Meet the Overland Park City Council candidates hoping to represent Ward 5

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OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — With the general election less than a month away, FOX4 is working to help voters get a better idea where candidates stand on issues impacting residents in the metro.

FOX4 sent out a questionnaire to candidates in more than 50 races in Johnson County. In Overland Park, Sam Passer and Sheila Rodriguez are asking for voter support to represent the 5th Ward on the Overland Park City Council.

Here’s a look at what the candidates had to say:  

Q: What policies can the city adopt to improve transparency and public engagement?

Passer: First and foremost, I’m in favor of open meetings to provide visibility into city activities. I understand there are sensitive topics that, from time to time, require discretion – but where possible, meetings should be open and details from the meeting should be made available to the public.

Engagement is, perhaps, the harder topic. During the primary election, at candidate forums, I heard incumbent candidates respond to questions detailing the year long plus decision process filled with open meetings and opportunities to comment that preceded some recent decisions – but those decisions were being questioned as not providing enough notice.  Public engagement is critical and it starts with the city leveraging multi-channels to make sure information is disseminated – that includes newsletters, social media, partnering with the media, and council members being out in the community sharing information with residents to bolster engagement.

Rodriguez: Building and demonstrating a transparent, responsive and inclusive city should be the city’s highest priority. Recent decisions (i.e., Hwy 69 toll, Brookridge development, chip seal, tax increase) have severed the trust between many residents and our City Council. It’s important that we restore that trust and improve transparency by:

Sheila Rodriguez Overland Park City Council Candidate, Ward 5

1)  Revisiting recent decisions which did not align with the majority opinion of residents to determine whether they should/could be reversed or amended.

2)  Moving public comments on a major voting matter to the previous City Council meeting’s agenda, not at the same meeting. Public comments should be heard and time should be provided to research and/or seek additional input from residents, not moments before voting.

3)  Providing information to residents in an easily digestible format on opkansas.org. We have an obligation to provide clear and concise summaries with links to review more detailed information (if/when desired). Most residents just want to know where their tax dollars are going, how safe their city is, and how well the city is performing. If they must wade through raw data to figure this out, it can be frustrating and time-consuming.

4)  Developing a clear and measurable action plan to address the top 5 areas with the lowest satisfaction rates revealed in the Community Survey which the city conducts every other year. Although 98% of residents who responded in the last survey (2018) believe the City of Overland Park is an “excellent” or “good” place to live, a majority of respondents believe that the maintenance of neighborhood streets and parks, crime prevention, litter removal and the effectiveness/quality of city leadership should receive the most emphasis over the next two years.

Many of these same areas were in the top 5 areas for improvement in the 2016 survey and I suspect will be in the 2020 survey when it’s released. It’s unfair to those who spent time answering the survey questions if the city doesn’t utilize the data collected and create an action plan for improving those city services. 

Q: How can Overland Park improve connectivity and public transportation?

Passer: This is a tricky question… as of right now, the city relies on the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority and Johnson County Transit for public transportation. I wouldn’t be in favor of the city starting its own public transportation – that seems duplicative and expensive. Rather, I think we should partner with these organizations to bolster coverage where gaps exist and leverage public engagement channels to make sure residents are aware of public transportation options.

Sam Passer Overland Park City Council Candidate, Ward 5

Additionally, I’m in favor of communities that provide live, work, and play options that lessen the need for residents to travel longer distances – the development going on at Aspiria, the former Sprint Campus is very exciting and I hope will allow residents an opportunity to live in areas of OP that make it possible to walk or bike to meet most of their basic needs.

Rodriguez: When speaking with residents, I rarely hear about public transportation concerns. Based on public input and the last Community Survey report (2018), it appears that most residents are satisfied with the quality of public transportation. With that being said, there’s always room for improvement and we should continue to explore new ways to help residents move around the city easier and quicker.

I hear more concerns about the overall increased traffic on major thoroughfares and ancillary streets, as well as stand-still congestion in specific areas during specific times of the day.  We need a better and more cost-effective method to measure traffic than outsourcing to a consultant and/or using outdated data. Having current and accurate data ensures we completely solve the problem, not just fund a short-term fix. 

Q: What changes, if any, would you like to see in the city budget?

Passer: With a new city manager who will follow Bill Ebel’s retirement and a new mayor being elected in November, I think it’s a good opportunity to take a fresh look at the budget. Let me be very clear, I don’t have any concerns about how things have been done in the past – I just think from time to time, it’s very effective for most organizations to obtain a new perspective.

I know one area where many residents would like to see a change is paying for an alternative to chip seal to pave streets. The Infrastructure Advisory Group will be appointed soon and will begin meeting in November. This group will look at how our streets are paved with chip seal and other alternatives as well as all infrastructure in the city. All of these items impact quality of life and will likely have the most potential impact on future budgets. I look forward to this group’s recommendations and broad-based scope of feedback which will examine the needs of the community.

Rodriguez: I appreciate the complexity of the city’s annual budgeting process and the tremendous amount of work that went into creating the 223-page proposed 2022 budget of $327M.  Without being an active participant in the budget discussions, it’s difficult to confirm but it appears the city has a spending problem, not a revenue problem. As a result, I’d like to revisit the 2022 budget and tax increase which was recently approved.

We should be reinvesting our taxes in our aging infrastructure and improving our public services/amenities, not giving them away. Our budget should serve the interests of our residents, not developers. Overland Park is clearly attractive to new and expanding businesses. I believe most commercial development will happen organically and without the gift of a tax incentive/abatement. Tax incentives/abatements on non-blight areas of the city should not be offered, especially when it’s at the expense of our residents and business owners.

Our neighborhoods, streets, sidewalks/curbs, schools, parks and first responders must be a higher priority in the budget in order to meet the high expectations of our residents, business owners and visitors. Somewhere along the way in our efforts to build a first-class city, many our greatest assets were put on the back burner. They need our immediate attention if we are to continue being recognized as one of the best places to live and raise a family.

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