Economic development, east-west divide and aging infrastructure dominate conversation at Shawnee Chamber’s mayoral candidate forum

Shawnee mayoral candidates for the August primary race discussed issues facing the city in a forum Tuesday morning hosted by the Shawnee Chamber of Commerce

Economic development, aging infrastructure and bridging the divide between eastern and western Shawnee dominated the discussion at a mayoral candidate forum Tuesday for the city’s top elected seat.

Four primary candidates are vying for the seat of Shawnee mayor: incumbent Michelle Distler and challengers Stephanie Meyer, Ajay Sood and Dawn Tubbesing. The Shawnee Chamber of Commerce hosted the candidate forum, Eggs and Issues, at Tomahawk Hills Golf Course. The candidates answered four questions about issues facing the city and their reasons for seeking the elected position.

Below is a summary of the candidates’ responses to each question.

What are your top three policy issues?

Ajay Sood

Ajay Sood: Addressing aging infrastructure issues; enhancing connections and communications; and growing economic development opportunities. He also wants a long term plan for the aging population in Shawnee.

Dawn Tubbesing: Creating a culture of “easy, positive and strong development processes” for business growth; adopting a non-discrimination ordinance to provide protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity; and developing future plans that can accommodate major changes in the city’s commercial tax base, especially if retailers win the “dark store theory” appeals, while still addressing aging infrastructure.

Michelle Distler: Maintaining an open and transparent government; focusing on the needs of public safety, especially rehabilitating aging facilities for the city’s fire stations; and addressing aging infrastructure to pave the way for economic development.

Stephanie Meyer: Growing economic development opportunities, including on the regional level, to diversify the city’s tax base; addressing aging infrastructure issues, especially by growing business opportunities so the city can allocate more funds toward projects; and providing a long-term vision for the city’s future as an active voice on the council.

What your views on the value Shawnee citizens receive for their local tax dollar, and what changes, if any, would you propose to the city budget?

Dawn Tubbesing

Dawn Tubbesing: Said the city’s taxes have “amazing” value for its population and geographic size. She supports the current budget and doesn’t want to make massive changes, but wants to see the city allocate a percentage of any future tax revenues generated from an increase in assessed valuations to stormwater projects and also focus some dollars on economic development. She wants to use tax incentives to invest in future business opportunities in the city.

Michelle Distler: Thinks the budget is strong especially because it is priority-based (the city is spending money where residents want to prioritize funding). She said taxpayers in Shawnee are “getting a heck of a value” for their taxes because of the city’s public safety and special events.

Stephanie Meyer: Supports the current budget and thinks the taxpayers are getting good value. She cited many needs the city is supporting through its current budget. She’d like more money to be dedicated to the city’s unique economic development fund (supported by the landfill). She doesn’t want to consider cutting funds from any city department but instead grow the city’s tax base through economic development.

Ajay Sood: Said the city has good accessibility to the rest of the Kansas City metro area. He wants to have a trucking hub near I-435 to generate tax revenue in the area, and see more businesses or a zipline in the undeveloped areas. He thinks the city has more affordable housing than other areas, but he’d like to see even more, especially by adding more studio apartments.

Some have contended that our development has not kept pace with the other Johnson County communities. What ideas do you have to boost quality growth in Shawnee? What role, if any, do you believe the city should play in economic development to bring jobs and capital investment to Shawnee? Should the city of Shawnee use a variety of tax incentives and the landfill impact funds to attract investment and development to our community?

Michelle Distler

Michelle Distler: Said Shawnee has unique challenges, such as a rocky terrain and multiple ownerships of property in a small area, that hinder development. She thinks that if residents want it, then the city should be more proactive in getting areas “shovel ready” by adding utilities ahead of development. She said it requires building relationships to bring in new development.

Stephanie Meyer: Said Shawnee is falling behind its peers in economic development and commercial tax base. She wants the city to seek out companies interested in relocating to Shawnee. She said tax incentives could be useful for developing on rocky terrain, but there are many other areas of opportunity besides, what with the Valley of Champions sports facilities on the west side of the city and the new international airport coming soon.

Ajay Sood: Thinks the city’s access to the airport and the rest of the city is beneficial for Shawnee. He said the city can harness clean energy resources and focus on building up infrastructure. He would also like the city to create a better facility for the farmers market and also diversify the city’s produce and dining options by adding Asian grocery stores and restaurants.

Dawn Tubbesing: Prioritizes partnerships with the Shawnee chamber, Kansas Department of Commerce and other regional agencies to grow economic development. She cited the city’s unique opportunities with transportation and accessibility as advantages for growth. She wants the city to “convey professionalism and energy” to attract new businesses and assist current businesses. She said the city can use tax incentives are appropriate to invest in the community.

What do you think are the three greatest opportunities or challenges facing the Shawnee economy in the next 10 years, and how would you capitalize on them?

Stephanie Meyer

Stephanie Meyer: Showing that Shawnee is an attractive place to live by capitalizing on the city’s accessibility to both the new international airport and along the “animal health corridor” where many animal health-focused companies are located between Manhattan, Kansas, and Columbia, Missouri. Also, focusing on revitalizing the downtown corridor. Finally, capitalizing on the Valley of Champions on the western side of the city by attracting new retail and restaurants near the youth sports complexes.

Ajay Sood: Transportation — providing $2 rides or building out mass transportation for a better commute. Also, building a kitchen for Meals on Wheels to assist with the aging population in the region. Finally, focusing on the city’s youth population by providing more education and ways to connect with each other.

Dawn Tubbesing: Revitalizing the downtown corridor, gateway areas and old retail area at 75th Street and Quivira Road. Also, shifting the development focus from box stores to “one-of-a-kind” retail that creates destination and that cannot be bought online. Finally, rebranding Shawnee as “open, inviting and able” to do business with the private sector.

Michelle Distler: Revitalizing the downtown corridor, also improving the Valley of Champions youth sports corridor on the western side of the city, and finally, creating destination spaces in the city.

What most distinguishes you from your opponents in this race, making you the best suited to serve as the mayor of Shawnee?

Michelle Distler: Involvement in the community, attending nearly every local event and being an active resident.

Dawn Tubbesing: “Strong” professionalism and experience on the city council and economic development council and chamber of commerce, and a background in finance.

Ajay Sood: Being a love guru, connecting and communicating with others, and being eco-friendly.

Stephanie Meyer: A first-generation college graduate with a background in public administration, dedication to public service and a “strong sense of professionalism.”

Editor’s noted: This story has been updated to clarify Dawn Tubbesing’s response to the question about the city budget and the value of the Shawnee tax dollar. Tubbesing said she would want to allocate any future tax revenues generated from an increase in assessed valuations to stormwater projects and also focus some dollars on economic development.