Our questions for the candidates in this fall’s local elections

Curt Skoog (left) and Mike Czinege are vying to replace outgoing Overland Park Mayor Carl Gerlach, who has been in office for 16 years.

Following this summer’s primaries, we asked Shawnee Mission Post and Blue Valley Post readers what issues they wanted to hear the candidates running for local office address as they competed for votes in the November election.

As we have done for a decade now, we’ve taken the input you all sent in and used it to develop questionnaires for the people who want to represent you on local governing bodies — from Overland Park mayor and the JCCC Board of Trustees to the Shawnee Mission Board of Education and the WaterOne board of directors.

And based on the overwhelming number of suggestions we received, it’s fair to say Johnson County residents are paying close attention this election season and looking for candidates who are well-versed on the biggest challenges facing our communities.

“Our goal with the questionnaires is to put the issues that matter most to average residents — not activists or political parties — at the center of the campaign discussion,” said Shawnee Mission Post Publisher Jay Senter. “Getting the candidates on the record about the biggest issues facing the community helps ensure people can find the candidate who best reflects their own views before they cast their ballots.”

The 17 questionnaires we’ll be distributing to the candidates this week are below. We’ll begin running the candidates’ responses to these questionnaires on Monday, Oct. 18 and publishing the answer to one question each day throughout that week.

Overland Park Mayor

  • Over the course of the past few years, there appears to have been a growing level of tension and animosity among members of the governing body. As mayor, what would you do to foster a culture of civility and collegiality among members of the council? How would you encourage cooperation and compromise among members who disagree?
  • The use of tax incentives for developers has become a hot button issue among members of the governing body. Some suggest that important development projects wouldn’t move forward without them. Others say they’ve been overused and applied in situations where they weren’t needed. Please give us an example of a project you thought was appropriate use of development incentives in Overland Park and one that was not. Why did you choose these projects?
  • Climate change continues to be top of mind for many Shawnee Mission Post readers. What steps can Overland Park take to prepare 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?
  • What’s one area of the Overland Park city budget where you would support reducing funding, and what’s one area where you would support increasing funding? Why?
  • The John Albers case has raised significant issues about transparency and forthrightness from Overland Park officials. What does the city need to do to address this issue and rebuild trust between the city and residents?

Overland Park City Council

  • There seems to be growing animosity and tension among members of the Overland Park City Council itself. While still allowing for differing points of view and disagreements, how would you help restore an overall sense of respect and decency to the Council in order to benefit the common good of Overland Park?
  • What’s one area of the Overland Park city budget where you would support reducing funding, and what’s one area where you would support increasing funding? Why?
  • The cost of housing in Overland Park makes it unattainable for many families with average or below average incomes. What is your plan to ensure Overland Park has housing options that would be affordable to people without high household incomes? Would you support ordinance changes to allow developers to build attainable housing like cottage communities, town homes, etc…?
  • Climate change continues to be top of mind for many Shawnee Mission Post readers. What steps can Overland Park take to prepare 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?
  • What’s the top thing you’d like to be able to say about the city of Overland Park four years from now that you can’t say today? What should the city government be doing to make that a reality?

Shawnee Mission Board of Education

Shawnee Mission Center for Academic Achievement

  • What’s your assessment of how the district has handled managing COVID-19 risk at the start of this school year? Do you believe masks are effective at slowing the spread of the virus? Do you support the masking requirement for students?
  • Diversity, equity and inclusion programs have been under scrutiny in recent months as national media personalities and politicians raise alarms about the teaching of “critical race theory” or ideas linked to it. Do you support the district’s current approach to diversity, equity and inclusion? Why or why not? What does the term “critical race theory” mean to you?
  • There’s been increased attention in recent years to the need to provide alternative paths for students who are not interested in or able to attend college. What should the district be doing for non-college bound students?
  • The district fell short on its projected enrollment in 2020 and 2021 — specifically in its youngest grades, including kindergarten. These drops will likely impact the amount of state funding the district receives in the future and thereby influence future budgets you will be asked to vote on. How can the district prepare for these potential budget impacts? What are your ideas on how to increase student enrollment?
  • What are your views about the role of technology in the classroom? Are you comfortable with the amount of time students spend on screens during the school day? Why or why not?

