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May 2024 Newsletter

Felix Kirkland was selected as a finalist at the Kansas Entrepreneurship Challenge. He also recently received honorable mention in the Douglas County Pitch Competition.

Local Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge champion named finalist at state competition

Felix Kirkland, first-place winner of this year’s Douglas County Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge (YEC), was selected as a finalist in the state competition this spring.

Felix was among 81 students who participated in the Kansas Entrepreneurship Challenge in April in Manhattan. They were judged on their business executive summaries and mock boardroom presentations. Thirty-one students received a cash prize, including Felix who received $1,700. The competition is open to students in grades 6-12.

“It was pretty fun to compete, and I had a great time,” said Felix, who just completed eighth grade at Liberty Memorial Central Middle School in Lawrence.

His business idea is “Greener Grass,” an all-electrical lawn tool rental service. The company would have solar-powered storage sheds located in neighborhoods where people could rent all-electric lawn tools, such as mowers, trimmers, leaf blowers, edgers and batteries that are charged by the sun.

Tyler Lindquist, of Multistudio, was a judge at the Douglas County competition and has provided Felix with some local networking connections in hopes of possibly turning his business idea into a reality. “Felix has done a great job moving forward with his business goals,” Lindquist said.

** Planning is underway for Douglas County's 2025 Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge. If you're interested in participating as a student, parent, mentor, teacher, administrator, judge or sponsor, please fill out this form!

A letter dated Jan. 20, 1937, was discovered during renovation work in the County Commission chamber. The letter was written by Dwight Dale. It was addressed to United Safeway Stores where he was seeking employment.

Minnesota resident grateful to finance manager for salvaging his dad's 1937 letter

A letter dated Jan. 20, 1937, was recently discovered during renovation work in the County Commission chamber. The letter and a document resembling an English assignment in the same handwriting were found between boards in the storage area that is located behind the old jury box. The letter was signed by Dwight Dale. 

Within a couple of days, our Finance Manager Brooke Sauer found and connected with one of Dwight’s sons, Lyman Dale, who resides in Minnesota. Brooke took the initiative to frame the letter and the assignment, and sent them to Lyman, along with details about the renovation project.

Upon receiving the package, Lyman shared the contents with his family, including his only brother in California. He expressed his surprise and gratitude towards Brooke for her efforts in preserving this piece of history. “Brooke’s interest in this story is truly remarkable. Her actions were deeply meaningful and are greatly appreciated,” he said.

The letter was addressed to United Safeway Stores where he was seeking employment.

Hope Thommen, left, listens to Adult Services Officer Shannon Bruegge during her graduation ceremony in October 2023 from the Drug Court program. Also, pictured is The Honorable Mark Simpson who presides over Drug Court. Hope serves as president of a new Douglas County Drug Court Alumni Group.

Nonprofit leader passionate about supporting participants, graduates of specialty court program

A recently formed Douglas County Drug Court Alumni Group is about to get a boost thanks to a $2,500 donation from the Social Service League, the oldest nonprofit organization in Douglas County. Meg Davis, vice president of the Social Service League, is scheduled to present a check to the alumni group on June 7 during a Drug Court graduation ceremony. The alumni group will use the funding for recovery activities and community events.

“The Social Service League is an avid supporter of Drug Court, and we are very proud to be affiliated with such an outstanding program,” Davis said. “We have had many Drug Court clients fulfill their community service hours in our store. Upon graduation, it is not unusual for graduates to tell us things like, ‘Drug Court saved me,’ ‘Drug Court was the best thing that ever happened to me,’ or ‘My life would still be a mess, if it were not for Drug Court.’”

She said these powerful testimonials underscore the effectiveness of the program, which demands accountability, hard work, and the fulfillment of obligations from its participants.

District Attorney's Office releases annual report

Douglas County District Attorney Suzanne Valdez recently announced the release of the 2023 Annual Report for the Douglas County District Attorney’s Office. The report highlights the office's achievements and efforts as it continues to strive towards its mission of a safe and just community.

