Dispute emerges among Prairie Village councilmembers about handling of Village Square proposal

Prairie Village City Councilor Dan Runion. File photo.
Prairie Village City Councilor Dan Runion. File photo.

Days ahead of a pair of public input sessions to gauge public interest on the Village Square concept that envisions massively reworking Harmon and Santa Fe Parks in Prairie Village, members of the governing body had a tiff over how the events have been promoted and whether the city has been transparent in communication the project price tag in excess of $5 million.

Councilman Dan Runion was the first to speak up about his concerns at Monday’s council meeting, saying that the way proponents of the project had been discussing it in public made it seem like approval of the plan was a foregone conclusion. He objected to the use of the term “project” surrounding the Village Square proposal.

Brooke Morehead, the councilwoman who has championed the idea, said she was fine with the use of the term “concept” over “project” to describe the proposal moving forward. But she rejected Runion’s assertion that the city had not been transparent. She said efforts to publicize the Village Square idea and the public meeting Nov. 14 and 16 were designed to increase participation and feedback.

“It’s our stepping forward and saying this is a possibility,” he said. “But we do want Prairie Village to know about it, and to know that we as a governing body have put a lot of effort and time into a vision that we think they’ll enjoy. The transparency is totally there.”

Councilman Eric Mikkelson, though, echoed Runion’s frustrations.

“My concern is that it’s become a bit of a runaway train. What I’m not seeing in the messaging is that we really haven’t even crossed the threshold of whether we’re going to do anything,” Mikkelson said. “The funding is a massive amount and that’s a big issue. But before we even get there, I’m not hearing a consensus that these are things that people would want in the park even if they were free.”

Mikkelson and Runion stressed that they believe the city needed to ensure the $5 million price tag was included in future communication about the project.

“It’s hard to believe that there wasn’t a conscious decision not to include the price tag in the messaging,” Runion said.

Mayor Laura Wassmer said the city should be looking to get as much input as possible from the citizens, and that the cost of the potential project was an important factor to communicate.

The public input sessions will be 5 to 7 p.m. on Nov. 14 and 16 at the Prairie Village Community Center.