Blue Valley Board of Education

Blue Valley

  • What’s your assessment of how the district has handled managing COVID-19 risk at the start of this school year? Do you believe masks are effective at slowing the spread of the virus? Do you support the masking requirement for students?
  • Diversity, equity and inclusion programs have been under scrutiny in recent months as national media personalities and politicians raise alarms about the teaching of “critical race theory” or ideas linked to it. Do you support the district’s current approach to diversity, equity and inclusion? Why or why not? What does the term “critical race theory” mean to you?
  • The high performance of Blue Valley schools has in many ways been the catalyst for the growth of southern Johnson County for more than two decades. As the district continues to grow, how can the board ensure Blue Valley schools continue to produce excellent results?
  • What are your views about the role of technology in the classroom? Are you comfortable with the amount of time students spend on screens during the school day? Why or why not?
  • What’s the biggest challenge facing the Blue Valley School District today, and what should the board of education be doing to address it?

USD 232 (De Soto) Board of Education

  • What’s your assessment of how the district has handled managing COVID-19 risk at the start of this school year? Do you believe masks are effective at slowing the spread of the virus? Do you support the masking requirement for students?
  • Diversity, equity and inclusion programs have been under scrutiny in recent months as national media personalities and politicians raise alarms about the teaching of “critical race theory” or ideas linked to it. Do you support the district’s current approach to diversity, equity and inclusion? Why or why not? What does the term “critical race theory” mean to you?
  • When did you attend your first meeting of the school board? What issue motivated you to attend and what did you learn from watching the group work live?
  • What are your views about the role of technology in the classroom? Are you comfortable with the amount of time students spend on screens during the school day? Why or why not?
  • What’s the biggest challenge facing USD 232 schools today, and what should the board of education be doing to address it?

Shawnee City Council

  • The city has in recent years committed hundreds of thousands of dollars of public money to private business development projects in the downtown area through its Shawnee Entrepreneurial and Economic Development program. Do you support the use of public funds to try to spark the revitalization of downtown? Why or why not?
  • People who run for elected office often have strong views about how things ought to be — views that may differ sharply from their colleagues on the city council. What steps would you take to ensure that you have positive, productive relationships with council peers who may have different views than your own?
  • Taxation and spending are often contentious issues among members of the Shawnee governing body. What’s your take on the city’s current taxation environment? If you believe taxes in the city are too high, how would you propose cutting spending or increasing revenue?
  • Climate change continues to be top of mind for many Shawnee Mission Post readers. What steps can Shawnee take to prepare 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?
  • What’s the top thing you’d like to be able to say about the city of Shawnee four years from today that you can’t say now? Why?

Lenexa City Council

  • Like other growing parts of Johnson County, Lenexa has seen some homeowners push back against proposals for new residential projects, particularly multi-family developments. How should the city reconcile the desire for the continued development of western Lenexa with opposition from residents to higher-density multi-family projects? Are multi-family projects necessary for the healthy growth of Lenexa? Should the city prioritize attainable housing stock options?
  • With the departure of Old Town Hair & Nail and a change of ownership along the corner block at Santa Fe Trail and Pflumm, Old Town is going through some significant changes. What do you hope to see for this historic and special part of Lenexa?
  • Climate change continues to be top of mind for many Shawnee Mission Post readers. What steps can Lenexa take to prepare 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?
  • The City Center development has been widely hailed as a success and one that couldn’t have materialized without the foresight and commitment of the city’s governing body over the course of two decades. Is there a similar long-term initiative that you would like to see the city start working on today? Why or why not?
  • With plans underway for the new Lenexa Justice Center on Prairie Star Parkway, what do you hope to see for the site of the police station and courthouse on 87th Street Parkway?

