Spring 2017 Town Hall

I am planning a town hall meeting for the residents of District 6 on May 4th, 2017 at 6:30 PM. It will be held in room 101C at the Shawnee County Public Library. A few of the agenda items are below:

  • Discuss how to fund the long-term roads maintenance and repair project
  • Animal Control Changes
  • Affordable Housing

Our intent is to stream the event on here if the technical details can be worked out in time.  If you have questions about the event, please contact me.

Bicycles, Roller Skates, & Skateboards Oh My!

There has been a lot of discussion surrounding the proposed ordinance regarding bicycles, roller skates, and skateboards in downtown.  I’ve heard a number of interpretations calling it a “ban” and saying it would “limit access”.  But, if you look at what we have now, this would provide much more access.  Currently, riders are supposed to walk bikes over a large area, much of which doesn’t make sense. What we have now is below in yellow and the proposed new one is in red.

Updated Dismount District Map

A full sized version can be found here.

Another aspect of this is public safety. There are many hidden doorways and corners in downtown, someone who is moving along at speed might have trouble reacting fast enough to a pedestrian appearing from a hidden area.

Many of us have worked for years to help build a downtown Topekans can be proud of. I’m a little disheartened to hear this ordinance referred to as a “ban”. Everyone is welcome in downtown regardless of how they choose to get around. This ordinance only asks that riders dismount for a very small part of downtown where pedestrian traffic is heavy and expected to grow.

If you have thoughts or feelings about this, please let me know on my Facebook page!

The Vote For Four

Of all the votes I’ve been asked to cast as the City Council Member for District 6, voting to replace Jonathan Schumm has been by far the most complex. There are quite a few issues to balance in this decision, none of them easy on their own. I thought I might run though a few of the issues that come to mind as I consider this vote. (These are in no particular order.)

  • Who shares the vision for the future of Topeka? Many of us have worked for years toward building a better community with safe and healthy neighborhoods, excellent schools, vibrant entertainment, and well maintained infrastructure (just to name a few and in no particular order). We’ve made great progress toward this goal and are already reaping some of the benefits. Much though, is left to be done.  While someone who doesn’t support the vision the community has set forth wouldn’t necessarily derail it, it could significantly slow it down and make it that much more difficult for us to catch up with competing cities.
  • Who would the voters of District 4 select to represent them? An obvious question with a much less obvious answer. I feel there are two schools of thought in how voters select their representative: (1. Who is the best of the available candidates and/or (2. Who would work best with others to accomplish something? The answer to the first might be a bit easier in theory as I could vote for one that has similar qualities and experience to the previous seat holder. Two, on the other hand, gets into the balance of the Council and is much more dicey. Mr. Schumm rounded out out team nicely and has left very big shoes to fill.
  • How might this change the balance of the Council? Having a good balance is vitally important. If everyone agreed all the time, we wouldn’t have the discussions that really help vet the pros and cons of each idea. That requires a diverse team with different backgrounds and values. On the flip side, if no one can agree on anything, nothing gets done and our City doesn’t get anywhere.
  • What qualities would District 6 like to see in a council member? Even though I’m essentially making this decision on the behalf of the folks of District 4, at the end of the day, I’m responsible to the voters of District 6. And their opinions are important to every vote I cast.

It’s a tough call to make and one I’m taking very seriously. All the candidates are excellent folks and would represent their constituents well. But who is the right one for the right time? That is the question at hand!

Have some thoughts? Head over to facebook and let’s discuss!

My Thoughts on Nudity & Vaping

Its been an interesting couple of days talking with folks in the lead up to tonight votes to ban public nudity and add vaping to the our existing smoking ban. As I mentioned in the meeting, I was overwhelmed with feedback from constituents and I can’t say thank everyone enough who took the time to answer my call for thoughts and ideas. I plan to make asking for feedback a regular event and if you’re not signed up to the part of the team you can do so here.


To me, this was not an easy decision. I’m not really a smoker, I have been known to partake in a decent cigar every now and then, but I’ve never had the desire to smoke cigarettes and thus never had to endure the pain of trying to quit. What I didn’t want to do was take a way a tool smokers who wanted to quit could use to help them achieve their goal. But as I learned more, I came to the conclusion that these things aren’t really designed to help one quit. I will agree it does appear that they have a smaller quantity of harmful chemicals than do cigarettes. So if you must smoke, e-cigarettes would be the lesser of two evils. However, just like cigarettes, they still emit byproducts that could harm bystanders. I emphasize could here because there is so much research that is all over the place its hard to know definitively if the leftover chemicals in the vapor are of concentrations that are high enough to do damage. But still, its not just water-vapor as I’d been lead to believe in the past.

