Overland Park council candidates on the issues: Making Overland Park a ‘welcoming’ city

City Manager Bill Ebel and Mayor Carl Gerlach sat at a table amid the nearly 800 people gathered for the Imagine Tomorrow workshop that kicked off the Forward OP planning process in 2018.

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’re publishing the candidates’ responses to item 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?

City Council Ward 1

Terry Happer-Scheier (incumbent)

Encouraging our city committees to reach out to all of our citizens would be in order here. I do not know if policies is the correct word. We have an OP teen council that has participants that are very diverse. My ward has a great example. Working more perhaps with faith-based committees and other ethnic groups to make Overland Park more welcoming could go a long way.

Holly Grummert

I think first we thing we need to talk about is passing a non-discrimination ordinance based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Being welcoming to people from all walks of life also means diversifying our housing market. That’s why I support policies that will add more affordable housing options for current and future residents.

City Council Ward 2

Roger Tarbutton

I do not believe Overland Park can qualify as a welcoming city until the City Council leads by example and adopts a public comment policy so residents can appear and address their concerns at city council and committee meetings. How can a city be considered welcoming when it denies its own residents the ability to speak out at city meetings and forces them to carry signs to communicate with elected leaders? This looks bad and is poor public policy. Adoption of a public comment policy does not require extensive study as all other cities in Johnson County and the Board of County Commissioners have had such policies in place for many years.

Paul Lyons (incumbent)

Implementation of the Forward OP vision is a central element of my campaign. The next step is to develop a plan that engages the whole community in identifying new policies and recommendations for making Overland Park more welcoming. The city is growing more diverse by the day. Advocacy groups like the NAACP, LGBTQ+ community, and business organizations including the Hispanic and Asian Chambers of Commerce need to be engaged in the effort. The city has multiple citizen advisory committees where people share their experiences and expertise. The future of Overland Park depends on people of all ages and backgrounds to be engaged in these city committees, programs and services. I believe the governing body is committed to listening and learning from these advisory committees and other groups working to create a better quality of life for it’s citizens for many years to come.

City Council Ward 3

Stephan Glentzer

The City Council has acted in the last week to facilitate a welcoming community. The passage of the NDO is one element to ensure that OP is more welcoming. This is vital for the economic future of business and the residents in the City. Secondly, the pending ordinance for the “open mic” is another step in listening to the to residents. Passed on Tuesday the 14th by the planning commission is updating the posting of Zoning changes, to keep the language and signage on a level that everyone can understand. Additionally, expanding the area around the proposed development to have more input from the surrounding neighbors. I did request the Commission expand the distance from 500 feet to 750 feet to get more of the surrounding residents involved with their future, but was unsuccessful. This is scheduled to go to the City Council in November.

The City does a good job with the being a welcoming City. The steps they have taken in the last month are important to help expand the view of the City as being more welcoming. Items that are helpful to be a welcoming City are the Police review board. The Neighborhood Executive Committee, whose focus is to create open dialog between neighborhood HOA’s and to help with policy creation for the City if a need is discovered. Keeping the Police, Firefighters, EMT, and City personnel educated on the best practices of dealing with a diverse population is fundamental for the future of OP. The City features many activities, and community festivals throughout the City to promote inclusion. As society changes and norms change with them, the City will have to continue to adapt and evolve to maintain the level of Welcoming to residents, visitors, and business, to keep OP’s future and vision in a positive light.

Tom Carignan

Fostering resident engagement through open comment time at City meetings, implementing a NDO, working on critical issues like housing affordability and accessibility all contribute to an open and welcoming city. I do like the idea of creating a gathering space and continued focus on our neighborhoods as other ways to help make our city even more welcoming. The ForwardOP process successfully convened thousands of residents, I look forward to maintaining this momentum working to improve our city for everyone.

City Council Ward 4

Dan Osman

As president of my HOA, I know we have Christian, Jewish, and Muslim families all living in our neighborhood. There are multiple languages spoken at home, yet our kids all go to school together each day and play together every night. So my experience is that Overland Park is already both a diverse and a welcoming place.

But I know that my experience – and my opinion – is not the one that matters. Yours is. I don’t get to tell you whether your time in Overland Park has been welcoming or what would make you feel more a part of this community.

If elected, I plan to hold monthly town hall meetings across Ward 4. In part, it will be to inform the public of what’s happening in City Council. But my real objective isn’t to talk. It’s to listen.

I need to understand what your concerns are so that together we can approach this topic the right way. If you want to learn more about my town hall meetings, sign up for their notifications at OsmanForOP.com.

Fred Spears (incumbent)

We are already doing a great many things. We have a diversity of both single family and multifamily housing options in Overland Park; we offer a wide variety of volunteer opportunities with our committees where residents can be involved in our processes and decisions; we offer a wide spectrum of leisure and educational opportunities for all at our community centers, our playing fields, our parks, the Farmstead, the Arboretum and other venues. Council members and staff interact through various ethnic and cultural organizations encouraging them to be to be a greater part of the City. We have excellent communication processes to contact our Council members and City Staff through our website, phone, email, and OPCares; and, we offer communication outreach through several electronic platforms and through the quarterly Overview. We recently implemented a Non-Discrimination Ordinance addressing the concerns of many of our residents in sending a strong message of welcoming and support to the LGBTQ+ community. We consistently receive recognition as Best Places for a wide variety of items, all sending the message we are a great place to visit, live, work, play, and raise a family. To answer your question directly, my suggestion is that we utilize the ideas from ForwardOP and form a committee of residents, possibly include the Convention & Visitors Bureau, and individuals or organizations who are knowledgeable in that arena to be creative and develop suggestions and ideas that can be implemented.

