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 and mayor in Shawnee.
Today we publish the candidates’ responses to item three:
The city is in the process of conducting its first comprehensive planning process. What goals or themes are you hoping to see in the final plan?
Michelle Distler (incumbent)
With our inclusive approach to envisioning the future of Shawnee along with the residents and businesses as stakeholders, my goal is to come out in the end with a clear snapshot of our desired future. This will allow us to design and implement the plans and ensure we bump every decision we make up against that vision. That then also allows for us to successfully budget for the priorities that are in alignment with these shared goals. All of that continues to feed into my vision for ‘One Shawnee’, where we continue our momentum to build a Shawnee that works for all. Shawnee has a special balance of tradition and innovation and despite differences in age, background, or circumstances, this city is home to all of us. A community for everyone. It is essential to safeguard the community in ways that reflect the wants and needs of the people who live, work, and visit Shawnee. Every resident and business in Shawnee deserves to be involved with and build from the prosperity of this great city. We need a collaborative vision for the community’s future. We need to not think alike but think together.
The ongoing “Imagine Shawnee” strategic planning process is a necessary and long-overdue step towards creating an overall vision for who we want to be as a city. In reviewing the initial feedback, I think we’re hearing many ideas and concerns that I’ve heard as I’ve knocked doors over the last five months; we need greater diversity in our local economy in terms of restaurant, retail, and employment options, an end to the “East/West” divide, and a focus on good governance and innovation.
I have been heartened by the participation in this process, and I hope as we work through the feedback and additional focus sessions that we continue to look for opportunities to engage residents and solicit input, as ultimately, we want to implement a strategic plan that reflects our shared identity and where we collectively want to go, incorporating all segments of our population, and neighborhoods in our city.
Of course, in order to be successful, we need elected leadership who can listen to resident feedback and input, and then put that feedback into action. We’ve heard from visioning participants that they expect their governing body to provide leadership in this process, and I believe that goes beyond summarizing results. We need a leader who can help to find consensus and collaboration among the council, while acting as an active voice for the citizens and ambassador for the city (as much of this vision will likely involve strategic growth within a regional setting).
In the end, this should be just the first step in a greater focus on long-term planning for Shawnee, to be followed by our comprehensive plan, which has not seen a meaningful update since 1987. For too many years, we’ve operated without a road map of how we want our city to grow and adapt, and I think it’s hurt us – both in terms of development, and maintenance of our aging infrastructure. With resident and business input, coupled with strong leadership by our governing body, I am confident that we can set the course for a successful and thriving future.
City Council Ward 1
Jim Neighbor (incumbent)
Shawnee is currently engaged in developing a long-term Vision for our City, taking input from citizens, business owners, educators, and city leaders. Basically, where are we going and how are we going to get there. A similar effort was started in early 2017, but was not completed. Going forward, this plan will provide the direction and structure as the Governing Body revisits and fine tunes our Priority Based Budgeting goals that literally dictate the programs and interrelationships that run the city to provide the Services that Shawnee Citizens expect. In this way the Survey becomes a living document that will be incorporated in the dynamic process of budgeting, operating our City, adjusting as necessary to achieve the stated desired outcome of a vibrant, livable and sustainable future Shawnee.
First of all, I believe there is great opportunity at improving and highlighting “downtown” Shawnee so it is attractive for people to live, work, and play. We must acknowledge successes/failures, and take corrective action regarding lessons learned with the Nieman Now Project. Second, Shawnee has a rich history of being an attractive place for families – we need to ensure our residential neighborhoods remain vibrant. People like the fact we are a bedroom community and we should maintain that reputation. Finally, I believe the city has a great opportunity to expand our industrial business base, which will lessen the property tax burden on resident.
City Council Ward 2
I would like our comprehensive plan to include the following themes:
- Revitalization – Our plan should include goals for economic development. Well-planned economic development will ultimately lead to more restaurants, which is what Shawnee residents really want.
- Sustainability – The whole idea of this plan is to plan for the future. The younger generations, and the generations to come, need that future to be sustainable. While sustainability might be new to some people, it is really just about being thoughtful as we plan, thinking about the consequences of our actions, and reducing waste. Those are all great attributes for a plan to have.
- Infrastructure – We need to make sure that we are taking care of our infrastructure. There is the issue of the storm water pipes that need to be replaced, which needs to take top priority. We also need to look at how infrastructure leads economic development. It is a “no-brainer” that we need to have roads that lead to our businesses. The employees need to be able to get to work and the customers need to be able to get to the business. Infrastructure is necessary, yet we have several retail business districts around town whose surrounding neighborhoods don’t have sidewalks. Sidewalks are the Roads of pedestrians. Yet parts of our city essentially require a car, even for very short trips. If we are serious about bringing in more restaurants, we need to be serious about infrastructure and we need to think about sidewalks and trails the same way we think about roads.
