2021 general election forum: Mission City Council

Mission City Council

The Post hosted a candidate forum Tuesday night for candidates vying for two open seats on the Mission City Council. Above, from left, Ward 2 candidate Lea Loudon, moderator and Post editor Kyle Palmer, and Ward 4 candidates Ben Chociej and Ray Ruecker. Photo credit Leah Wankum.

Candidates vying for two open seats on the Mission City Council answered questions Tuesday night in the Shawnee Mission Post’s latest forum ahead of the Nov. 2 general election.

Readers wanted to hear the candidates’ thoughts on what to do with the still-unfinished Mission Gateway site, whether they supported raising the city’s sales tax to pay for road improvements and whether they agree with Mission’s approach to mitigating the impacts of COVID-19, among many other topics.

In Ward 2, the only candidate to attend Tuesday was Lea Loudon, who currently works in the social work field and has been a member of the city’s Capital Improvement Program Committee.

The other two candidates in Ward 2 — Joe Donaway and Keith Viken — did not participate.

In Ward 4, both candidates vying for that open seat attended: software engineer Ben Chociej and businessman/consultant Ray Ruecker.

In addition, incumbent city councilmembers Hillary Thomas (Ward 1) and Debra Kring (Ward 3) are running unopposed.

The Post live streamed Tuesday’s forum on its Facebook page, and the entire video can be found in the embedded link below.

Here are the questions and the corresponding time stamps so readers can find answers to them quickly:

  1. Candidates’ opening statements [3:50]
  2. Ward 2 candidate Lea Loudon.

    What is the greatest challenge you think Mission faces over the next four years, and what steps will you take in office in order to meet that challenge? [8:25]

  3. The long-stalled Mission Gateway project continues to be a sore spot for residents, who are tired of driving past an inactive construction site — at the confluence of Johnson Drive, Roe Boulevard and Shawnee Mission Parkway — a decade after the developer held a groundbreaking ceremony there. What’s the best possible outcome for this situation at this time, and what should the city government be doing to make it a reality? [12:55]
  4. Along Johnson Drive in downtown Mission, it often seems like businesses come and go with striking frequency. Owning and operating a small business can be a challenge, and that has been made even more so amid the COVID-19 pandemic. What is your stance on local economic development in Mission? What, if anything, can the city be doing to prop up local businesses and help keep jobs and entrepreneurship here? [18:35]
  5. Ward 4 candidate Ben Chociej.

    Readers say Mission is distinct in Johnson County for its “small town” feel, but some residents say they’re concerned that 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. At the same time, other readers welcome a discussion about diversifying housing stock, adding more density and making the area potentially more affordable for a broader group of residents. If elected, how would you balance these competing demands? To retain Mission’s small town feel while also opening up more diverse housing opportunities? [22:55]

  6. In line with current guidance from the county, Mission at this time is strongly recommending … but not requiring … masks be worn indoors. Mission has not gone as far as neighboring cities Prairie Village and Roeland Park, both of which are mandating masks in most public indoor settings amid spread of the Delta variant. Assess how the city has responded to the pandemic over the past year and a half: do you agree with the city’s approach? Is there anything you would want to see changed if elected? [28:20]
  7. Ward 4 candidate Ray Ruecker.

    In a mail-in election this month, Mission voters overwhelmingly approved raising the city’s sales tax from one-quarter cent to three-eighths of a cent to pay for road improvements. Do you support the city using this mechanism for this purpose? If so, why? If not, what other approach should the city be taking? [33:33]

  8. We got some questions also about improving walkability and bikeability, especially in the busy Johnson Drive corridor. What, if any, steps can the city take to make the sometimes busy streets of Mission more accessible to pedestrians and cyclists? [38:50]
  9. This summer, the city approved funding for environmental upgrades to several city facilities, including this building we’re in now, the Sylvester Powell Community Center. That funding was ultimately approved, but it did spark a discussion about the future of Sylvester Powell, with some councilmembers worried about a drop in use of this facility. How do you see Sylvester Powell evolving to serve the Mission community? Is the community center currently fitting resident and city needs? [43:35]
  10. Elections for municipal offices in Johnson County have traditionally been nonpartisan. Going back at least 20 years, candidates for local positions like Mission City Council have not had to declare their party affiliation. Some readers have expressed worry that this year, some candidates are overtly campaigning as a member of a particular political party. While other readers have said this is a good thing, knowing where and how to align their allegiances with local candidates. Regardless of where you stand on that, I think we can agree that national and state-level politics has become increasingly divisive in recent years. How can the city of Mission keep that polarization out of local governance? Or do you think local offices like the one you’re seeking should be more explicitly partisan? [48:54]
  11. What accomplishment, achievement or experience in your personal or professional life thus far best illustrates your preparedness to serve on city council? [52:33]
  12. Candidates’ closing statements [57:55]