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  • Writer's pictureMike Matson

High Hopes

This column was published June 1, 2024 in the Manhattan Mercury.


There will be no Red Lobster in Manhattan. Blaming ‘All You Can Eat Shrimp,’ the seafood chain restaurant is bound for bankruptcy or the murky depths, whichever comes first. Not that netting a Red Lobster was the be-all and end-all for economic growth in Manhattan, but in recent years, it sort of took on mythical proportions and, right or wrong, served as an avatar of progress.


Will we get a Braum’s? What about a high-end steakhouse to replace Harry’s in the town that’s home to the land grant university of a state with 6,150,000 head of cattle, representing 7% of the national total?


What about workforce housing, private sector job growth, indoor aquatics, a plan for parks, questions of regulatory intransigence? We’ve no shortage of long-term thorny municipal challenges, and that’s before you even get to the very real short-term woes like street maintenance and repair.


To save vehicle wear and tear, I have made the purposeful decision to steer clear of Anderson Avenue. Let’s unpack that. That means I am burning more of my most valuable resource – my time – taking longer routes, to avoid risking an accident by dodging potholes.


That’s potholes, plural.


Given existing street conditions in Manhattan, I have determined that the suspension in my ’21 Bronco Sport is worth giving up some of my time. That’s a tradeoff, a personal choice and an informed decision.    

Our City Commission is wrestling with whether to advance a sales tax increase to the fall ballot. In what can only be described as a Bizarro parallel alternative universe, our elected state legislators will return to Topeka later this month for a special session, ostensibly for one reason – to reach agreement on a plan to lower taxes.


This summer, like every summer, the City Commission will build a budget. This summer, like every summer, they will hear the Oliver Twist-esque refrain from city staff. Please sir, can I have some more? At the same time, the Commission will be interviewing and eventually hiring a new City Manager, an individual whose very job description is to operate and accomplish.


Sans lobster and high-end steak, the plate was already full. Then they found themselves down a person when one of them resigned after an arrest tied to plowing his car into a liquor store. Lest you think I am throwing stones, please look inside my glass house: Chapter 41, Courtesy Boy: A True Story of Addiction. (A good friend told me recently we’re all just one drink away from plowing our own car through a storefront. See also: Chapter 12, same book).


You live long enough and true stories come full circle. 


To fill the vacancy, the four remaining Commissioners appointed Jayme Minton, an executive at Meadowlark Hills. I got to know Jayme last year, and came away impressed with her intellect, creativity and spirit of service. Period. Full stop. Give me those qualities in a public servant and the rest is gravy (not béarnaise, at least until we get the steak joint).   


I like the vibe of our new City Commission. In their short time serving, Susan Adamchak and Peter Oppelt have proven themselves to be intellectually curious, forward-thinking seekers of consensus. They have shown a willingness not to knee-jerk dive into the shiny new idea, but to ask the tough budget questions and unpack.


Owing to their previous service, Karen McCulloh and John Matta know the ropes and have valuable institutional knowledge. Add Commissioner-designate Minton to this mix, and I like our chances for informed decision-making.


Please notice I have not mentioned ideology. There’s plenty of that in our community – at either extreme. All You Can Eat Shrimp proved one shrimp too many for Red Lobster. Which should say something about the virtues of moderation.



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