Another interesting point was the impact to businesses. We didn’t really see that big a hit with the original smoking ban I’m told, but now we’re expecting staff to try and see what kind of thing is putting off “smoke” in the corner after they’ve been trained for years that smoking is banned. That’s going to take time away from customers and ultimately cost the business money. (I’ll be it, I didn’t think it would be that much, time is still money and in a fragile economy our business friends need all the help they can get.)

All and all, I’m glad it passed, but I do think we need to have the significantly more complex conversation of how we can try to keep these things out of the hands of teens and kids. I’m no expert here and maybe there really isn’t anything that can be done. But I think we should at least discuss it and make sure we’re doing all we can.


 Public Nudity

Such an interesting topic! What surprised me was the number of women who didn’t support the exemption for nursing moms! Again, not an expert here (not even close), but I’ve seen the faces of new moms and it looks to me like they have enough to deal with already.

At any rate, this was also a tough choice. Anytime time you start to tinker with peoples right to expression, I take that very seriously. I wanted to make sure, that anyone taking prudent steps could still enjoy a more open lifestyle if they chose. After looking over the incidents of the recent past, it seems to me that those folks who are out and about in public are really just trying to get attention. I’m not so much ok with disturbing others just for that, plus I couldn’t really find any research to support running around in the nude as a good idea.

I do agree with Councilman Harmon in that I think the language about public places is a bit vague, but hopefully we can clean that up at some-point.

I’m hopeful that we’ve crafted a solution that, as much as possible, will allow people on both sides of the issue to live life as they choose, but if it doesn’t please be sure to let me know!

Transient Guests, Their Money, & Our Future

Guests in our community make up a big chunk of the money we can spend in Topeka. Part of our role on the Transient Guest Tax (TGT) Committee is to determine how to best reinvest that revenue to help maintain our ability to stay competitive in a tough industry. We’re surrounded by communities also fighting for the same guests, conferences, festivals, events and, you guessed it, revenue.  To help with that, most communities have a convention and visitors bureau tasked with making strategic investments that will bring folks to the community and increase tax revenue. In Topeka, we have Visit Topeka, which takes on that challenge and does a great job. On average, for every $1 we give them to invest, they are able to give the City $3 back in revenue.

This year is unique in that part of the TGT tax is set to expire at the end of the 2015. In the past, 1% has been dedicated to things like the Riverfront Park, the Great Overland Station and historic preservation. We’ve already think we should keep it around for the next 12 years (a formal Council vote will take place before Sept. 1). Now the question is, “What to do with it?” Conservative estimates indicate it could generate a little more than $7 million dollars. Not much in the grand scheme of things, but if sliced up and invested correctly, it could really jump start some the tourist attractions that have been trying to get off the ground for years.

That brings us to where we are today. We’ve put out a call for organizations who could use a bit of a boost to get their tourism-related project off the ground to apply for some of these funds. Many of the organizations that have expressed interest have great projects, but it would take years to raise enough money to get them enough momentum to get off the ground.

My hope is that we can package a number of these smaller tourist attractions into a much larger plan to give our City a tourism boost with lots of new places to explore in the next few years!

Why Contracted Services Matters

There is always quite a bit of chatter when the City talks about granting money to not-for-profits. I’ve received emails from both sides of the discussion. Some folks are adamant it’s not the government’s role to use tax money for things outside of infrastructure, public safety and the like. On the flip-side are folks who feel the government is to slow to react to community needs, and a lean non-profit can move quickly to address needs in the community much faster than the City could.

Whatever your side, we are well on our way to grant out close to three quarters of a million dollars to various non-profits this year. For the past couple of years, the City has worked hard to shift this process to a more outcomes-based system.  That means an organization must produce or exceed a set results or outcomes throughout the course of the year to continue to receive City funding.  Think of the private sector putting out a request for bids to do a job, then paying down half at the beginning and half when the work has been done satisfactorily.

So why is this the City’s role when it comes to not-for-profits?  Ultimately the City must provide a community people want to live in. That means citizens need to feel safe, have good roads, clean water and the like. Many of these organizations have the ability help achieve certain aspects of this Quality of Life goal much cheaper than could the City. Our role in granting these funds is to ensure we are getting the biggest bang for our buck and making Topeka the best community for everyone to call home.

