Your Overland Park City Council Wards 1 and 2 primary election primer

The Overland Park Ward 2 candidates Melissa Cheatham, Tony Medina and Roger Tarbutton participate in the Shawnee Mission Post's candidate forum. File photo.

Advance in-person voting begins on July 24 in Johnson County, and Election Day is less than two weeks away on Aug. 3. As residents head to the polls to cast their ballots for Overland Park City Council Wards 1 and 2, we’ve put together an election primer to give people an easy way to find out where the candidates stand on the issues.

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Candidates vying for the Overland Park Ward 1 seat are Mike Czerniewski (right), Ryan Spencer (center right), incumbent Logan Heley (center left) and Carol Merrit (not pictured above as she did not attend the forum). File photo

Who’s on the ballot

The Overland Park Ward 1 city council race has four candidates: Incumbent Logan Heley, Carol Merritt, Mike Czerniewski and Ryan Spencer. The Overland Park Ward 2 city council race has three candidates: Melissa Cheatham, Roger Tarbutton and Tony Medina. Voters can look up a sample ballot via Johnson County Election Office online here.

Candidate questionnaires

Earlier this month, the Post published the candidates’ responses to the questionnaire we developed with reader input. The five questionnaire items are linked below:

Question #1: It’s unaffordable for many low-income residents to live in OP near their jobs. Would you support changes to zoning to allow for denser and more affordable housing options in OP? What specific types of residences would you like to see more of? If you do not support denser housing, are there other policies you think would help more residents afford to live near their jobs in Overland Park? Read answers here.

Question #2: The Overland Park police department has faced ongoing criticism and scrutiny over how it handled Officer Clayton Jenison shooting and killing teenager John Albers in 2018. Last September, the FBI opened a civil rights investigation on the matter, which is still ongoing. The city recently released the Johnson County Officer Involved Shooting Team’s report on the incident after months of public outcry. Do you agree with how the police department and city have handled this issue to date? If not, what should have been done differently? How should the city handle the issue of police transparency and accountability going forward? Read answers here.

Question #3: Climate change continues to be top of mind for many of our readers. What steps can Overland Park take to prepare Overland Park neighborhoods for increased flooding, along with extreme heat and drought events? What steps would you like to see the city take to build climate resilience? Read answers here.

Question #4: There have been a number of complaints about the city’s use of the chip seal technique for road repairs in recent months, but less discussion about alternatives and how much they would cost. Do you support the city’s current chip seal program? If not, what should the city be doing instead to repair and maintain its roads? How much would an alternative cost and how would the city pay for it? If you do support chip seal, how do you respond to residents who say it is both dangerous to pedestrians/cyclists and damaging to vehicles? Read answers here.

Question #5: The city’s use of tax incentives to attract businesses and spur new development have become the subject of extensive debate in recent years. What’s your general view on the use of tax incentives? Should they ever be used for greenfield projects? Are there any tax incentive tools you believe should never be used? Why or why not? Read answers here.

Candidate forums

The Post hosted in-person forums for both the Overland Park Wards 1 and 2 city council races. A recorded video for each forum can be found below, and topics discussed are noted below the respective forum videos.

Ward 1 forum

  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.

Ward 2 forum

  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]