The 2023 Annual Report details key aspects of the District Attorney’s Office’s work, including prosecutions that have contributed to public safety, initiatives designed to engage with and support the community and prosecutorial data that shows how the office is working to uphold the rule of law and promote justice for all residents of Douglas County.

“We are committed to transparency and accountability in our work,” Valdez said. “Our team has worked tirelessly throughout the past year to ensure justice is served and our community remains safe. Our report reflects our commitment to these goals and our ongoing dedication to the people of Douglas County.”

To view the annual report

Sheriff's Office employees receive state recognition for actions after head-on vehicle crash

Sheriff’s Office Lt. Mark Mehrer and Master Deputy Tyler Jackson received statewide recognition in May as part of the Kansas Association of Chiefs of Police Valor Awards in Wichita along with dozens of other law enforcement personnel across the state. Mehrer and Jackson were presented with the Silver Award for Uncommon Valor for their actions after an April 2023 head-on crash in western Douglas County.

Both vehicles suffered catastrophic damage and a female passenger was trapped in one of the vehicles, which had caught fire and was filling with smoke. Mehrer used a fire extinguisher to suppress the flames while Jackson entered the rear seat of the vehicle to free the passenger and pull her to safety, while her clothing was smoking as she was pulled from the wreckage.

Douglas County Commissioners proclaimed National Corrections Officer Week, May 5-11, and National Law Enforcement Week, May 12-18, to coincide with national recognitions each week. Sheriff Jay Armbrister describes the importance of the recognition in these videos:

About your Board of County Commissioners

Chair Karen Willey

Vice Chair Shannon Reid

Patrick Kelly

Douglas County Commission meetings are at 5:30 p.m. Wednesdays at Public Works/Zoning and Codes Building, 3755 E. 25th St, in the training room. Meetings are also available on Zoom. Commission meetings are taking place in the Public Works/Zoning and Codes building due to renovation of the Commission meeting room in the historic Courthouse.

County Commissioners took the following action on regular business agenda items in May. They unanimously approved:

  • a text amendment updating Wind Energy Conversion System (WECS) standards to the Zoning and Land Use regulations for the unincorporated areas of Douglas County. This followed the Jan. 22, 2024, Planning Commission recommendation for approval of the revised regulations. Specifically, this includes a setback distance from non-participating properties of 2,500 feet from the property line.
  • adopting “A Place for Everyone,” the community’s strategic plan to end chronic homelessness.
  • proceeding to the Design and Development phase of the Judicial & Law Enforcement Center remodel and addition project.
  • the “Adapt Douglas County: A Climate Action and Adaptation Plan.
  • Resolution No. 24-14 granting a conditional use permit, CUP-23-00312, for a commercial/utility scale solar energy conversion system with conditions recommended and approved at the April 13, 2024, special County Commission meeting, and the Findings of Fact as prepared by legal counsel.

** Recordings of the meetings can be found on the Douglas County YouTube channel.

Work sessions

County Commissioners have work sessions to study and discuss various topics throughout the year. No action or public comment is taken during work sessions. The following work sessions is scheduled for 4 p.m. in June:

  • June 12 – Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center's Youth Recovery Center.

* Note: There will be no County Commission meeting on Wednesday, June 19.

Commission meeting information and agendas

Commissioners give green light to 'Adapt Douglas County: A Climate Action and Adaptation Plan'

County Commissioners unanimously approved adoption of the “Adapt Douglas County: A Climate Action and Adaptation Plan” during their business meeting on May 22. The plan aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help the community adapt to the risks of climate change.

“Adapt Douglas County” contains 14 goals and corresponding strategies for reducing emissions and thriving amid a changing climate, and they are outlined in four sections:

  • Energy – powering where we live, work and play. 
  • Mobility – moving around the community safely and efficiently. 
  • Living Systems – balancing land uses, ecosystems, and natural functions. 
  • Thriving Community – nurturing health and resilience across the county. 

