Changes at City Hall top Baldwin City story of 2015

A young mother stops to look at a vintage VW bug at the Baldwin City Chamber of Commerce car show in June. The show was one of many events that drew visitors to the community, and was one of many events that kept the chamber busy after it added Hank Booth its first-ever executive director. Later in the year, Jennette Blackmar state as office manager at its new office location in the Lumberyard Arts Center. Enlarge photo

December 29, 2015

The top Baldwin City story of 2014 kept giving through the past 12 months by prompting changes in City Hall, which is the top local story of 2015.

In April, city voters significantly changed the Baldwin City Council with the election of three new members. The shakeup came after two sitting members of the council, Jason Mock and Ken Wagner, chose not to seek another term. Winning candidates Brown, who had served on the council previously, and political newcomers Steve Bauer and Dave Simmons were elected over incumbent Shane Starkey. Starkey later said at a council meeting that the failed attempt to open a Walmart Express in the city, which was the top local story of 2014, cost him the seat.

Before the election, Bauer spoke out at a council meeting against a proposed littering ordinance, saying it stemmed from a dispute between him and then City Administrator Chris Lowe. Tensions soon developed between the city administrator and the new council, which came to a head in June when Bauer and Simmons asked that a volunteer annexation of property west of the business park be tabled for two weeks at its second and final consideration. They maintained Lowe’s failure to share information with the council that a sewer line through the property would benefit the business park significantly changed the annexation and that the public should have time to consider that detail.

The next week, the annexation request was withdrawn before the council could consider. That action came after the property owners dealt with unfounded rumors and accusations the site was to be the home of a Walmart Express. A month later in August, Lowe resigned to take a town manager position in Monument, Colo.

After that rocky start, the council has demonstrated the ability to work together. In August, the council approved a $175,000 extension of sewer lines to the business park, which would have been installed by the property owners had their annexation request been approved. The council also approved the installation of a $1.5 million interception, which will relieve capacity issues on the east side and allow for growth in the area. Planning for that project will start in 2016. The council also authorized city staff to seek a $1.48 million low-interest loan from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment for the replacement of old cast iron water mains in old town.

Finally in December, the council unanimously voted to end a four-month search for a new city administrator with the hiring of Glenn Rodden for that position. He will start Feb. 1

Another issue before the council was the city’s capital improvement project list. After hearing details of improvements to City Hall, a new police station, a new public works headquarters, the building of a theater at the Lumberyard Arts Center, the council voted in April to include those projects on its 2016 capital improvement list, although no money has been allocated for any of the projects. Councilwoman Christi Darnell voted against the list because it didn’t include a community center, a project the council also considered.

In November, the Baldwin City Recreation Commission board members took up that cause and approached the council and the school board with the news the BCRC was starting a campaign to build a community center. The board members promised a capital fundraising campaign and town hall meetings, possibly as early as January. They indicated the city would be asked to provide funding through property and/or sales taxes and the school district might be asked to provide land.

After those meetings, the BCRC decided to tweak the start of the campaign by naming a steering committee, which is to make sure the key players — the BCRC, city, school district and Baker University — were on the same page. It was also decided that steering committee would first identify the site for the community center.

It was a rather quiet year for the school district, even though there was much ruckus statewide on the issue of funding for public education. Although the district did take belt-tightening measures in response to the state’s funding crisis, the district survived the reneging of a promised funding increase and then a freeze in funding to 2013-2014 levels through use of reserves.

The board also emerged from last spring’s election with lithe change. Kelley Bethell-Smith was elected with no opposition to the board, and Chad Christie was re-elected to the only contested board contest.

Baldwin City took a big step toward staying competitive in the 21st century with the arrival in September of RG Fiber’s gigabit Internet service in the community. At that time, the company was also able to start service at Baker University. The company is now working to extend service to the rest of the community while looking to expand into the Eudora and Lawrence.

Another significant development in the local business community was the hiring in February of Hank Booth as the first executive director of Baldwin City Chamber of Commerce. Other Chamber changes this year included the move from the old filling station one door east to the Lumberyard Arts Center and the hiring in November of Jennette Blackmar as office manager.

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