2021 primary candidate forum: Overland Park City Council Ward 1 seat

Three of the four candidates vying for the primary race for a Ward 1 seat on the Overland Park City Council participated in Wednesday's forum, hosted by the Shawnee Mission Post. Pictured above from left, Post editor and moderator Kyle Palmer, incumbent city councilmember Logan Heley, Ryan Spencer and Mike Czerniewski. A fourth candidate, Carol Merritt, could not attend because she said she was feeling sick. Photo credit Leah Wankum.

Affordable housing, chip seal pavement improvements and the north and south Overland Park divide were some hot topics during the Shawnee Mission Post’s primary candidate forum for Overland Park’s Ward 1 Councilmember seat.

About 35 people showed up at the Johnson County Arts and Heritage Center Wednesday evening for the forum. Candidates Michael Czerniewski, Ryan Spencer and incumbent Logan Heley were all present. Candidate Carol Merritt was sick and did not attend the forum.

Heley is up for re-election, and Czerniewski previously ran for the Kansas Senate District 21 seat in 2016. Spencer is a payroll specialist at Optiv in Overland Park, according to his website.

The forum was streamed live on the Post’s Facebook page, and the entirety can be watched below.

Here are the questions that were asked during the forum followed by timestamps designating where each conversation begins:

  1. Affordable housing: We received several questions from readers about the need for more diverse, affordable housing options in Overland Park. And that is of particular concern in the more densely populated Ward 1. Here’s what one reader said about the issue of adding multi-family housing: “I don’t want to hear candidates say ‘we don’t need any more apartments.’ That shows me they don’t understand the need for housing. Tell me how you would offer a range of housing options for people who want to live in Overland Park but don’t necessarily want to live in a 4 bedroom house in a subdivision: young people, older people who want to downsize but remain independent, etc.” How would you respond to this reader? Conversation begins around 9:56. 
  2. North-South divide: 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, the city’s long-established neighborhoods … including in Ward 1 … are seeing greater need for reinvestment and resources. As the representative of Ward 1, how will you advocate for the needs of the residents in your area’s neighborhoods while also acknowledging the continued focus on newer development in the south? Conversation begins at 16:04. 
  3. Walkability/Bikeability: A number of readers want to know where the candidates stand on creating bike and pedestrian friendly neighborhoods, particularly in the context of climate change. This is a more salient issue in Ward 1, where the neighborhoods and developments are more walkable and bikeable than some other areas of the city. How would you rate Overland Park in terms of being a bike- and pedestrian-friendly city? How could the city create walkable, bikeable neighborhoods with access to healthy food, recreational amenities and commerce? Will you commit to pushing for more bike and pedestrian infrastructure as a member of the city council? Conversation begins at 21:47. 
  4. Tax base: The pandemic has accelerated a few trends: People are shopping online and working from home more than ever. This rapid move away from brick and mortar shopping and traditional office spaces is going to have a significant impact on demand for commercial real estate — and, in turn, property and sales tax revenues. What does Overland Park need to be doing today to prepare for this changing environment? Conversation begins at 27:20 
  5. Marijuana decriminalization: Prairie Village recently began exploring the idea of decriminalizing or severely curtailing penalties for cannabis possession in Overland Park, looking to cities like Columbia, Mo. and Lawrence, Kan. that have taken similar steps. Would you support a similar approach in Overland Park? Why or why not? Conversation begins at 32:29.  
  6. U.S. 69 toll lanes: The plan to add express toll lanes on U.S. 69 Highway between 103rd and 15st Streets is now poised to go forward. Two state-level bodies recently signed off on a plan 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 alternative? Conversation begins at 36:40. 
  7. Chip seal: There have been renewed complaints in recent months over the city’s use of the chip seal technique for road repairs in recent months. This is a road resurfacing method in which small crushed rock is rolled in over a layer of asphalt. Some residents say the resultant surface can be dangerous for cyclists and children… and there’s also the risk of the small rocks being kicked up by tires and damaging other vehicles. Do you support the city’s current chip seal program? If so, how would you respond to those complaints about it that I just mentioned? If you don’t support chip seal, what should the city be doing instead to repair and maintain its roads? And how much would an alternative cost and how would the city pay for it? Conversation begins at 43:14.
  8. Citizen satisfaction: 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 your proposals? Conversation begins at 49:34.