“By calling the plan ‘Adapt Douglas County,’ we are reinforcing the fact that adaptation is more than addressing vulnerabilities and increasing preparedness, it is also drastically adjusting how we meet our needs as a community. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is our greatest opportunity to adapt how we co-exist with the natural world when it comes to the climate,” Sustainability Manager Kim Criner Ritchie said.

The plan also includes recommendations for prioritizing equity in climate actions, a section outlining implementation roles, methods and next steps, and context of county emissions relative to global reduction goals.


The need for a plan was identified in Plan 2040, which specifically calls for Douglas County to adopt a climate change adaptation and mitigation plan.

Adapt Douglas County website

Common Ground to host free workshops about composting in June

Common Ground, the community gardening and urban agriculture program, will offer free workshops on composting in June. Composting is the natural process of recycling organic matter such as leaves and food scraps into valuable fertilizer that can enrich the soil for gardening and farming.

The instructor for the workshops will be Stan Ring, former Douglas County Extension Horticulture Program Assistant and a Douglas County Master Gardener.

The workshops will be held at four different Common Ground sites:

  • Thursday, June 6, 6 p.m., Penn Street Community Garden, 1313 Pennsylvania St.
  • Sunday, June 9, 10 a.m., Garden Incubator at John Taylor Park, 200 N. Seventh St.
  • Tuesday, June 18, 6 p.m., Growing Together Community Garden, West Third and Alabama streets.
  • Saturday, June 22, 10 a.m., Common Ground Incubator Farm, Highway 24/40 (across from Teepee Junction)

All four sessions will cover the same material. The workshops are free and open to the public, but please register by email to and indicate which session you’d like to attend.

Jude Croft works on a mural at Penn Street Community Garden, 1313 Pennsylvania St.

Lawrence native Jude Croft paints mural at Penn Street Community Garden

Penn Street Community Garden got a colorful makeover in May thanks to Kansas City-based artist Jude Croft. The garden is one of the oldest Common Ground sites, established in 2012.

In 2023, garden managers Ruben and Kathy Hamilton began beautifying the space by painting the garden’s picnic table and bench a bright yellow. In April, students from KU helped paint the fence posts surrounding the garden in the same color. “I just love sunflowers and the color yellow. It’s such a happy color," Ruben Hamilton said. “We just want our community garden to be a happy place."

Croft created a mural on the shed based on the sunflowers. The project started in early May and was finished in less than two weeks. “This was literally the most enjoyable project I’ve ever done,” Croft said. “I could paint community garden sheds forever."

Lawrence-native Croft graduated from Van Go’s The Arts Train Program in Spring of 2020 and then graduated from the Kansas City Art Institute in 2023 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in painting. He currently lives in Kansas City, Mo.

Common Ground website

County Appraiser covers frequently asked questions, appeals data in latest newsletter

“Homeless Issues, Affordable Housing and The Appraisal Process,” is a topic in this month’s Douglas County Appraisal Newsletter. Among the questions, the office has received:

  • Can you lower my value due to proximity to the pallet shelter village?
  • How are you accounting for the increased transient population in downtown?
  • Can you take into account the transitional housing down the street that upsets the neighborhood?

The answer to all questions is: No. In accordance with local, state, and federal laws on fair housing and related Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice (USPAP) regulations, an appraiser cannot develop an opinion of value that is based on the actual or perceived personal characteristics as well as income or inhabitants of a geographic area. This includes proximity to shelters, low-income housing and crime.

For information about the appraisal process, number of property value appeals and more, download this month's Appraisal newsletter.

Dennis Brown, Lawrence Preservation Alliance board member and chair of the Preservation in Progress (PIP) committee, is pictured with Douglas County Director of Capital Projects Jay Zimmerschied in front of the Courthouse.

Lawrence Preservation Alliance recognizes work on County Courthouse

The Lawrence Preservation Alliance presented Douglas County with a Spring 2024 Preservation in Progress Award for its work on the historic Courthouse in downtown Lawrence. The award recognizes two projects that are underway: waterproofing of the foundation and renovation of the Commission chamber.