Prairie Village City Council

  • The pandemic derailed discussions between the city, Johnson County Library and YMCA about a potential “civic center” that would combine a community center and new Corinth Library branch on land near Harmon Park. What’s your assessment of the viability of this project? Does Prairie Village need a new community center? If so, what’s the best way to pay for it?
  • Prairie Village has seen some of the sharpest property valuation increases in Johnson County in recent years — which has translated to commensurate increases in taxes that have stressed the finances of some residents on fixed incomes. What’s your take on how the city should be handling this issue?
  • The rising cost of even “starter homes” in Prairie Village has put home ownership in the city out of reach for many middle class families. Should the city be looking to add more “attainable” housing options? If so, in what form should that take?
  • Climate change continues to be top of mind for many Shawnee Mission Post readers. What steps can Prairie Village take to prepare 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?
  • Prairie Village held out on returning to in-person meetings longer than any other Johnson County city — and made some stand-out decisions on COVID-19 risk mitigation including canceling Jazz Fest and becoming the first Johnson County city to mandate masks. What do you think of how the city has handled decisions related to COVID-19?

Mission City Council and Mayor

  • The long-stalled Mission Gateway project continues to be a sore spot for residents, who are tired of driving past an inactive construction site nearly a decade after the developer held a groundbreaking ceremony there. What’s the best possible outcome for this situation at present, and what should the city government be doing to make it a reality?
  • Mission is distinct in Johnson County for its “small town” vibe, but some residents say they’re concerned that feeling is being chipped away at by new development projects. Of note, the governing body has granted variances to the three-story height requirement for buildings on a handful of occasions in recent years. Do you believe the city should hold fast to the three-story height requirement? Why or why not?
  • Climate change continues to be top of mind for many Shawnee Mission Post readers. What steps can Mission take to prepare 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?
  • The city held a mail-in election in September asking residents to renew a three-eighths cent sales tax to continue funding road improvement projects. Do you support the city using this mechanism to bolster its road maintenance funds? If so, why? If not, what other approach should the city be taking?
  • This summer, Mission kicked off a conceptual redesign for Broadmoor Park, located just off Johnson Drive. A one-acre dog park is included in the plans for the redesign, which is consistent with city officials’ previous statements that if a dog park were to be built in Mission, it would likely be at Broadmoor Park. But residents had mixed emotions about the potential dog park — some thought it would be a nice amenity, while others were concerned about maintenance and safety. Do you support the years-long initiative to bring a dog park to Broadmoor Park? Why or why not?

Merriam City Council and Mayor

  • The heart of downtown Merriam lies in the Turkey Creek Floodplain, which has stymied efforts to revitalize the area for years. A proposal before Congress might provide $43 million in funding for levees that would take it out of the floodplain and allow for real redevelopment. What’s your vision for the downtown area? What should the city government be doing to make that vision a reality?
  • Merriam Town Center has seen some major tenants leave in recent years, including the city’s only grocery store. The city has been working with the firm Confluence on a comprehensive plan that suggests the possible redevelopment of the shopping center as a mixed-use area with housing and green space mixed in with retail. What needs to happen to Town Center in the coming years to make it a vibrant draw for Merriam residents?
  • Merriam’s location along I-35 poses some challenges for creating walkable and bikeable neighborhoods. The cities of Merriam, Overland Park, Mission and Kansas City, Kan., recently embarked on a project to see how Merriam Drive/Lane can be improved — including walk and bikeability. What initiatives, if any, would you support to improve walk and bikeability in Merriam? Why?
  • Climate change continues to be top of mind for many Shawnee Mission Post readers. What steps can Merriam take to prepare 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?
  • Earlier this year, Merriam received pushback on an ordinance prohibiting people from standing in medians at nine intersections. Critics say this is an attempt to limit panhandling, and the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas (ACLU) and National Homelessness Law Center sent a four-page letter to the city about the ordinance being unconstitutional. Would you have supported (or did you support) the ordinance? Why or why not?

