The future of city pools, the threat the COVID-19 pandemic poses to tax revenues and perceptions of a growing East-West divide, were some of the topics that four candidates vying for Lenexa City Council discussed on Thursday evening in the Shawnee Mission Post’s latest primary candidate forum.
The conversation was held at the historic Thompson Barn in Lenexa and featured candidates in two races that have primary competitions in Wards 3 and 4.
In Ward 3, incumbent councilmember Corey Hunt and challenger Melanie Arroyo appeared. Two other challengers, Laura Hill and Gael Wheeler, did not show up.
In Ward 4, which will have an open seat after councilmember Mandy Stuke announced she would not seek reelection, two candidates were present — Hophine Bwosinde and Craig Denny. A third competitor in that race, Scott Callaway, did not participate.
The forum was streamed live on the Post’s Facebook page and can be watched in its entirety below.
Here are the questions that were asked during the forum followed by timestamps designating where each conversation begins, so you can skip forward if you like:
- Vision 2040: One big takeaway that emerged during the extensive process the city conducted two years ago to articulate its Vision 2040 plan … was that Lenexans, by and large, are satisfied with city services and their quality of life. The major themes that emerged in public information sessions and citizen surveys, is that Lenexans want vibrant neighborhoods, integrated and well-maintained roads and infrastructure, a thriving local economy, inviting places and social activities and opportunities to live a healthy, active lifestyle. Considering Vision 2040 was articulated before the COVID-19 pandemic … which of the priorities laid out in Vision 2040 do you think the city should be most focused on now? And what would you do to help emphasize that? [10:10]
- Homeless shelter: Lenexa is the only city in Johnson County with a homeless shelter — Project 1020 — that allows single adult men (among other residents) during the winter months. The city earlier this year amended its city code to pave the way for Project 1020 to remain in operation after a lengthy process of public input and debate. Initially, a local church sued the city over its original decision NOT to allow the shelter. While some nonprofits and faith-based groups provide some temporary options and transitional housing in Johnson County, Johnson County lacks a permanent year-round homeless shelter. Lenexa — by design or circumstance — has taken the lead on this issue. What do you think the city’s role should be in helping out displaced and homeless people? Are there more steps that should be taken to address this marginalized population? [17:35]
- City aquatics: Last month, the city council voted to keep Ad Astra community pool open, despite a consultant’s recommendation that permanently closing the aging facility would be more cost-effective in the long run. Ad Astra pool, for what it’s worth, is in Ward 3 … but I want to ask about the city’s aquatics program more broadly. Lenexa has three outdoor public pools and more pool space in terms of square surface footage, than other similarly sized cities, yet some residents still complain about lack of access, especially if they live in subdivisions that do not have their own pool. What do you think is the best course of action for the future of city pools? [25:10]
- Taxes and revenue: Property values have increased sharply across Johnson County in recent years, and Lenexa’s city mill levy … which stands at 29.242 … is higher than in some neighboring cities, including Overland Park and Olathe. At the same time, municipal revenues for all cities will likely be impacted in a major way by the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced Americans to work from home and start shopping online more, foregoing brick-and-mortar stores that are often a key source of sales tax revenue for cities. What is your position on Lenexa’s revenue future. Should the mill levy be lowered or stay the same? How can the city weather any hit to its revenues caused by the pandemic? [32:25]
- East-West divide: I-435 cuts Lenexa in half, with most of the city’s established, more historic neighborhoods sitting to the east of the highway … largely in Wards 3 and 4 … and newer neighborhoods developing in the west. How will you still advocate for the needs of the residents living in the city’s east, while also ensuring that all Lenexans are treated equitably and that 435 doesn’t become a dividing line? And we should say … there is a big chunk of Ward 4 outside the 435 loop. [40:15]
- The Lenexa Way: “The Lenexa way” is a term city leaders regularly use to describe the city’s approach to planning and development, enacting policies and addressing community issues. How would you define “the Lenexa way” in terms of your vision for leadership? And do you think the way current city leaders talk about the “Lenexa way” serves all residents? [47:30]