Leaving a legacy: Two-term Lawrence mayor gives farewell State of the City address


Lawrence Mayor Steve Collier’s eighth and final State of the City address was more of a celebration and farewell party than a typical mayor’s speech.

Collier is finishing his second term as mayor and is not seeking reelection. The March 9 luncheon audience at The Fort Golf Resort was filled with a who’s-who of Lawrence, from public officials to business owners to educators, all there to honor the outgoing Republican mayor.

The event kicked off with a 25-minute video that captured eight years’ worth of accomplishments by Collier’s administration.

“I didn’t have political inclinations at all,” Collier said in the video. “I was a teacher and a coach for so long. But I also saw a real need for a leader with some vision that could take the city to another level.”

Longtime city employees featured in the video noted that before Collier’s election, the city was in poor financial shape and morale was low.

“We had to hold off on repairs. We were borrowing tires and other parts,” Lawrence Fire Dept. Chief Dino Batalis. “We were told pretty much no on anything we needed to function as a fire department.”

The city’s director of 911 communications, LiAnne Wolf, said she didn’t even have money to get the office’s front door fixed.

“I had to actually fix it with a lanyard tie,” she said.

At that time, the city had only $250,000 in reserves and was borrowing heavily from the state to operate.

After Collier was elected, he hired a new controller and others with professional credentials, rather than making political appointments. With those professionals in place, they were able to quickly make improvements, starting with fixing the finances.

The administration was able to negotiate new contracts with bargaining groups; increase training for police; buy new police vehicles; balance the budget; and improve the city’s bond rating. That last item allowed the city to borrow money for big projects.

One of those projects was the water utility, which was suffering from longstanding deferred maintenance. In the video, Collier said that prior to his administration, nobody wanted to raise rates to fix the infrastructure. He worked with the utilities superintendent to raise rates by 50 percent. Through that work, the utilities qualified for bonds to replace aging infrastructure, and Collier said the water utility is now in good shape for the next several decades.

The video also highlighted new community events established in the past eight years, such as farmers markets, Black History Month celebration, Fiesta Lawrence and the Christmas tree lighting celebration.

Following the video, Collier used his time to give credit to others. He asked city staff to stand for a round of applause, and then called on individual community members to stand and be recognized. They included Brady Foster, chef and owner of Foster’s Cafe and Catering; Elana Thompson, executive director of Arts for Lawrence; Dana Altemeyer, Grant Nesbit and Rodger Smith of the school district; and Rochelle Carey, who volunteers with a long list of Lawrence organizations.

Collier then sat down with Lawrence Chamber of Commerce President Brad Klopfenstein for a question-and-answer session.

During that portion of the event, Collier said his proudest achievements included the new police station, and getting the water utility fixed.

“For 12 years, we were sitting on this great resource and not taking care of it,” he said, referring to the large aquifer that provides water to the city.

Collier said one project he wished he could have completed was a new city hall that could be a one-stop location for all city-related business.

Klopfenstein asked Collier why he loves Lawrence, and Collier said it’s because the community has retained its small-town feeling even as it has grown. He said it’s important to maintain Lawrence’s unique identity moving forward.

“We have a history, but we also have a great future ahead of us,” he said.

The video can be viewed on YouTube. Search for “The Colier Years: Building Momentum from 2016-2023.”

Collier administration highlights 2016-2023

During the March 9 State of the City address and celebration of outgoing Lawrence Mayor Steve Collier, each audience member was given a booklet with a timeline showing accomplishments since 2016. Here are some of those highlights.


  • Stabilized and updated outdated technology
  • Hired more law enforcement officers
  • Purchased a new ladder truck for the fire department
  • Purchased body and vehicle cams for police officers
  • Initiated a water rate study


  • Established an operating reserve of $2 million, up from $250,000 the prior year
  • Won a Government Finance Officers Association Distinguished Budget Award
  • Upgraded the bond rating for the water utility
  • Purchased new patrol vehicles and ambulances, and fully staffed the 911 Center
  • Initiated a street paving program


  • Continued to increase operating reserves and won another GFOA award
  • Water utility bond rating continued to improve, and production capacity increased
  • Purchased more new police vehicles and hired more officers
  • Renovated and improved city parks


  • Continued to increase operating reserves and won a third GFOA award
  • Established an online bill-pay system for city utilities
  • Attracted new businesses to the city, while established businesses expanded
  • Purchased two new ambulances for the fire department
  • Cut the ribbon on the new police department
  • Designed a new Lawrence city flag and city seal.


  • Collier wins a second term as mayor
  • Continued to increase operating reserves and won a fourth GFOA award
  • Replaced all fire department front-line vehicles
  • Began reconstruction of the Fort Harrison water plant
  • Won the 2020 TechPoint Mira Award for Rising Tech City


  • Continued to increase operating reserves and won a fifth GFOA award
  • Fort Ben Cultural Campus opened
  • The city regained control of stormwater systems, collecting fees to improve it
  • Opened the Lee Road Trail and Fox Road Trail
  • Installed new park signs and expanded Winterfest


  • Maintained 20% operating reserves and won a sixth GFOA award
  • Construction ongoing for the new fire station 38, with completion set for 2023
  • Support K-9 Hoss added to the city’s first responders team
  • Completed renovations to Civic Plaza
  • Opened new Pickleball courts
  • Filled 8,000 potholes