Your Overland Park mayoral and city council general election primer

Here is your 2021 general election primer for Overland Park mayoral and city council races. File photo.

Advance in-person voting begins on October 23 in Johnson County, and Election Day is less than two weeks away on Nov. 2. As residents head to the polls to cast their ballots for Overland Park mayor and city council, we’ve put together an election primer to give people an easy way to find out where the candidates stand on the issues.

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Who’s on the ballot

There are six contested city council races in Overland Park, as well as two people vying for the mayoral seat. Below are the candidates in Overland Park’s races:

All Overland Park residents who are registered voters will be able to vote in the general election.

Candidate questionnaires

Earlier this month, the Post published the candidates’ responses to the questionnaire we developed with reader input. The five questionnaire items are linked below:

Mayor

Question #1: Over the course of the past few years, there appears to have been a growing level of tension and animosity among members of the governing body. As mayor, what would you do to foster a culture of civility and collegiality among members of the council? How would you encourage cooperation and compromise among members who disagree? Read answers here.

Question #2: The use of tax incentives for developers has become a hot button issue among members of the governing body. Some suggest that important development projects wouldn’t move forward without them. Others say they’ve been overused and applied in situations where they weren’t needed. Please give us an example of a project you thought was appropriate use of development incentives in Overland Park and one that was not. Why did you choose these projects? Read answers here.

Question #3: Climate change continues to be top of mind for many Shawnee Mission Post readers. What steps can Overland Park take to prepare neighborhoods for increased flooding, along with extreme heat and drought events? What steps would you like to see the city take to build climate resilience? Read answers here.

Question #4: 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? Read answers here.

Question #5: The John Albers case has raised significant issues about transparency and forthrightness from Overland Park officials. What does the city need to do to address this issue and rebuild trust between the city and residents? Read answers here.

City Council

Question #1: 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? Read wards 1, 2 & 3 answers here and wards 4, 5 & 6 answers here.

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? Read wards 1, 2 & 3 answers here and wards 4, 5 & 6 answers here.

Question #3: The cost of housing in Overland Park makes it unattainable for many families with average or below average incomes. What is your plan to ensure Overland Park has housing options that would be affordable to people without high household incomes? Would you support ordinance changes to allow developers to build attainable housing like cottage communities, town homes, etc…? Read wards 1, 2 & 3 answers here and wards 4, 5 & 6 answers here.

Question #4: Climate change continues to be top of mind for many Shawnee Mission Post readers. What steps can Overland Park take to prepare neighborhoods for increased flooding, along with extreme heat and drought events? What steps would you like to see the city take to build climate resilience? Read wards 1, 2 & 3 answers here and wards 4, 5 & 6 answers here.

Question #5: What’s the top thing you’d like to be able to say about the city of Overland Park four years from now that you can’t say today? What should the city government be doing to make that a reality? Read wards 1, 2 & 3 answers here and wards 4, 5 & 6 answers here.

Candidate Forum

The Post hosted in-person forums for the Overland Park general election, they include city council wards 1, 2 and 3 on Sept. 30. and mayoral candidates as well as city council wards 4, 5 and 6 on Oct. 5. Video of the event is embedded below, followed by a summary of the topics they discussed and their corresponding time stamps to help readers find the candidates’ answers more quickly:

Mayor

  1. What is the greatest challenge you think Overland Park faces over the next four years, and what steps will you take in office in order to meet that challenge? Starts at 6:41
  2. In line with current guidance from the county, Overland Park at this time is strongly recommending but not requiring masks be worn indoors. Some Johnson County cities, namely Prairie Village and Roeland Park, have mandated masks in most public indoor settings amid spread of the Delta variant. If elected, you may be confronted with a decision that involves the city’s response to the pandemic. A two-part question: what is the best approach, in your opinion, for the city to take in helping mitigate spread of the COVID-19? And under what circumstances, if any, would you support imposing a citywide mask order? Starts at 11:34
  3. Property values have increased sharply across Johnson County in recent years, making many of our readers nervous about the burden of property taxes on their incomes. Overland Park has the lowest mill levy rate by far of any city in the county, at just around 13.5 mills. Though that will be going up this coming year. The current city council voted to pave the way for a 1 mill increase, which will raise additional revenue that will go primarily towards mental health supports for police and first responders. For a homeowner with a home appraised at $350,000, the rate increase translates into about $40 more dollars per year, according to the city. Is this property tax increase for the purpose its intended worth it, in your opinion? Why or why not? Starts at 15:52
  4. What is one area of the city’s budget you would like to see cut? And one area towards which you think more money could be allocated? Starts at 21:08
  5. There has been much debate in recent years over Overland Park’s use of tax incentives for major development projects. Supporters say in the context of a competitive Kansas City metro … tax incentives lure developers to Overland Park, bringing residences, retailers and commercial activity that otherwise could land somewhere else. Opponents say given Overland Park’s enviable reputation … developers don’t need the added bonus of tax incentives and will want to build here anyway, so using public tax dollars for that purpose is unnecessary and wasteful. Each candidate was asked their own tailored question on this topic:
    1. Mike Czinege, you expressed skepticism about tax incentives during the primary, saying they should be used sparingly and only for blighted areas. Given that, is there a tax incentive deal in recent years that you think has been beneficial for the city of Overland Park? Why or why not? Starts at 24:28
    2. Curt Skoog, during the primary, you likened tax incentives to public investments that attract businesses to Overland Park, growing the city’s tax base and commercial activity. Still, is there a tax incentive deal in recent years you think has not benefited Overland Park taxpayers as much as it could have Starts at 27:12
  6. The race for Overland Park mayor, as well as city council seats, have historically been nonpartisan. That is, candidates’ names do not appear with party labels on the ballot and, in practice, in recent decades … at least … candidates have not run openly as members of a particular political party. Mike Czinege, you are open about your affiliation with the Republican Party. Curt Skoog, earlier this year you changed your party affiliation to Independent. For both of you: given the increasingly divisive political rhetoric at the state and national levels, how can you assure Overland Park residents of all political persuasions that you will represent their best interests if elected? Starts at 30:36
  7. Overland Park, like a lot of Johnson County cities, is feeling tension as some residents — especially single family home owners in established neighborhoods — push back against developments that, generally, are aimed at trying to address housing needs in a rapidly growing city. If elected, what would be your stance on how Overland Park should tackle its future housing needs? And what steps would you take on the council to make that happen? Starts at 35:00
  8. What is your definition of “affordable housing” and does Overland Park offer enough of it? Starts at 39:00
  9. Local leaders are increasingly sounding the alarm over the potential negative impacts of the so-called “dark store” theory on county and municipal revenues. Big box retailers, including Walmart, Target and Bass Pro … have won cases before the Kansas Board of Tax Appeals in which they argue that the valuations on their properties are too high and that they should be paying less in property taxes. They essentially argue that their properties should be appraised as if their stores are empty and that the commercial activity that goes on inside should not be part of the appraisal calculation, hence the “dark store” theory. County officials have warned that if such arguments continue to be successful and appraisals are adjusted, local tax revenues could be greatly curtailed. What do you see as the potential impacts of such “dark store” cases on Overland Park’s revenues, and as mayor, would you urge the city to do anything about it? Starts at 41:10
  10. We asked both of you during the primary about your thoughts on the city’s handling of the aftermath of the fatal police shooting of teenager John Albers in 2018, and the Post continues to get questions about this matter. Namely, some readers question Police Chief Frank Donchez and retiring City Manager Bill Ebel’s decision to grant the officer who killed Albers a $70,000 severance payout while also telling a state police oversight board that that officer was leaving the Overland Park force voluntarily under “normal circumstances.” Do you think Donchez and Ebel misled the public in coming to this severance deal? Starts at 44:25
  11. Bill Ebel has served as City Manager for 16 years now and has been with the city in some capacity for decades. He is retiring in February, so one of the first big decisions that will be made on a new mayor’s watch will be hiring his replacement. If elected, what qualities will you be looking for in a new city manager? And how do you want to see the search process play out? Starts at 48:56
  12. What is one cause or project or initiative you would hope to be remembered for after your time in office is complete? Starts at 51:35
City Council wards 1, 2, and 3