- Unity / Community – As we plan for the future, we need to be aware of the divide that it is in our city. We tend to divide our city into East vs West. Our comprehensive plan should be taking a look at ways to promote unity and community over division.
Eric Jenkins (incumbent)
I hope the plan will address future development. Where should the city be investing in infrastructure to encourage economic growth? What types of residential housing should we be encouraging, i.e., housing for seniors, multi-family, affordable housing, single family and how we will encourage it. What are projected needs for city services as we reach population growth in the six-figure level? How can we maintain and improve our older neighborhoods? What is our plan following of closure of the land fill? What are the long-term prospects for developing along the riverfront of the Kaw? These are some of my more pressing questions I hope to see addressed.
City Council Ward 3 (four year term)
- A specific target to increase commercial tax valuation by at least 10% to 35%
- A list of the types of businesses we want to attract
- A task force to improve two-way, factual communication in Shawnee
- A solid budget that addresses both our growth and safety
- A plan that is long term strategy that lasts 15-20 years
- A plan to ensure strong infrastructure…like stormwater, fire, safety, and traffic management
- A plan that capitalizes on our recreational features: trails, parks, sports fields, and activity centers
- Sustainability requirements for new buildings
I am pleased to see that the city is conducting this comprehensive review; a long-term strategic vision such as this should have been completed years ago. I thoroughly enjoyed the Imagineering session that I attended. I think we must wait to see what City Staff develops as common themes and learnings after listening to our residents, but my hope would be that common themes emerge including:
- 1.) One Shawnee without the current divide between Eastern and Western Shawnee.
- 2.) Increased Business Development and a formal plan for how we will invest in attracting companies with high paying jobs, small businesses and restaurants to the City of Shawnee. In my opinion, we should rebrand the city with new slogan… “Good Starts Here” does not tell the story we want to tell.
- 3.) A comprehensive review of current zoning throughout Shawnee to ensure that we make best use of our land and encourage Smart Growth that residents want.
City Council Ward 3 (two year term)
Lisa Larson-Bunnell (incumbent)
I am very excited that the city committed to developing its first comprehensive strategic plan. The key is to get as much community buy-in and participation as possible, followed by a commitment from the council to see the vision through.
My hope is that the plan will leverage the unique characteristics and strengths of different parts of the city. The plan should honor the things about Shawnee that our residents love including our connection to nature and trails, convenient access to restaurants and shopping, and safe and quiet neighborhoods. All of these items can be further enhanced by a commitment to walkability/bikeability and sustainability.
My question is, why did the City of Shawnee wait until 2019 to have its “first comprehensive planning process”? The City leaders 50+ years ago should have had a comprehensive planning process and it should be up-dated yearly with a robust engagement with the people of Shawnee, asking citizens what they think will make the city thrive over the next 30+ years. We need to figure out what we can do to attract new commercial businesses, fix our storm water pipes, put our roads, curbs and sidewalks in good shape, and keep our neighborhoods safe. So, let’s start with that and then listen to the people about what they want Shawnee to look like, not what is best for city council members to get re-elected.
City Council Ward 4
I would love to see more citizens be active and engaged in our city, so I appreciate the many opportunities that were provided for residents to give input through the three Imagineering Sessions, seven Focus Group opportunities, online surveys, and the Parks Open House. I especially appreciate those who took the time to get involved and share their visions, desires, and priorities in a productive way.
A summary of the community engagement events has been published and a few of the overarching themes that can help steer our decision making include support for public safety and parks/green spaces and the desire to expand our commercial tax base (specifically through more shopping and dining options).
Residents weighed in that the would like their City Council to develop a bold vision, work to expand the commercial tax base, provide excellent governance, and be innovative decision makers.
When the full report is complete in January, we will gain further insights and can use these results, along with concrete data and regional trends to refine the types of businesses that are desired, the locations that are best suited for business and residential development, housing and infrastructure needs, sustainability opportunities, what challenges we need to address, and what strengths we should capitalize on.
In using these resources, our city staff will be able to develop a plan for the council’s approval to get from where we are to where we want to be.
I would like to see the City targeting and accommodating their comprehensive master plan to individual neighborhoods and communities within our city. The final plan should not be a single goal or theme, because different areas of our community have different needs and growth opportunities.
I agree that more businesses are needed to diversify the City’s tax revenue. Opportunities for commercial growth should be pursued on a case-by-case basis. Just like with the Community Center, the City should be focusing less on checking boxes for what things people want, and should focus more on individual discussions tailored to needs of unique neighborhoods within our community.
Tomorrow we’ll publish the candidates’ responses to item four:
Consideration of a non-discrimination ordinance with legal protections for LGBTQ+ individuals brought out dozens of residents who voiced both support for and opposition to the idea. Do you agree with the council’s decision to adopt the NDO? Why or why not?