Stormwater, Shawnee Indian Mission top ‘to do’ list for new Fairway Mayor Melanie Hepperly

New Fairway Mayor Melanie Hepperly said stormwater and the future of the Shawnee Indian Mission are at the top of her agenda.
New Fairway Mayor Melanie Hepperly said stormwater and the future of the Shawnee Indian Mission are at the top of her agenda.

When Melanie Hepperly looks back at the past eight years in Fairway, she sees a lot for the city council and mayor’s office to be proud of.

After facing a budget crisis in 2010, the city today is in a strong and stable financial position. During Jerry Wiley’s tenure at mayor, three major city asset projects — the complete renovation of the city pool, the relocation of the public works facility to Roeland Park, and the purchase and remodeling of the former Churchill building as the new city hall — have all been wrapped up.

But Hepperly, who was sworn in as Fairway mayor last week after two terms as a councilwoman representing Ward 1, says she sees two big issues looming on the horizon that will require a good deal of attention and effort in the coming years: improving stormwater management to prevent the increasingly frequent flooding along Rock Creek, and solidifying the future of the Shawnee Indian Mission.

Neither issue will be simple to address.

To have meaningful impact on the amount of water that flows through the flood-prone portions of Rock Creek in the city will require the cooperation of a number of municipalities and the county on infrastructure projects.

“It’s going to take the collaboration of the county and the surrounding northeast Johnson County cities as well as some of some of the other cities…that are upstream from us,” Hepperly said. “It’s a major undertaking. It’s complicated. None of the cities can do this on their own.”

There’s also the issue of how a historical property located within the city’s limits but which has regional appeal will be managed moving forward. After the Shawnee Indian Mission saw its hours and programming reduced because of state budget cuts, the city worked out an arrangement with the Kansas Historical Society in 2016 that transferred day-to-day operations of the site to the city. The city also agreed to provide three years’ worth of cash flow to help keep the site running while the Shawnee Indian Mission Foundation began raising money so that it could fully take over operations of the site without the financial help of the city. That three-year period is nearly complete, and Hepperly said she’s eager to ensure the foundation is successful in its efforts to assume full operation of the site. Wiley has agreed to serve on the foundation board and help with the fundraising efforts, which will be a major benefit to the undertaking, Hepperly said. The city will be paid back for money it is providing to the foundation during the three year period. The city and the state still need to finalize a long-term understanding of how the site will be managed.

“Equally important is signing an agreement with the state so the city will continue to be involved with the mission moving forward,” Hepperly said.

Both issues, Hepperly believes, will take a good deal of coordination among a number of interested parties.

“Both of them are multi-year concentrations. So I’m not going to delay,” she said. “But that’s also kind of my personality.”