  1. In line with current guidance from the county, Overland Park at this time is strongly recommending … but not requiring … masks be worn indoors. Some Johnson County cities, namely Prairie Village and Roeland Park, have mandated masks in most public indoor settings amid spread of the Delta variant. If elected, you may be confronted with a decision that involves the city’s response to the pandemic. A two-part question: what is the best approach, in your opinion, for the city to take in helping mitigate spread of the disease? And under what circumstances, if any, would you support imposing a citywide mask order? Starts at 10:54
  2. Property values have increased sharply across Johnson County in recent years, making many of our readers nervous about the burden of property taxes on their incomes. Overland Park has the lowest mill levy rate by far of any city in the county, at just around 13 mills. Though that will be going up this coming year. The current city council voted to pave the way for a 1 mill increase, which will raise additional revenue that will go primarily towards mental health supports for police and first responders. For a homeowner with a home appraised at $350,000…the rate increase translates into about $40 more dollars per year, according to the city. Is this property tax increase for the purpose its intended worth it, in your opinion? Why or why not? Starts at 20:55
  3. Here’s a bigger picture question that encompasses issues related to growth and development that many of our readers are interested in. Overland Park, like a lot of Johnson County cities, was established years ago on the idea of single-family homes being the bedrock of the community. And in many places in the city that is still definitely the case.But Wards 1-3 are more densely populated, underlining the need for potentially more diverse housing stock: duplexes, apartments, condos, and the like. If elected, what would be your stance on how Overland Park should tackle its future housing needs? And what steps would you take on the council to make that happen? Starts at 28:42
  4. Follow up to that posed by reader Steve Snitz: What is your definition of “affordable housing” and does Overland Park offer enough of it? Starts at 39:38
  5. Just this week, Overland Park hosted a community input session regarding the future of the farmers’ Post readers in Overland Park 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. In your opinion. What, if anything, is the biggest threat Overland Park faces in the next few years when it comes to a changing climate? And what steps would you support if elected to help meet that threat? Starts at 56:31
City Council wards 4, 5, 6

  1. In line with current guidance from the county, Overland Park at this time is strongly recommending, but not requiring, masks be worn indoors. Some Johnson County cities, namely Prairie Village and Roeland Park, have mandated masks in most public indoor settings amid spread of the Delta variant. If elected, you may be confronted with a decision that involves the city’s response to the pandemic. A two-part question: what is the best approach, in your opinion, for the city to take in helping mitigate spread of the disease? And under what circumstances, if any, would you support imposing a citywide mask order? Starts at 11:36
  2. Property values have increased sharply across Johnson County in recent years, making many of our readers nervous about the burden of property taxes on their incomes. Overland Park has the lowest mill levy rate by far of any city in the county, at just around 13 mills. Though that will be going up this coming year. The current city council voted to pave the way for a 1 mill increase, which will raise additional revenue that will go primarily towards mental health supports for police and first responders. For a homeowner with a home appraised at $350,000…the rate increase translates into about $40 more dollars per year, according to the city. Is this property tax increase for the purpose its intended worth it, in your opinion? Why or why not? Starts at 22:11
  3. In a related follow-up question concerning the budget: What is one area you would like to see cut? And one area towards which you think more money could be allocated? Starts at 33:10
  4. A recent survey commissioned by the Overland ParkChamber of Commerce showed that residents, in general, have positive feelings about living in Overland Park. The poll surveyed 500 registered voters over the phone in May, and one major conclusion was that 75% said the city was headed in the “right direction” compared to only 16% who said it’s on the “wrong track.” Likewise, a different citywide survey of more than 1,000 residents conducted by mail and phone earlier this summer found nearly 90% of respondents were either “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with both Overland Park’s quality of life and image as a city. What do you say to these results? Do you agree that the city is generally going in the right direction? Or are these surveys missing some deeper issues you think do need to be addressed? Starts at 42:00
  5. Overland Park, like a lot of Johnson County cities, is feeling tension as some residents, especially single family home owners in established neighborhoods, push back against developments that, generally, are aimed at trying to address housing needs in a rapidly growing city. If elected, what would be your stance on how Overland Park should tackle its future housing needs? And what steps would you take on the council to make that happen? Starts at 53:29
  6. Some Post readers have expressed concern over the increasingly divisive tone of some city council meetings, the lack of decorum during some debates and the tension apparent between some members. If elected (or re-elected), you will likely have to work with people who share very different ideological beliefs from you. What steps would you take to ensure that you have productive governing relationships with council peers who may have different views than your own? Starts at 1:02:22