Three candidates show for Roeland Park forum, agree on many issues facing city

Blake Morgan Jr., Erin Thompson and Michael Poppa greeted residents after their candidate forum Wednesday night at the Roeland Park Community Center.
Blake Morgan Jr., Erin Thompson and Michael Poppa greeted residents after their candidate forum Wednesday night at the Roeland Park Community Center.

The candidate table wasn’t crowded Wednesday night when only three of the seven running for Roeland Park City Council appeared at a forum sponsored by the Northeast Johnson County Chamber of Commerce.

Appearing to answer questions were Blake Morgan, Jr. from Ward 2, Erin Thompson from Ward 3 and Michael Poppa from Ward 4. The three had similar views on several issues, including the future of the anti-discrimination ordinance passed by the council in 2014. All three said they supported the ordinance and would oppose repeal.

Thompson said she was “raised to believe that you fight for equality.” The ordinance does not give special treatment for the LGBT community, she said, but puts them on equal footing. Morgan said repealing the ordinance “would be absolutely silly at this point.” He said the anti-discrimination is not only good public policy, “it is on the right side of history.” Poppa, who was a proponent of the ordinance during the council discussions last year, said, “we are a diverse community in Roeland Park. We must continue to look forward and not backward and create opportunity for everyone in Roeland Park.”

Poppa’s opponent, JoAnna Rush, had spoken against passage of the ordinance last year. Linda Mau, running against Thompson, had submitted language for a repeal petition to the county legal staff last fall.

Morgan, Thompson and Poppa also praised the quality of services the city provides currently. “We are lucky to have high quality city services,” Poppa said. Morgan attributed quality of life in the city to the city services. “we’re doing pretty good,” he said. Thompson said the level of services and amenities is well balanced but the city needs to grow the economy to support them.

Thompson said growing the local economy, increasing sales tax revenue and providing a more walkable community were among her top goals. She advocated for diversifying the economy, developing the caves at the old pool site and the northeast corner of Johnson and Roe. The location of the city, she said, makes it a draw for quality businesses. She also suggested Roeland Park work on linking to the trail system in Johnson County.

Morgan said sales tax revenue is a priority along with improving home values to increase property tax. He also pointed out that Roeland Park is a landlocked community that cannot increase its commercial real estate easily, but should celebrate its many work-from-home businesses. He said it is important to protect the city’s bond rating.

Poppa stressed engagement and transparency with the community, giving residents a place at the table, strengthening relationships with residents and community groups, and keeping the quality of services and amenities attractive to businesses and residents. He advocated for “thoughtful strategic planning” and noted an anticipated sit-down restaurant would make Roeland Park more attractive.

Tim Janssen is the other Ward 2 candidate. He emailed Wednesday saying he was delayed in a class. Incumbent Becky Fast is running unopposed in Ward 1.