It seems likely that new commissioner Jennifer Ananda is more liberal than outgoing commissioner Mike Amyx.
There is reason to believe the Lawrence school board also will change. Greater transparency, better communication and a willingness to stand up and tell district administrators when they’ve got it wrong are all needed from this board. Many candidates said the right things on the campaign trail in that regard.
We could be on the verge of an exciting time in Lawrence. Voters appear to have left the door open for leaders to be bold. Boldness sometimes can be expensive, but it also can produce great payoffs.
The results are uncertain — the quality of our leaders will be critical — but we do owe it to Lawrence to make this the best place it can be.