Opposition to public financing incentives prompts Charlotte O’Hara to file for Overland Park mayor, setting up first contested election since 2005

Charlotte O'Hara.
Charlotte O’Hara.

Charlotte O’Hara, a former one-term member of the Kansas House of Representatives, announced earlier this month that she was filing to run for Overland Park mayor, setting up the first contested race for that office since Carl Gerlach won the 2005 race.

O’Hara, a conservative Republican who associated with the tea party movement, said the proliferation of public tax incentives for major development projects in the city was a key driver in her decision to run. O’Hara pointed to projects in the southern portion of the city including Corbin Park and Prairiefire that have significantly underperformed projections as evidence that tax incentives encourage overbuilding and hurt the city’s tax base. The city’s willingness to grant incentives in the form of tax incentive finance or sales tax revenue (STAR) bond districts to such projects has set a dangerous precedent, she said. O’Hara has been particularly galled at the prospect of the city considering a developer’s request for more than $600 million in tax incentives for the proposed $1.8 billion Brookridge property redevelopment.

“[Public financing incentive requests] are popping up like dandelions in May, and it’s absolutely decimating our tax base,” she said.

She said Overland Park’s granting of an “alphabet soup” of incentive packages over the past several years was antithetical to their purpose.

“Tax incentives started out with [industrial revenue bonds] with manufacturing, and I supported that,” she said. “But we’ve lost sight of what these policies were for in Overland Park. Listen, we have very low city taxes, and we’re geographically positioned so that we don’t have to offer [tax incentives for developments]. But we’re handing them out like candy.”

O’Hara was appointed to fill Ray Merrick’s District 27 seat in the House in 2011 after he left to fulfill the remainder of Jeff Colyer’s term in the Senate. (Colyer left the Senate to become lieutenant governor in the Brownback administration). O’Hara ran for the Senate in 2012 — Merrick ran again for his District 27 seat in that election — and was defeated by Republican Pat Apple in the primary. She ran for the Senate again in 2014 and was defeated in the primary by current incumbent Molly Baumgardner. She also twice ran unsuccessfully for Chair of the Johnson County Board of County Commissioners in 2002 and 2006.

Gerlach, who won reelection in 2009 and 2013 without facing a challenger, has indicated that he plans to seek a fourth term in office. The general election will be in November.

O’Hara lives in southern Overland Park, and said she’s mostly removed from the day-to-day operations of her family’s manufacturing and industrial building leasing businesses.

“I have time to devote to public service,” she said.