Lawrence council overturns six mayoral vetoes


The Lawrence Common Council’s mid-month meeting March 22 lasted about half an hour and was devoted primarily to overturning a series of mayoral vetoes. 

The votes to overturn were for:

  • A $250,000 appropriation to investigate what happened with the 2022 budget, which was not submitted properly to the state. Because of that failure, the 2022 budget reverted to the 2021 budget. Council member Rick Wells voted against the override.
  • An ordinance requiring council approval before the controller can pay most claims, not including payroll, and requiring a fully itemized invoice for claims. The override passed unanimously.
  • An ordinance requiring that professional services contracts of $5,000 or more be approved by the council. Previously, that limit was $25,000. The override passed unanimously. 
  • A budget transfer within the administrative services fund. Council member Shawn Denney said the intent is to get a better accounting and understanding of what those budget items are, and that the council can transfer funds back later. Wells abstained.
  • A resolution authorizing the retention of accounting firm Baker Tilly Municipal Advisors to help develop a long-term financial plan for the city. The proposal estimates a cost not to exceed $20,000 to develop the plan. Wells voted against the override.
  • A resolution that removed American Rescue Plan Act funds from the 2023 spending plan, with the intention of spending them in 2024. The override passed unanimously. 

There was little to no discussion of each motion during the meeting, and the time for council members to provide comments was not on the agenda. 

After the meeting, Wells told Current that he voted against the appropriation to investigate the budget because it’s not clear what the benefit would be to taxpayers. 

“If we win, what have we won? Other than you get to sit back and point a finger and say I told you so,” he said. “I think there was probably wrongdoing on both sides — administration should have been more transparent, but council should have been more on their toes.”

Wells, a Democrat representing District 2, said he believes the state would be better equipped to conduct an investigation, if one is warranted. 

Wells is running for reelection to a third term on the council. Also running in the Democratic primary for District 2 is Maythe Castillo.

Council President Tyrrell Giles sent a news release following the initial vote to appropriate funds for the investigation. In that statement, he said the budget reversion resulted in higher taxes for Lawrence residents, and that initial investigation results indicate the reversion was deliberate. Giles also said that Mayor Steve Collier, a Republican, was hindering the council’s efforts to investigate what happened. 

“Despite these obstructions, the Council will move forward and finish this investigation, including conducting additional depositions, requesting relevant documents, and completing an independent accounting review of the City’s 2022 financial records,” Giles wrote in his news release. “This accounting review is key to completing the investigation, as the City’s 2022 financials have not been audited by a third party.”

In a March 17 statement, Collier explained his vetoes:

  • State statutes prohibit the council from appropriating funds without a prior recommendation from the mayor, which is why he vetoed the $250,000 for the investigation, and the contract with the accounting firm. 
  • The ordinance requiring council approval for all claims except payroll “will likely interfere with the city’s ability to meet its regularly occurring financial obligations. Not only will this create an unnecessary barrier to making certain payments in a timely manner, it will inhibit the city’s ability to respond to emergency situations as they arise.”
  • The motion requiring council approval for contracts of $5,000 or more “encroaches on the executive and administrative powers that are reserved for the mayor and the administration.”
  • The funds transfer will complicate the city’s ability to fund legal defenses for employees, especially those who work in public safety, along with other expenses.
  • The ARPA funds transfer to 2024 “not only contradicts the ‘emergency’ nature of the funds, but exacerbates the very effects ARP funding was intended to combat, i.e., inflation.”

Giles announced at the end of the March 22 meeting that the regular April 3 meeting was canceled. The next scheduled Lawrence Common Council meeting is April 19.