JCCC Board of Trustees

  • JCCC is requiring that masks be worn in most indoor settings on campus this fall. Do you agree with JCCC’s approach to COVID-19 mitigation this year? Do you support masking requirements? What, if anything, can or should JCCC be doing to encourage students and faculty to get vaccinated?
  • Rising property taxes, caused in large part by increasing home valuations, continue to be a concern for many Johnson County residents. In recent years, the revenue JCCC collects from local property taxes has gone up even though the mill levy, or tax rate, has gone down. Should JCCC look to cut the property tax rate even further, in light of rising property values? In general, what is your philosophy on setting the college’s property tax rate?
  • The pandemic has upended the regional and national economy. Many businesses still claim they are having trouble finding enough skilled workers, and many workers are either reluctant to go back to full-time work due to the ongoing spread of COVID-19 or are re-evaluating their career choices. What role should JCCC play in developing Johnson County’s post-pandemic workforce?
  • JCCC has opted to keep tuition steady during the pandemic. The current rate is $94 per credit hour for Johnson County residents. Revenue from tuition makes up less than one-fifth of the college’s total budget. Should the college consider raising tuition or lowering it? Why? And how would doing either of those things impact JCCC’s budget?
  • Transparency with the college’s decision-making and the Board of Trustees has been an issue that has come up in recent years. Do you think the board is transparent enough in its processes? Why or why not? How can the Board and JCCC more broadly be more open and accessible to students, faculty and taxpayers?

Fairway City Council

  • A developer is looking to turn the Fairway Office Park into an apartment complex for active adults. This would be the first and only project of its kind in the city. Do you support the idea of apartment complexes in Fairway? Why or why not?
  • In December 2020, the city council approved a 1.5% add-on sales tax for the Stroud’s redevelopment. It is the first community improvement district tax incentive approved for a development in Fairway history. Would you have supported the add-on sales tax? Why or why not?
  • Climate change continues to be top of mind for many Shawnee Mission Post readers. What steps can Fairway take to prepare 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?

Mission Hills City Council

Mission Hills

  • Mission Hills city council recently approved flood studies to be conducted along Brush and Rock Creeks. This is in connection with The Kansas City Country Club’s master plan. What would flooding solutions along these creeks mean for Mission Hills residents? Would you support potential solutions?
  • Some Mission Hills residents have complained about noise pollution from landscaping companies using mowers and leaf blowers. Would you support measures to reduce noise pollution? If so, what approach would you recommend?
  • What’s the biggest challenge facing Mission Hills today and what should the city council be doing to address it?

Mission Woods City Council

  • What motivated you to run for city council? What’s your approach to finding compromise with people you might strongly disagree with?
  • What is the biggest issue facing Mission Woods today, and what should the city’s government be doing to address it?
  • Climate change continues to be top of mind for many Shawnee Mission Post readers. What steps can Mission Woods take to prepare for increased flooding, along with extreme heat and drought events? What steps would you like to see the city take to build climate resilience?

Westwood City Council

  • Westwood purchased the former Westwood Christian Church property in 2014, a year after the church closed. The city demolished the church more than a year ago and earmarked the land for greenspace until a formal decision about its future is made. What do you think is the best use of this space for Westwood residents?
  • The former Entercom building will become the new Westwood View Elementary — but not all residents are thrilled with the site. Some say an elementary school would be better at the former Westwood Christian Church site rather than on Belinder Avenue. Others are concerned about traffic flow when the new elementary opens and the existing elementary is used for Rushton students when that building is torn down in a couple of years. Do you think the Entercom site was the best fit for Westwood View? Would you have supported the final site plan approval? Why or why not?
  • Climate change continues to be top of mind for many Shawnee Mission Post readers. What steps can Westwood take to prepare 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?

Westwood Hills City Council

  • A sign at the city limit proclaims Westwood Hills to be the “most beautiful little city in Kansas.” What does the city council need to do to preserve Westwood Hills’ unique charm?
  • What is the biggest issue facing Westwood Hills today, and what should the city’s government be doing to address it?
  • Climate change continues to be top of mind for many Shawnee Mission Post readers. What steps can Westwood Hills take to prepare 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?

WaterOne Board

  • What is the biggest issue facing the water district today, and what should the board be doing to address it?
  • WaterOne is in the process of installing Advanced Metering Infrastructure across the district. This system has the potential to allow customers to better understand their water consumption and avoid surprise high bills by accessing data about their usage online. What does the district need to do to ensure customers are aware of the new system and get the most out of it?
  • Climate change continues to be top of mind for many Shawnee Mission Post readers. How will the increasing likelihood of flooding and drought events impact the sources from which WaterOne draws its supplies? What can WaterOne do to ensure its infrastructure is ready to handle more extreme weather?