2021 general election forum: Merriam City Council

Candidates competing for Merriam City Council seats in wards 2 and 4 participated in a public forum Wednesday night at the Merriam Community Center. Post editor Kyle Palmer (center) moderated the event. Photo credits Leah Wankum.

The future of Merriam Town Center, what to do with the decaying former site of K-Mart on Shawnee Mission Parkway and the city’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Those topics and more were covered Wednesday night in the Shawnee Mission Post’s forum for candidates vying in two contested races for Merriam City Council.

In Ward 2, retired horticulturalist Nancy Hammond and Starbucks manager Amy Rider are contending for the seat being vacated by Councilmember Brian Knaff.

In Ward 4, incumbent Councilmember David Neal is facing a challenge from Staci Chivetta, who has served on multiple city boards and unsuccessfully ran for the city’s other Ward 4 seat two years ago.

In addition, there are two uncontested city council races in Merriam.

In Ward 1, Jacob Laha is running unopposed to fill the seat being vacated by Councilmember Scott Diebold. And in Ward 3, Councilmember Christine Evans Hands faces no opposition.

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 [3:33] 
  2. What is the greatest challenge you think Merriam faces over the next four years, and what steps will you take in office in order to meet that challenge? [9:30]

    Nancy Hammond, Ward 2 candidate.
  3. In line with current guidance from the county, Merriam at this time is strongly recommending … but not requiring … masks be worn indoors. Merriam has not gone as far as some other Johnson County cities, namely 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? [15:46]

    Amy Rider, Ward 2 candidate.
  4. Property values have increased sharply across Johnson County in recent years. That coupled with the ongoing economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, have made many residents nervous about the impact of taxes on their incomes. The Merriam City Council voted last year to keep the city’s mill levy rate steady, at just over 27.5. But there was some discussion about potentially lowering it. Lowering taxes may help residents with their bills but also eats into paying for city services. Assess Merriam’s ‘bang for its buck,’ as it were for taxpayers in these challenging economic times. Do you think the city’s current tax rates are appropriate for what residents see in return? Would you support raising or lowering taxes in the future? [20:00]

    Staci Chivetta, Ward 4 candidate.
  5. 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. As for the former Hen House, two discount retailers — a Bob’s Furniture and Ross Dress for Less — are set to go in that space. What, if anything, can the city do to make Town Center in a vibrant draw for Merriam residents in coming year? [27:45]
  6. Let’s continue to talk about development with the former Kmart site at Shawnee Mission Parkway and Antioch Road. It has stood vacant for nearly nine years. Current mayor Ken Sissom has called the property “blighted.” The city has begun the process of amending the I-35 TIF district to include that property in order to pave the way for the potential use of tax incentives for development on that site. If elected (or re-elected) would you support using tax incentives for that site? What would be a successful development on that lot, in your opinion? [36:02]

    Incumbent Ward 4 Councilmember David Neal.
  7. 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, if anything, should the city government be doing to make that vision a reality? [45:00]
  8. What achievement or accomplishment so far in your time in office (or in your personal or professional life up until now) illustrates your preparedness to be on the city council or continue to be on it? [53:10]
  9. Candidates’ closing statements [1:00:30]