City Council Ward 5

Faris Farassati (Incumbent)

The term “welcoming” is surely an attractive term which carries a message of hope for all of us. Although I salute ForwardOP for inclusion of such a message, the definition about “Welcoming City” and the path to get there suffers from a level of ambiguity or is simply outside the jurisdiction of the OP government. As an example, the recommendation to establish a “center for cultural understanding” is very suitable for academic institutions like KU that already have a number of programs with the same goal. Therefore, I do not find myself necessarily confined to ForwardOP for achieving a “Welcoming City”.

Now, if we research this topic a little more, we will come to definitions that enforce this concept via practices and policies that build cohesive communities attracting people from different socioeconomic, cultural, religious, political and racial backgrounds. And here, in my opinion, we will have local government role defined by:

  • 1) Practicing fiscally responsible policies in use of tax dollars towards public projects.
  • 2) Promoting open and free communication with constituents such as implementing “open microphone” at city government meetings.
  • 3) Welcoming direct involvement of residents with their city administration such as a “citizen advisory council” for our public safety departments.
  • 4) Preserving the quality of life at our neighborhoods by preventing unfit developments that are not in harmony with the infrastructure, culture and history of OP.
  • 5) Promoting small business development as a mechanism to welcome diversity and talent.
  • 6) Researching the issue of affordable housing.

These are all “Welcoming” strategies that fall within the domain of OP government.

Phil Bressler

As Overland Park becomes more landlocked, we cannot grow out, so we must grow up! The last 60 years have provided the firmest foundation of any – as most “Best Of” studies attest. The ForwardOP vision includes building blocks to continue our upward mobility.

Growing Out: Leaders like Ed Eilert and Carl Gerlach who shepherded and oversaw the boom years since 2000, fostered the development of “good bones” for this community. Our success is built on strategic infrastructure, well-planned neighborhoods, plentiful parks and green spaces, and retail and commercial spaces where business can thrive. People felt welcome, and they came by the tens-of-thousands.

Growing Up: Welcoming more Overland Parkers means more people in less space. Fortunately, that’s exactly where population trends are heading – up. I will work to encourage density, walkability, and affordability of housing, while maintaining the high level of quality synonymous with Overland Park. Our Chambers of Commerce do a great job bringing new members into the fold, and we can take some lessons from them. A Hospitality Committee, for example, with a visit from OP volunteers and a gift bag of products, discounts, and a business directory for every new OP resident would be a great start. And finally, call me old-fashioned but I still believe being welcoming and hospitable starts in our own neighborhoods. Delivering cookies to a new neighbor has become a lost art. Being more welcoming should start with each and every one of us.

City Council Ward 6

Scott Hamblin

New leadership would do the most toward welcoming new residents and even making our current residents feel welcome. Our current leadership doesn’t allow residents to speak at council meetings, was the last to pass an NDO and only while under election pressure. We need leadership that will acknowledge, address, and solve the challenges ahead instead of promote the success of the distant past. With leaders that will create a healthy city where everyone can prosper and feel safe we will do better than just be “welcoming” to new residents.

Rick Collins (incumbent)

Forward OP contemplates that its citizens will have access to quality education. OP has committed itself to provide a safe learning experience for our students. Within the 6th ward, as well as the rest of the city, this includes providing School Resource Officers to middle and high schools, as well as creating safe access to the schools. One example is that our public works group recently widened 159th street and installed traffic calming devices for the students at Blue Valley High School. That same effort will be used to improve Quivira Road to make it safer for those students who attend Blue Valley Southwest and Aubry Bend middle school. Forward OP also mentions access to social services. OP has participated in, and will continue to participate in, funding programs throughout OP through United Community Services, Johnson County Human Services-Emergency Assistance Program and Utility Assistance Program. In addition, OP leverages federal CDBG grants to 8 different social services entities, some of which are faith based. All of these efforts are designed to assist low income families as well as our diverse population. Forward OP also speaks to a safe environment. In the 6th ward, we have added a new police station and upgraded fire station at 165th and Antioch with a new EMT station scheduled to be built adjacent to BV Southwest High School. A new traffic signal is scheduled to be installed this year at 159th & Switzer which is has become a heavily travelled are in the 6th ward. Our police and fire departments are accredited, and our budget includes new personnel, including another crisis intervention officer, to assure all of our citizens that they are indeed in a safe place.

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

Living expenses in Johnson County have seen double digit increases in the last 4 years. Home ownership is becoming a challenge for people working in a number of professions such as teachers, firefighters, and police officers in Johnson County. Costs for individuals, including those on fixed incomes, who own their home without a mortgage have continued to rise. How would you address the need for more varied priced housing options in Overland Park? (This question was submitted by the Johnson County Health Equity Network, which is focused on housing affordability, stability and safety).