2021 primary candidate forum: Overland Park Ward 2

Overland Park Ward 2 candidate forum

Candidates vying for the Overland Park Ward 2 city council seat being vacated by Curt Skoog, who is running for mayor, discussed topics like the proposed mill levy increase, chip seal and marijuana decriminalization. From left to right, Kyle Palmer (Post editor) and candidates Melissa Cheatham, Tony Medina and Roger Tarbutton.

A proposed property tax increase, affordable housing and the crash-prone intersection at 91st Street and Glenwood were a few of the main topics discussed Wednesday evening by candidates running for Overland Park’s Ward 2 city council seat.

About 30 people joined the Shawnee Mission Post at the Johnson County Arts and Heritage Center for our final candidate forum ahead of the 2021 primary election season.

The three candidates vying for the seat being vacated by Councilmember Curt Skoog who is running for mayor are Melissa Cheatham, Tony Medina and Roger Tarbutton. All three candidates attended the forum.

A livestream recording of the forum can be found on the Post’s Facebook page, and can be watched below.

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

  1. Affordable housing: We received a lot of questions from readers about affordable housing this election cycle. The housing landscape in southern Overland Park is much different from that in the city’s northern wards. South of I-435, a large proportion of the single-family homes in Wards 4 and 5 are listed at $500K or more. And while there are more apartment buildings in the area now than in years past, many of those units aren’t big enough for a family or affordable for low- to middle-income renters. Does southern Overland Park have a housing affordability problem in your estimation? Do there need to be more single family homes that are attainable for less affluent people? And if so, what could the city do about that? [7:49]
  2. Mill levy increase: Overland Park’s proposed city budget for the next fiscal year would raise the city’s mill levy rate by one mill. For a homeowner with a home valued at $300,000 this would mean roughly $40 more in annual taxes according to the city. That proposed tax hike would go towards primarily mental health services for police, adding mental health co-responders on emergency calls and providing mental health training for police officers. These steps were recommended by a task force that convened after the fatal police shooting of teenager John Albers. DO you support the increase in property taxes in order to pay for more mental health support for police and first responders? Why or why not? [14:51]
  3. Vision Metcalf: 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 with an adjacent public park surrounded by mixed-use development arranged to make the area walkable. Fast forward to today, and there is the Shamrock office tower, a Lowe’s and a proposal for a 164,000 office facility and parking lot on the former Sears site. Time and again, the planning commission and city council have okayed proposals that don’t fit with the Vision Metcalf vision — often lamenting that fact but voting in favor of them anyway. 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? [19:59]
  4. 91st and Glenwood: Last fall, city staff recommended that there wasn’t enough traffic to justify the traffic lights at 91st and Glenwood. But soon after the lights were deactivated, there was an uptick in accidents that prompted neighbors to ask the city to turn them back on. Instead, the council voted to permanently remove them. In the months that followed, there were another five wrecks. The city is now installing high profile stop signs at 91st and Glenwood. What’s your take on this situation? Was moving forward with removal of the traffic lights the right move? If not, what would you have liked to see happen? Should the city government have been more responsive to neighborhood residents’ concerns? [26:43]
  5. 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? [31:53]
  6. 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? [38:12]
  7. 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? [42:15]