Lawrence Charter Needs an “Or Else” – PAYING ATTENTION WITH TOM DUGGAN



September, 2004

One of the major problems with the Lawrence City Charter is that there’s no accountability clause when any mayor simply refuses to follow or enforce the law.

This has been a problem since 1986 when the city charter first went into affect. Since then, the frustration of Lawrence residents and City Councilors have resulted in heated exchanges and deep animosity to the point of stagnation in city government.

Several years ago, the City Council passed an ordinance setting a curfew for teenagers in the city. Since then, no mayor has ever enforced the law, even though a majority of Lawrence voters support it.

When the City Charter called for a residency requirement for all city workers, former mayor Mary Claire Kennedy (among others) thumbed her nose at the people and blatantly refused to enforce it.

Residents and City Councilors who were outraged by her apathy and obstinacy had no recourse other than to shrug their shoulders and hope to elect someone else next time around who would enforce residency the law.

DOWLINGAnd when candidate Patricia Dowling promised “Lawrence Jobs for Lawrence People”, the voters of Lawrence overwhelmingly supported her…only to sit by helplessly when she took office and again, the law was ignored.

Last month, the Lawrence City Council took a vote to hold contractors accountable for violating a residency ordinance, which requires them to hire Lawrence residents for 30% of all construction jobs (funded through the city). But the City Charter gives the council no such enforcement authority and the vote was deemed irrelevant.

What Lawrence clearly needs is an “OR ELSE” clause.

If government officials in the City of Lawrence are truly serious about enforcing laws and moving the city forward, it only makes sense to enact a charter change and include an “or else” clause.

This would be an invaluable tool against scofflaw mayors who pick and choose what ordinances to enforce and which ones are politically expedient to ignore. With an “or else” clause, when the council passes an ordinance and the mayor (any mayor) neglects that ordinance or willingly refuses to enforce it, the “or else” clause could strip enforcement authority from the offending mayor and give the City Council power to do so.

In other words, when contractors on city projects violate the residency ordinance and make no effort to hire Lawrence residents on multi-million dollar projects, the City Council could first direct the Mayor to enforce the ordinance. If the mayor refuses to do so, the council could vote to enact the “or else” clause and immediately be empowered by the charter to take whatever enforcement measures are necessary.

This “or else” concept is sorely needed in the Lawrence City Charter. When any mayor can flaunt violating the law as Kennedy and Dowling did, (telling the voters “there is nothing you can do until the next election”), the voters have to take matters into their own hands. One way to do that is with a referendum petition for a ballot question in the next city election.

Another avenue is for two thirds of the city council to amend the charter with language that strips enforcement authority away from any mayor who ignores or abuses said authority, and grants the authority to the council itself to enforce those laws.