Overland Park council candidates on the issues: Should OP offer ‘open mic’ time at council meetings?

Overland Park stands out among its Johnson County peers by not offering “open mic” time at city council meetings.

Last month, we asked our readers what issues they wanted to hear the candidates running for local office address ahead of this fall’s local elections primary. Based on the input we received, we developed a five-item questionnaire for candidates running for city council in Overland Park.

Today, we begin publishing the candidates’ responses. The first question was as follows:

Neighboring cities give residents access to “open mic” time where they can make comments on any issue during city council and/or committee meetings. Should Overland Park offer this opportunity to its residents? If so, how would you like to see this implemented?

City Council Ward 1

Holly Grummert

City government should present the least barriers between residents and their elected officials. As I’ve gone door-to-door throughout Ward 1, it has become clear that many people don’t feel their voices are being heard on city council. That’s one of the reasons why I have supported a public comment period for Overland Park City Council meetings and committee meetings.I would support allotting 3 minutes to any resident that wishes to speak on an agenda item in front of City Council meetings and committee meetings.

Terry Happer-Scheier (incumbent)

Offering the public opportunities to talk is a right measure to make. As to the concept of “open mike” I believe there are ways to do it. We as a city need to explore what is the best way. The content of the speaker’s statement needs to be about a issue relevant to Overland Park. A time length of each speaker and Total time needs to be established. Speakers need to sign up in advance of the meeting. At the committee level it could be at the Chairman’s discretion as to when to allow comments. I have observed, including myself, that if a citizen wanted to talk it was mostly allowed.

City Council Ward 2

Paul Lyons (incumbent)

I’m open to implementing a public comment (“open mic”) period during city council and/or committee meetings. I listened to comments from a recent Community Development Committee meeting where we heard input from citizens about how they would like the public comment period to be implemented. There was a large variety of solutions proposed by the public during the meeting. I support the plan to have staff conduct research on how other jurisdictions handle public comment periods and look forward to reviewing their recommendations.

For many years citizens have had opportunity to make public comments in a variety of ways. Public input is already required for proposed city budgets, financial incentives, rezoning requests and Special Use Permits. One or more of these items are common to most city council agendas. The Planning Commission also has many agenda items available for public comment in their meetings.

As chairman of the Public Safety Committee, I have a standing policy to allow any citizen to speak to the committee about an issue on the agenda, if they contact me before the start of the meeting. I have also allowed citizen groups to present topics within the committee’s jurisdiction provided they contact me in advance to schedule their item on the agenda. I am aware other committee chairs do the same.

Roger Tarbutton

Adoption of an “open mic” or “public comment” period allowing residents to address the city council during agenda discussions is the cornerstone of my campaign. The most important factor that contributed to my decision to run was attending the April 15, 2019, city council meeting where dozens of residents holding up “save the gazebo” signs were denied a chance to speak. At a recent committee discussion, several city council members including my opponent requested staff to “study” the issue and further consideration was postponed for three months until after the election. As most area local governments have had public comment periods in place many years, this does not require extensive study and a public comment policy should be adopted immediately.

City Council Ward 3

Tom Carignan

I support the inclusion of public comments at both council and committee meetings. Resident input is a critical part of an open government and the governing process. While I rely on City staff to ensure the ordinance is written in compliance with applicable laws, it is best to have the open comment sections at the conclusion of City business. This would place the comment section before “New Business”, allowing potential actionable items to be discussed without delay, depending on the topic and staff work involved.

Stephan Glentzer

The open mic should be implemented by the City. There was a committee meeting on the topic that allowed the residents the opportunity to express their feelings on this topic. From the residents standpoint, they want the opportunity to be heard on the future of the city, and the issues that are in their neighborhoods.. In past committee meetings there have been several residents attend, who held signs, asked to speak, and were ignored, and treated very poorly by the chairs of those committees.

At City Council meetings, the agenda needs to be adjusted to allow the residents who are attending for a specific issue be moved to the front of the agenda. to not have them sit there for hours to then have the topic pulled from the agenda. That occurred at a recent Council meeting.

The current City Council at the discussion of the open mic meeting made several requests to City staff on this issue. Many of the request were a waste of time of the staff. It was very clear that a few of the current council people were opposed, and tried to hide the fact behind putting undue requests on City staff. The current City council also indicated they will not address the issue until after the election.

When I am elected, because I will be elected by the residents of the City. I will push for the immediate implementation of open mic at all Council, and Committee meetings. The Legal department has had ample time to get this ordinance ready for a vote. The residents of this City will get their voice heard when I am elected.

City Council Ward 4

Fred Spears (incumbent)

Yes, we should implement an open mic process. As chair of the Public Works Committee I have always encouraged and welcomed members of the public to attend and present their ideas or thoughts as they wish, and have accommodated those who have requested to address the committee. To date, I have found this to be beneficial overall to the process, so I am in favor of extending this to the rest of the Council meetings. While these ideas have not been thoroughly vetted, I would offer these suggestions be included in the discussion to best implement an open mic process: time limits both on individual speakers and the total time allowed; perhaps limit presenters to Overland Park Residents; if an issue is raised by a presenter, we would expect a solution to the issue being included; if additional costs will be required, we would welcome suggestions as to where the monies would come from, e.g. raising taxes, creating a new revenue source, or cutting budgets in other areas; implementing a signup process; creating a process to enable and encourage presenters to utilize audio visual/PowerPoint materials or pre-read handouts; creating a follow up structure so ideas and suggestions are not lost; and making it relevant to the topics for the appropriate committee or the full Council. This would be a new process so I would welcome additional thoughts and ideas to ensure it is valuable for everyone and functions both efficiently and effectively. We also need to look at what has been working well for other governing bodies to utilize their best practices, procedures and ideas. Finally, with the interest being shown from all Council members, I anticipate an open mic process being implemented in the very near future.

