2021 primary candidate forum: Overland Park Mayor

Overland Park mayor

Candidates vying for Overland Park Mayor are, seated from left, Mike Czinege, Faris Farassati, Clay Norkey and Curt Skoog, who all participated in the Shawnee Mission Post's forum Tuesday evening at the Johnson County Arts & Heritage Center. Kyle Palmer (standing at center), the Post's editor, served as moderator.

Express toll lanes on U.S. Highway 69, the direction of the Vision Metcalf plan and transparency in the aftermath of the fatal police shooting of teenager John Albers were some of the dominant points of discussion at the Shawnee Mission Post’s forum for the Overland Park mayoral candidates facing off in an August 3 primary.

The event space at the Johnson County Arts & Heritage Center was packed with a lively, energetic crowd Tuesday evening, which was the Post’s first candidate forum with an in-person audience in nearly two years following COVID-19 pandemic restrictions last year.

Candidates Mike Czinege, Faris Farassati, Clay Norkey and Curt Skoog all attended the forum and shared their policy priorities. What emerged were starkly different views on the direction of Johnson County’s largest city, presenting voters with a clear choice heading into the primary vote.

Skoog and Farassati are both currently members of the Overland Park City Council. Czinege, a business executive, and Clay Norkey, an attorney, are both political newcomers. The top two finishers in the primary will square off in the general election on Nov. 2.

The forum was streamed live on the Shawnee Mission Post’s Facebook page, and the entire forum can also be viewed at the embedded link below.

Here are the questions and their corresponding time stamps to help readers find the candidates’ answers more quickly:

  1. The plan to add express toll lanes on U.S. 69 Highway between 103rd and 151st streets is now poised to go forward. Two state-level bodies recently signed off on a plan already approved by the city council that would have Overland Park kick in $20 million towards KDOT’s roughly $300 million project to add the toll lanes going in both directions. Work could begin as soon as next year. That stretch of U.S. 69 in Overland Park is the busiest highway in Kansas, according to the state, and is only expected to get more congested as the city’s southern half grows. In your opinion, is the cost-sharing deal struck with KDOT the best way to fund an expansion of U.S. 69? If so, why? But if you don’t think so, what is the best alternative? Conversation starts at 11:03.
  2. The city’s use of tax incentives to attract businesses and spur new development have been the focus of intense debate in Overland Park in recent years. Most recently, the city council approved an amended proposal for the Bluhawk development near 159th and U.S. 69. that decreases the city’s ask for state STAR bonds from $77 million to $71 million. Beyond that particular project, what’s your general view on the use of tax incentives for development purposes? When are they appropriate to use? Are there any tax incentive tools that you believe should never be used? Conversation starts at 19:03.
  3. Overland Park consistently ranks in the top 10 cities nationally as a best place to live, best place to retire, best place to raise a family, and best place to start a business. Citizen surveys consistently show citizen satisfaction to be 90% and higher. How important is it to consider that and the policies and practices and governance that has led to those recognitions when examining whether any changes you are advocating should be made and what are the potential unintended consequences of some of your proposals? Conversation starts at 28:10.
  4. In 2008, the Vision Metcalf process laid out a comprehensive prescription for modernizing the city’s central corridor. It called for the replacement of “outdated retail” with new shops, entertainment options, parks and public facilities. At 95th and Metcalf, for example, the plan suggested the construction of a new city hall at one point with an adjacent public park surrounded by mixed-use development. Fast forward to today, and there is the Shamrock office tower, a Lowe’s and a proposal for a 164,000-square-foot office facility and parking lot on the former Sears site. Over the years, the planning commission and city council have OK’ed proposals that don’t necessarily fit with that original Vision Metcalf vision — often lamenting that fact but also voting in favor of them. How would you characterize the city’s management of the Metcalf corridor? Do you think it’s heading in the right direction? Why or why not? Conversation starts at 36:54.
  5. The city has come in for criticism for its handling of the fatal police shooting of teeanger John Albers in 2018. The officer who shot and killed Albers left the force soon after the incident, but it came to light just last year that he was given a $70,000 payout. And, as part of his severance deal, the city also agreed to tell a state police oversight board that Jenison left the Overland Park force voluntarily under normal circumstances. The city did not release more details of that severance deal until it faced multiple lawsuits. The FBI continues to conduct a civil rights investigation into Albers’ killing. At the same time, some readers question whether the Johnson County Officer-Involved Shooting Investigation Team (OISIT)… which investigates such matters … is thorough, accurate and impartial. Assess how you think the city has handled the Albers case. Has the city been as transparent as it can possibly be?. And would you change any city policy or procedure in the unfortunate eventuality of another fatal police killing in the future? Conversation starts at 46:19.
  6. The center-of-gravity in Overland Park continues to move south, as more and more of the city’s population now resides south of I-435. At the same time new development continues apace in the southern wards, the city’s long-established neighborhoods north of I-435 are seeing greater need for reinvestment and resources. How can the city best approach the task of balancing the needs of its new growth areas with its original neighborhoods, which are now aging? Conversation starts at 56:55.

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