Overland Park City Council wards 1, 2 and 3 candidates on the issues: Camaraderie and collegiality

Overland Park Wards 1, 2 and 3 city council candidates weigh in on the best practice to lower tensions between councilmembers. File photo.

In August, we asked our readers about the issues you wanted to hear the candidates running for Overland Park City Council address.

Based on your feedback, we developed a five-item questionnaire touching on the most important issues to the citizens of Overland Park.

Each day this week, we will publish the candidates’ responses to one of five questions. Today, we are publishing candidates’ responses to the following question:

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? 

Below are the answers the Post received from the candidates on the issue:

Ward 1

Logan Heley (incumbent)

We work best when we work together. We’re all here for the same reason — we care about Overland Park and the residents of our city. We often have different ideas about how to best serve our city, which can lead to some heated moments. I do think things would be less chaotic if we held a refresher on Robert’s Rules of Order and worked harder at following that procedure during meetings.

Ryan Spencer

I think many councilmembers get caught up on what they personally want to do, pet projects of theirs, and focusing on what they personally think is best for the city. If every member truly took note of what all their residents were telling them (not just their own echo chamber), I think there would be a lot more agreement because I believe that residents of this city, no matter the ward, overall know what is best for their own communities and their own pocketbooks.

I believe in using stats, stories, options, and results to build cases in order to persuade others to see differing opinions, not just stating an opinion and shutting down dissent. I may personally believe your wrong, but I’ll defend your right to say it and provide everything I can to make my own case. I also think that there needs to be a time limit on debate and rebuttals. I’ve talked to several residents who would love to be more involved in city government and the decisions being made at council and committee meetings, but they don’t want to sit through hours of grandstanding and listening to people who just want to hear themselves talk until 11 at night. I think putting caps on councilmembers time and the number of rebuttals would help with the tension as well.

Ward 2

Melissa Cheatham

Respect is one of my core values. On a personal level, I will commit to treat my fellow councilmembers with dignity and to assume good intentions. I believe respect is fostered through connection and will seek opportunities to get to know my colleagues outside of our formal work in city hall. I have a track record of respectfully working to solve problems in groups with diverse interests. As the appointed member from the Environmental Advisory Council to the city’s building code task force, I brought a very different set of priorities to the table than the homebuilders who sat on the panel. However, I was willing to listen, learn, adjust my understanding, and respectfully push to advance our group’s goals. In the end, we reached consensus.

On a procedural level, I support nonpartisan local elections. I chose purple as a color in my campaign logo to represent my intention to serve all residents and my belief that essential city services like parks, roads and public safety know no party. I believe most voters are looking for less rancor and division, not more.

I also believe that following clear procedures for conducting council meetings, including enforcing time limits and utilizing a predetermined order for recognizing speakers, will contribute to a civil atmosphere.

Roger Tarbutton

I cherish our freedom of speech guaranteed under the First Amendment and respect the right of others to express differing opinions. I will not make personal attacks on other members of the council, staff or the public with whom I may disagree. In my opinion, diversity of opinion is a great source of strength for decision-making bodies and should not be discouraged as a nuisance or annoyance. If elected, I will do my utmost to contribute to congeniality among all council members, city staff and the public.

Ward 3

Jim Kite (incumbent)

As someone who has been part of this council for eight years, I’ve seen the meetings go from very collegial deliberations to quite divisive. We will always need to follow the processes established by state statute and by our own ordinances and resolutions, so members will have to be allowed to speak, despite that nature of the comment. While disagreement can be healthy, this is the dilemma we’ve experienced recently. It is my hope that the residents will demand a more constructive environment for doing the people’s business. I will never surrender my right however, to set-the-record-straight simply to reduce confrontation.

Amanda Vega-Mavec

As an educator and school leader, my work experience is focused on bringing different groups of stakeholders together for a common purpose – that being what is best for children. Depending on the situation, you may have students, families, teachers, community members, and/or others working together on something. When you bring different groups together they bring their experiences and perspectives. There is often conflict. Thankfully, my experience and various leadership development opportunities, including those through the Kansas Leadership Center, have helped me develop an understanding on how to work across factions.

Some key ideas to keep in mind are exploring tough interpretations, looking at different points of view, engaging unusual voices, speaking to loss (it is inevitable when compromising), and staying focused on the purpose. First, I would constantly work to manage myself so that I behave towards my fellow council members the way I want to be treated, whether we agree or not. Secondly, I work to build relationships with the other city council members, as well as the staff and volunteers who are part of our city government. It is possible to have professional and productive relationships with others even when you do not agree.

On Tuesday, we will publish the candidates’ responses to question #2:

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?