Dan Osman

I absolutely support an open comment section at city council meetings. City council members are elected by the residents of Overland Park to implement the will of the public. If you are unwilling to listen to comments from the people who elected you and who you represent, then you have failed at your job as a public official.

Right now there’s no open comment sections at any city council meetings unless the topic has been specifically designated as a hearing. If elected, my first priority will be to rectify this. Committee meetings also disallow public comments unless the chair grants an exception. We appear to be the only municipality in the metro like this. Perhaps that’s by design.

The Finance, Administration, and Economic Development Committee had a single meeting on the topic of public comments two months ago. Though the agenda did not list it, the chair did allow public comments for this topic so I was able to address the committee.

Overland Park should have an open comment section at the beginning of every meeting and an open comment section at the end of every meeting for those who may have arrived late and missed their initial opportunity. This is how it was handled in every meeting I had for the six years I was on a school board. It does not need to be a complex system for it to work.

So, for me, the question isn’t whether Overland Park should offer this opportunity to its residents. Of course it should. The more important question is why hasn’t our current city council implemented a public comment section already?

City Council Ward 5

Phil Bressler

“Open Mic” is the final frontier when it comes to public access. Overland Park has done a great job providing access via audio and video, publication of council member email addresses and phone numbers, and availability to testify at committee meetings. This isn’t a new issue. Listening to our constituents should be our number one priority as a council member. Listening should not be limited to several minutes of open mic at important City Council meetings.

As a natural engager, I plan to hold town hall meetings and continue to participate in the life of our community through city, charity, church, and business events. When your HOA, PTA, or other group has a meeting or event, I want to be there to make sure your ideas and concerns are heard and addressed. I expect you to hold me accountable – my work on your behalf and your access to me doesn’t end at the doors of City Hall.

Faris Farassati (Incumbent)

On Aug. 21, I formally proposed at the community development (CD) meeting the implementation of a period of “Open Microphone” at all Overland Park government meetings. I once witnessed an Air Force veteran inhibited from voicing his opinion on the design of a park. It was at that time that I decided to do something about this issue!

The proposal was met with extreme enthusiasm from residents along with wide-spread media coverage. Several cities in Johnson County and the county government have implemented an open mic period with no issues. The OP staff is now tasked with providing the CD committee with a proposal for such purpose. Therefore, we have already taken one step towards this very important initiative, and I congratulate the people of OP for it!

I, however, would like to see this implemented in harmony with the true spirit of our first amendment. That means providing an opportunity for our residents to speak FREELY without any unnecessary restrictions. This also helps to provide an equal opportunity for people to voice their opinion versus lobbyists that currently enjoy almost unlimited access to the podium at city council meetings. I mentioned in my previous interviews that a 90 day period to compose the open mic proposal (while so many successful examples are in front of us) seems too lengthy. I also mentioned that the people of OP deserve to know which candidate supports their 1st amendment rights before the Nov. 05th election. There is no reason not to move ahead with this proposal in a more expedient manner. Indeed, we, as the government of OP, should apologize for not having this implemented long time ago. This is not a privilege but a right for the people!

Finally, from a practical point of view, a period of 30 minutes equally divided between individuals who sign up for it seems to be an appropriate formula: simple, effective and feasible!

City Council Ward 6

Rick Collins (incumbent)

The City Council recently directed staff to review our meeting procedures and offer options on how the “open mic” procedure can be implemented. That discussion is currently scheduled to occur in November of this year. Keep in mind that there are four standing committees at which council members make recommendations to the full council. There is a planning commission at which 11 volunteers make recommendations to the full council. And there are other advisory committees (for example the Citizen’s Advisory Committee on Parks and Recreation) staffed by volunteers who also render advisory recommendations to the four standing committees. The council will look at whether all of these committees should have the “open mic” procedure as part of their standard committee meetings, and I think that it would be helpful to have the input from the Planning Commission and the current members of the advisory committees on this topic. Some of the open questions that the Council and the Planning Commission and advisory committees need to address are: how long will the “mic” period last? Should there be time limits per speaker? What are the topics on which the speaker should be allowed to speak? At what point in the meeting should the “mic” procedure be held? My sense is that the Council is open to incorporating the “open mic” procedure, but the above questions need to be answered.

Scott Hamblin

There is no need to wax poetic or give a convoluted political answer to this one. Of course they should. The city council serves the residents and those residents deserve a chance to be heard. Each ward may have their specific council members but all members represent all of Overland Park. For that simple reason the residents deserve to be heard by the council as a whole and not left with only discussing issues with their council member who may or may not share the same views as the council as a whole. There have been many excuses to delay this process, one being that it needs to be studied. This is non-sense. We don’t need yet another consultant to tell us how to do the right thing. Let the residents speak and lets move on.

Tomorrow we’ll publish the candidates’ responses to item number two:

 The ForwardOP vision calls for the community to be “welcoming,” where people of all ages and from diverse backgrounds are engaged in the community. What policies would you enact to realize this vision for Overland Park to be a welcoming city?