Heartland Park: The Vote

Too often in the history of our community we have made what I would consider to be economic blunders, or generally shot ourselves in the foot. In years gone by, I’m told we had the chance to build the ExpoCenter downtown between two hotels. However, because the folks who owned them could have made quite a bit of revenue off it, the decision was made to build it in the old fairgrounds. Now, one of those two hotels sits abandoned and is one of the first things visitors to our community see as they enter our downtown. Not to mention the fact, that apparently we spent 10 years or so trying to get a hotel built next to the ExpoCenter. Blinded by the opportunity of someone else, we lost sight of the big picture for our community. I expect the same has now happened with Heartland Park. Blinded by the dissatisfaction of the current operator, we have voted down the safety-net that would have helped pay off the existing debt and given us the ability to control the immediate future of this vital economic engine.

Having said that, I do admit it is possible that the private sector could come charging in and save us. As I said in the council meeting life is all about risk, and leaving the Park in the hands of the private sector is one we must now take. I for one am hoping and praying that they do come in and keep it going. As far I understand for now though, it’s up to CoreFirst, and the judicial system to litigate it out. I expect, at least for the time being, the park going dark is almost certain. Let’s just hope, it’s not forever.

I voted yes tonight to help protect the jobs of the folks whose businesses support Heartland Park and the racing industry in Topeka. I voted yes to protect the taxpayers of Topeka who now must cover the debt, possibly with nothing to show for it. It was a tough vote, and I’ve lost quite a bit of sleep over it in the past week. But at the end of the day, I feel it was the right thing to do for the future of our City.

What’s done is done and now it’s time to move on. Thanks to everyone who contacted me to share an opinion. I look forward to hearing from you again on the next tough call.

Some Thoughts on Heartland Park

Quite a few folks have contacted me regarding Heartland Park. I thought I’d take a moment and share some of my thoughts and a few facts I’ve been given by the staff at the City.

To begin with, this is a bad situation plain and simple. It was a bad deal when we made it in the 80’s and it still a bad deal more than 20 years later. Our primary goal here is to take a bad situation and try to make it less impactful to our city.

Here are some of the facts as I understand them:

  • The Reversionary Interest clause at the root of this issue was created in 1988.
  • We still owe $10.6 million in outstanding bonds issued in 2003.
  • The 50/50 match to the STAR bonds (both the current and proposed future ones) is the responsibly of the track’s potential operators all of whom are aware of it.
  • Legally, there is no real option to deal with the current reversionary interest clause other than a buy out.
  • According to the Legislative Division of Post Audit, the economic impact of Heartland Park is about $53 million.

My opinion as of now, is that we should issue the bonds and take control of the park, and get it in the hands of someone who is willing and able to operate it.

First off, if the plan works the way the Department of Commerce, the public accounting firm of Douthett & Company, Legislative Post Audit, and the City finance team say it should, then we won’t need to continue diverting funds from the mill levy to cover it. We owe $10.6 million on it and this is a way to pay that off without the need to raise taxes. That’s extremely important at a time where every dollar counts to families.

Second is the economic impact. Heartland Park has the potential to become a major economic engine for the community if operated correctly. With the right team and events, it could become a major revenue producer in the City. We’ve already built the facility, why not put it to good use?

I know many folks are upset that we would be bailing out Jayhawk Racing, but I understand most of the money he would get would have to go pay off the 80 some odd other business (many of whom are local) that he still owes.

The City has posted quite a bit of additional information on their website http://www.Topeka.org/HPT. I’d encourage anyone who would like to learn more to start there.

I don’t like this situation any more then the next guy, but if we’re going to break the patterns of our past that have held our community back for decades, we’re going to have to make tough, smart, educated decisions, and invest in our future for kayaking. Please post your comments and questions to my Facebook Page and let’s discuss.

Welcome to BrendanJensen.com!

Welcome to my new website! I’m hopeful that this can serve as a communications platform to help us better discuss the issues that face District 6 and the greater Topeka area. Comments and questions are always welcome on my Facebook Page . I can also be emailed at BJensen@Topeka.org or called at 785-422-0018. I’m looking forward to a very exciting 4 years of working to make District 6 and the rest of Topeka a wonderful city to call home!