Overland Park city council wards 4, 5 and 6 candidates on the issues: Camaraderie and collegiality

Overland Park Wards 4, 5 and 6 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 4

Stacie Gram (incumbent)

I have served on many boards, committees and teams over the course of my career and all of them have included diversity of opinion and approach to problem solving. I have now served on the Council for about 16 months and joined it without having any prior relationship with the Mayor or Council Members. My experience is that a majority of the Council represent their constituents well. They approach issues with an open mind, do their research and talk to their constituents. While we may have different perspectives, there is a willingness to talk to each other and listen to others’ ideas. However, there are two members who have a different approach and that has caused some tension.

In my opinion, good governance occurs when the governing members talk to each other, follow established processes in raising new ideas and communicate at all times respectfully to each other and the city staff. There is plenty of room for divergent opinions. I’ve agreed with and against all of the Council members at various times, but still have a very good working relationship with almost all of them. To improve the situation, I believe the Council should have a retreat next year, with a facilitator experienced in team building. The Council has had such retreats in the past but not since the onset of the pandemic so several members, including me, have not attended one. The Council could also benefit from additional training on process and procedure, so that we are all on the same page as to how issues are put before the Committees and the Council. Finally, I encourage all residents to watch at least one Council meeting to see how your Council Member represents you. You can watch live in person or online or view the recording later. If you feel your Council Member does not approach the role in a manner that best represents you, let them know.

Scott Mosher

This question has come up many times because the majority of 10 yeses feel that the dissenting 2 no votes have no opinion or vote! They even went to the Star! I can give many examples where the 2 no’s say “wait”, the citizens want this and the 10 yeses say they don’t know what is going on or their numbers are wrong etc. and they vote their made up minds, regardless of common sense information being shared. Let me be fair, it’s just the same 5-6 or so that seem to know all, but the 10 seem to vote as a block! ( Look at who contributes to each candidate’s campaign) I guess the 2 and the public never seem to be in tune to what is important! Chipseal and 69 tolls come to mind! A camera system at the soccer complex is really evident!

My observation is that when people disagree with the majority, they are talked over, ridiculed and scolded like children! This is the same group that blames others for just asking questions! I shared a video of this on Facebook if anyone wants to see what I mean? You can see the same attitude reflected in the Chamber and SMP forums these last several weeks from the incumbents. Look at the Ward 6 exchange regarding dollars spent on the arboretum. The incumbent got angry and attacked his opponent about the amount of tax dollars spent, stating he had bogus numbers, and what he was saying was wrong! Then the opponent politely re-read the numbers directly from the cities own newsletter! This I see consistently. Where the issue lies, is there for you to see! Dissension, yes, but not where some try to say it is. The current council members don’t like to be questioned. That is the nature of the service they provide! It is time for change, for open minds and people that put people first. All opinions matter, don’t they?

The only way to change this council in-fighting is to replace those that get upset with different opinions! It’s not personal, just different opinions. I disagree with giving developers tax breaks, but others don’t. There is no reason to get upset with that and when it is pointed out they get defensive and their demeanor changes and they attack away, instead of seeking why there is a different perspective. They just lose sight of what is important. It turns personal and no progress is made. We need open minds, people that hear and act, not just those that sit at the top and know all.
We need a new council to move ahead!
Time for ideas and inclusion!

Ward 5

Sam Passer

Overland Park was built upon partnerships and collaboration. Each council member is elected by voters to represent the city and we must get back to that vision. We don’t always have to agree but we must be respectful in our work. I’ve read the stories about some of the turmoil on the council and to be completely candid, that insight almost caused me to not run for this position. I enjoy working with high performing teams and the amount of dysfunction that I had read about was extremely concerning to me. As I dug in and asked questions to learn more, I think there are a couple of key points. There’s a belief that some of the tension was a result from at least one of the candidates trying to bolster their campaign for mayor and hopefully that will subside naturally with the election being over.

Secondly, I have a long history of working well with others and helping resolve disagreements amicably. If elected and the animosity continues – I’d bring two key elements to restore respect and decency. Initially, I’d approach anyone acting disrespectful individually to better understand the situation and help outline some more positive measures that could be taken. If those actions continue, they need to be called out politely and professionally and highlighted as unnecessary distractions that detract from the overall council’s effectiveness. I’ve found that most people will back down when called out in an appropriate and professional manner. Lastly, if the lack of decency continues, I’d be open to pursuing censure or other forms of action to make it crystal clear that that type of behavior does not belong on the council.

Sheila Rodriguez

Having watched/attended dozens of City Council meetings, I agree there is a noticeable level of animosity and tension that’s been building over this past year. It’s reached an uncomfortable level to watch, especially when a vote is required.

Whether the root cause stems from frustration of not being heard, a lack of respect, a difference in personalities or a lack of direction, we need a strong leader who can effectively lead our city’s leadership team. Our mayor should set the tone and expectations during council meetings and foster a sense of teamwork, even amongst a diverse team.

Over the past 25 years, I’ve successfully assembled and led numerous cross-functional teams to develop and implement strategic programs. The time investment I make in building relationships with team members, the experience I have creating and measuring objectives and the positive attitude I bring to the city’s leadership team will expedite a restoration of respect and cohesiveness within the City Council. Our residents deserve and should expect a cohesive, high-performing, unified City Council.

Ward 6

Chris Newlin (incumbent)

I am not aware of animosity or tension among the members of the current council. The majority of the time when we disagree we work together to find a solution that can satisfy all parties. I learned early on if you want to accomplish something you need to follow the council process and you need 7 votes. To me, this means that it was up to me to create trusting relationships with my colleagues so I could get issues passed in a meaningful way.

The frustration you sense among council members from time to time is because a couple of our colleagues have not prepared for meetings, or if they disagree they do not want to offer an alternative solution. I welcome disagreement as it is part of healthy democratic discourse, but when I am against something or I want change to occur, I need to offer a solution.

A great example of this was the question of the fence replacement around the West Links Golf Course that separated 80 homes from Nottingham by the Green. This fence was on OP property and staff wanted it removed as it was deteriorating. I viewed this as OP was the property owner and had a right to remove the fence. The homeowners association wanted OP to finance a new wrought iron fence at a cost of $400,000, which I believe is an overreaching expense to the city that did not benefit taxpayers.

I was persuaded by one of my colleagues, who agreed, that since the golf course is like a park we should, at a minimum, spend the money to install a chain-link fence and see if the neighborhood would pay the rest to upgrade to a wrought iron fence. In the end, the neighborhood and the city compromised where the city would absorb 60% of the cost, and the 80+ homes would accept the other 40% and be responsible for the upkeep of an improved wrought iron structure. I was happy to vote for this compromise to satisfy all parties.

Jeffrey Cox

My contribution to addressing this issue is that I will make every attempt to focus my comments on the issues vs. the personalities and avoid personal attacks and/or unprofessional conduct. That said, I do feel compelled to make a comment regarding what I feel has been a one-sided view regarding the causes of recent animosity and tension on the City Council. The current Mayor and many of the long serving Councilpersons have had their way for a very long time – and have developed very thin skins when challenged. They frequently treat residents with disrespect when being petitioned, as I experienced an arrogant and patronizing attitude from this body when I addressed them last year.

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?