It was in a barbershop chair that Stuart Boley first considered running for a seat on the Lawrence City Commission.
Boley, now vice mayor, said his barber, longtime City Commissioner Mike Amyx, made the suggestion. But Boley said he didn’t decide then. Typical of the decision-making process shown in his two years on the commission, Boley took a measured approach to the question.
Address: 1812 W. 21st Terrace
Occupation: retired IRS agent
Education: Bachelor of Arts in English and modern European studies from the University of Kansas
Family: wife, Lisa, and three grown children
Following the suggestion, Boley said he spent weeks looking through the city’s financial statements. Boley, who is a retired Internal Revenue Service agent, said he saw shortcomings and ultimately decided that if elected to the commission, he could help restore confidence in city government.
“I ended up looking at how we did our money and really thinking that we could do better,” Boley said.
Boley will soon take his eye for numbers and budgeting to another level. On Jan. 8, if city commissioners stick with the tradition of promoting the vice mayor to mayor — which they are widely expected to do — Boley will become Lawrence's next mayor.
Boley, a University of Kansas alumnus who is originally from Lenexa, moved to Lawrence for good in 1983. He had by that time spent years with the IRS. After working in Houston and then Washington, D.C., Boley said that he and his wife, Lisa, decided they wanted to raise their family in Lawrence.
Though now retired with three grown children, Boley has stayed busy in the community.
When not at City Hall, he likes to garden and has served as a master food volunteer with the Douglas County Extension Service. He said he sees the position as a practical one.
“I wanted to learn how to use the stuff that came out of the garden better,” Boley said. He said part of the role is sharing recipes and information with the public at farmers' markets and other events.
And one thing Boley does every day — whether inside at Sports Pavilion Lawrence or around town — is walk. Besides being good exercise, walking is a way to keep up with residents.
“I love talking to people, so it’s good to check in with folks,” Boley said.
Boley recently left his volunteer position with the Douglas County Community Foundation, a local charity organization, which he said has allowed him to devote more of his time to the commission.
When Boley was elected in 2015, it was in the wake of the Rock Chalk Park controversy and the failed sales tax vote to fund a police headquarters. When speaking with Amyx about running, Boley said what Amyx emphasized was public trust.
Since then, the city also discovered about $700,000 in missing payments, in what Boley described as a debacle, but a process the city worked through openly. Boley said one way of increasing public trust is making the city’s budget more detailed and transparent.
The state does not require cities to budget all funds, and Boley pointed out that in 2015 the city had about $16 million in nonbudgeted funds — an approach that Boley doesn't consider optimal for transparency or decision-making.
“What we were doing was making a lot of one-off decisions instead of considering, 'How does this fit with the priorities of the city?'” Boley said.
Boley said he pushed for the city to budget all of its funds, which it has done for the past two years. The commission has also adopted a five-year capital improvement plan and a strategic plan that is used during the budget process to prioritize spending. Though Boley was clear not to presuppose his appointment as mayor, he said his focus as a member of the commission would be increasing clarity, transparency and prioritization in the budget process.
He wants the city to continue to raise its standards for the budget and work to remedy financial issues such as those that caused the missing payments.
“We’re not going to achieve perfection as an organization or individually; it’s how you deal with the mistakes that you make,” Boley said. “And acknowledging them and fixing them is the appropriate way to do it.”
State of the city
No matter who is appointed, the Jan. 8 meeting will be the end of Mayor Leslie Soden’s year in the position. When Soden was gearing up for the role a year ago, she said some of her goals for the next year were for the city to make more progress on affordable housing, improve collaboration between city departments and increase availability of high-speed internet.
Over the past year, Soden said she thinks the city’s Affordable Housing Advisory Board has done a great job determining priorities and better defining affordable housing. Soden said voter approval of a sales tax to fund the city’s affordable housing efforts was also a helpful gauge of public opinion.
“Because that’s what I’m here to do, is to represent the public,” Soden said.
Soden said the city’s strategic plan has helped increase collaboration among city departments but that her third goal is lagging. She said she is disappointed in the lack of progress and that perhaps it's time for the city to look at how the public sector can improve access to high-speed internet rather than waiting for the private sector to provide those options.
“If our city doesn’t step up to that, we are going to be further left behind,” Soden said.
Residents will hear more from Soden about the past year at the City Commission’s Jan. 8 meeting, when she will give the State of the City address. In addition to the appointment of mayor and vice mayor, the city will also seat its new commissioner, Jennifer Ananda. Ananda will fill the seat of Amyx, who decided not to run for re-election.