2021 general election forum: Merriam Mayor

Merriam Councilmember Bob Pape spoke Wednesday night in a forum hosted by the Shawnee Mission Post for the candidates vying for mayor. Current Mayor Ken Sissom is stepping down. Pape's opponent Angel Lopez did not participate. Above, Pape (right) answers a question from moderator Kyle Palmer. Photo credit Leah Wankum.

The future of the former Kmart on Shawnee Mission Parkway, revamping downtown Merriam in the Turkey Creek Floodplain and worries over increased property valuations inflating homeowners’ tax burden, were all questions readers wanted asked at the Shawnee Mission Post’s 2021 Merriam mayoral forum.

Current Ward 4 Councilmember Bob Pape, who is also the city’s former fire chief, and Angel Lopez III are vying for the mayoral seat being vacated by Ken Sissom.

Pape was first elected to the city council in 2015 and is in the middle of serving his second term.

Lopez did not participate in the forum and did not give the Post a reason for his absence.

The Post live streamed the forum on its Facebook page, and the entire video can be found below.

 

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

    1. In your view, what is Merriam’s strongest asset and how would you try to leverage that if elected? [4:30]
    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? [5:22]
    3. What can the city do to guard the revenue coming from big box retailers as well as car dealerships? [7:20]
    4. 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? [8:34]
    5. Ward 4 Councilmember Bob Pape.

      You wouldn’t want to see anything change [with mask mandates]? [10:00]

    6. 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. Let’s acknowledge the tradeoff: 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? [10:42]
    7. 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? [14:08]
    8. Let’s continue to talk about development with the former K-Mart 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? [16:08]
    9. 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? [18:28]
    10. Post readers in Merriam and elsewhere continue to voice concerns about the effects of climate change on life here in Johnson County. They point to some of the torrential rains we’ve had this summer … upwards of five to six inches in a few hours on some occasions, which put stress on the local flood control systems. Does the city have a role in building up resilience to climate change? What, if any, policies will you support as Mayor that will better prepare Merriam for our changing climate? [20:52]
    11. 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 an unconstitutional violation of free speech rights. Did you support the ordinance? Why or why not? [22:29]
    12. What would you say to people that say the ordinance as it was crafted was maybe a superficial addressing of a deeper problem of homelessness or houselessness, maybe pushing people to other cities. What would you say to that? [24:18]
    13. What achievement or accomplishment on your resume that you think best illustrates your readiness to be Mayor?[25:10]