New Prairie Village City Councilors take office, and voting split makes itself apparent quickly

Prairie Village City Councilors (from left) Eric Mikkelson, Steve Noll, Terrence Gallagher, Jori Nelson, Dan Runion and Laura Wassmer were sworn-in at the start of Monday's council meeting.
Prairie Village City Councilors (from left) Eric Mikkelson, Steve Noll, Terrence Gallagher, Jori Nelson, Dan Runion and Laura Wassmer were sworn-in at the start of Monday’s council meeting.

It didn’t take long for a new voting dynamic to present itself on the Prairie Village City Council.

Just minutes after the councilors voted into office in last week’s election had been sworn in, some of the more recently elected councilors made issue of Mayor Ron Shaffer’s recommendations to fill vacancies on the Prairie Village Planning Commission — the body that first considers plans for new construction projects in the city, like the Tutera Group’s Mission Chateau development.

Councilor Brooke Morehead, elected in 2012, asked that Shaffer’s recommendations for the appointments of Larry Levy and James Breneman to fill openings on the Planning Commission left by the departures of Ken Vaughn and Dirk Schafer be removed from the consent agenda for further discussion. Morehead then asked for specifics about how the city solicits applications for Planning Commission openings, and wanted to know more about why Shaffer had selected the candidates he had selected.

“We only see these people on paper. Could we get them to come in and talk to us so we actually can see them and ask them questions?” Morehead said.

“Well, they’re in the room tonight,” Shaffer said. “Would you like to talk to them now?”

Breneman, a semi-retired architect, and Levy, a home builder, then presented themselves to the council and fielded questions about their backgrounds and experience.

Both Morehead and newly sworn-in Ward III councilor Eric Mikkelson also said that they had heard from residents who applied for volunteer opportunities on city committees but never received any response to their applications.

“Regardless of whether they are selected or not, I think we do need to follow up with everyone who submits an application,” Mikkelson said.

The council split 6-6 on the recommendations of Breneman and Levy, with Shaffer breaking the tie in favor of appointing them to the Planning Commission. Councilors Ashley Weaver, Jori Nelson, Brooke Morehead, Dan Runion, Ted Odell and Terrence Gallagher voted against the appointments. Mikkelson was the only councilor elected over the past two cycles to vote in favor of the appointments.

The council on Monday also approved a new policy that will require developers to wait six months to submit a project for approval to the city if it is not “substantially different” than a plan that didn’t gain council approval. Had the policy been in place before the Mission Chateau submission, it likely would have prevented the Tutera Group from filing its second plan as quickly as it did. Councilors Andrew Wang and Ruth Hopkins were the only two to vote against the measure. Shaffer also voted on the issue, supporting the six-month waiting period.

“It seems punitive to make someone who owns a piece of land wait six months only because we thought their plan wasn’t good enough,” said councilor Andrew Wang. “I don’t see why there is an arbitrary period of six months they have to wait before they come back.”

But the vast majority of the council felt the new policy — similar to policies in many surrounding municipalities — was a good idea.

“Having seen the amount of time it takes city staff to handle these applications, I think it is the developer’s duty to meet the city’s requirements,” Odell said. “The burden should be on them.”