Visit to learn more about the award and projects. We greatly appreciate the recognition.

Heritage Conservation Council awards $420,000 in grants to 15 community projects

The Douglas County Heritage Conservation Council announced the recipients of the 2024 Natural & Cultural Heritage grant program after receiving approval from the Board of County Commissioners in April. A total of $220,000 was awarded to 11 projects.

An additional $200,000 was awarded to four projects focused on Open Space themes. These Open Space grants were made possible through a one-time allocation of federal American Rescue Plan Act funds awarded for the planning and implementation of Open Space initiatives in Douglas County.

The projects are expected to be completed within two years.

"These projects exemplify the diverse ways in which heritage is celebrated, conserved and shared in Douglas County," Heritage Conservation Coordinator Kaitlyn Ammerlaan said. "The Natural and Cultural Heritage grant program is an incredibly unique and wildly successful community resource that leverages local funds to conserve tangible and intangible heritage stories."

To view the projects and the amounts awarded, visit this website story.

Sheriff's Office Citizen's Academy class members learn from deputy instructors about vehicle stops and driving under the influence investigations.

Citizens learn about Sheriff's Office functions during six-week course

Members of the Sheriff’s Office 2024 Citizen’s Academy class graduated on May 17 after experiencing six weeks of learning about many aspects and functions of the Sheriff's Office.

"This class was very inquisitive and receptive but also went in-depth with our employees not just to hear the answers but find out why we do certain things the way we do them. That is the entire basis of the Citizen's Academy, bringing people in from the community to learn more about our agency and law enforcement," Sheriff Jay Armbrister said.

Their classes included sessions about the Douglas County Correctional Facility, investigations, emergency dispatch, court security, the Douglas County Underwater Search and Recovery team, mental health care and peer support in law enforcement, vehicle stops and DUI investigations, active shooter responses and how deputies train with firearms, tasers, drones and other tools.

The Sheriff’s Office offers the class each spring, and community members can begin applying for next year’s class in early 2025.

Sheriff's Office offers presentations about how to avoid phone, online scams

Sheriff Jay Armbrister spoke this month to residents at Branchwood Village and Clinton Place Apartments in Lawrence about awareness and prevention of online and phone scams and cybercrimes.

"The folks in this generation are often targeted explicitly for these types of scams," Armbrister said as he talked with the residents about being skeptical of messages or calls they receive and that they should always independently verify contacts with their financial institutions or law enforcement.

Thanks to the Senior Resource Center of Douglas County staff for putting the Sheriff’s Office in touch with senior living communities in the area and to those who have invited the Sheriff to come speak over the next few weeks about this important topic.

Any senior living community in Douglas County is welcome to contact the Sheriff’s Office, 785-841-0007 or, to schedule a time for a presentation.

We're moving to .Gov to improve identity, security

Douglas County’s IT Department started migrating services to a new domain this month. Our website is now located at County email addresses are being converted to in stages by departments with plans to be finished by June 7.

Why move to .GOV? It is easier to identify governments on the Internet and using a .GOV domain shows the website is an official government entity. The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) sponsors .GOV and makes it available solely to U.S.-based government organizations and publicly-controlled entities.

Additionally, using .GOV increases security:

  • Multifactor Authentication is enforced on all accounts in the .gov registrar, different than commercial registrars.
  • .GOV requires browsers to only use a secure HTTPS connection with our website. This protects our visitors’ privacy and ensures the content we publish is exactly what’s received.

All of the saved links to our former website address and its variations will be directed to the appropriate destination when you attempt to access the site. Messages sent to current email addresses will be forwarded to the appropriate destination.

Douglas County Government’s offices will be closed Wednesday, June 19, in recognition of Juneteenth. There also will be no Commission meeting on June 19.

Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers arrived in Texas with news that the war had ended and all African American people, who were dehumanized and enslaved against their will, were now free under the Emancipation Proclamation.

Judicial and Law Enforcement Center:

111 East 11th Street

Lawrence, KS 66044

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