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OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — In Johnson County, advance voting by mail for the November 2 election begins next week. 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 the race to represent the 6th Ward on the Overland Park City Council, insurance executive Jeffrey Cox is up against incumbent Chris Newlin, who has served on the council since 2017.

Here’s a look at what Cox and Newlin had to say:  

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

Cox: It isn’t really about policies, although there are probably a few that could be implemented. The problem is that the current Mayor and most of the Council simply don’t care what their voters need or want. So, the information that is provided is manipulated to support and/or defend the decisions the Council either wants to make or already has made. The toll lane on 69 highway is a classic example. 

According to the City leadership our choices were:  

  1. Pay $20 million, 
  2. Let traffic continue worsening, or 
  3. The toll lane.  

Of course, they failed to advise that door number 4 was simply to wait another 2 years and KDOT would add the lane without tolling. This kind of manipulation of information is common and it will only change when we change who serves in leadership.

Newlin: We have adopted and changed many policies to improve transparency and public engagement during my first term.

Chris Newlin Overland Park City Council Candidate, Ward 6

I was part of the group that pushed to have all council and committee meetings be live-streamed. I felt that this would allow residents to better understand what we were voting on and the context for the decisions. After the 1 year trial period, I approved implementing a better system that allows residents to click on particular agenda items of interest and without needing to watch the entire meeting.

I was part of the team that developed the policy around having public comment at the beginning of every council meeting. This policy allows residents to sign up and speak for up to 3 minutes on any item that does not have its own public hearing on the current agenda. 

I also approved changes to our development process when it comes to rezoning and notifying the public. Previously, our signage was small and developers only needed to notify people within a 200-foot radius and hold no meetings. The changes which we implemented increased the size of the signage, increased the radius to 500 feet, and required neighborhood meetings with minutes to be given to the staff as part of the process.

Finally, I approved the change in police policy to have body cameras on all patrol officers. This provided us with a better look at police activity and a chance to correct activities that are outside the OPPD protocols and procedures. This protects not only the residents but the officers so we understand the whole situation.

During this next term, I will continue to provide proactive outreach, Coffee with Councilmember Chris Newlin Town Halls, to educate and engage my constituents on the important issues across the city. 

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

Jeffrey Cox Overland Park City Council Candidate, Ward 6

Cox: I don’t believe public transportation is a priority for the voters in Ward 6. I believe their priority is that we manage the traffic on our roads, particularly on 69 highway. One of the policies of the past 5-10 years that has made traffic much worse is the rezoning and subsidizing (tax incentives) of developers to build an endless sea of apartments. I would end the rezoning and tax subsidies that are fueling increased density and traffic in Overland Park in general, and particularly in Ward 6.

Newlin: We need to continue to improve our trail system to have connectivity to all amenities. In Ward 6 this is working with Johnson County and connecting the Arboretum with the trail infrastructure as we improve and reconstruct our streets. 

To do a true public transportation project, it would take a lot of coordination with MARC, KDOT, and Overland Park. I have lived in a city where I have seen a light rail system work over a metro close to the size of the KC area. We have the unique feature of a state line that requires a lot of minds coming together to make a project of this size work. I would welcome a conversation about extending the KC Street Car into OP as I see that as the catalyst line to having a larger system.

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

Cox: It is really just about keeping the tax revenue you are already owed by ending tax subsidies for new development – and prioritizing where you spend that money. For example, the City claims they need to increase the mill levy (on top of appraisal increases) to fund City operations, including the new mental health unit in the police dept.  

This mill levy increase, if approved, will generate approximately $4 million. As outlined in the recent City Newsletter, the City is going to spend approximately $12 million to build a “visitors center” at the Arboretum.  The neighbors who live near the Arboretum implored the City not to spend this enormous amount to commercialize the Arboretum, but were ignored.

In addition, the Budget has nearly $300,000 in new salaries at the Arboretum to manage what will be an “events center” vs. a “visitors center”. So, we are spending 3X the property tax increase to commercialize the Arboretum, against the strongest possible objections of the neighbors who live near (and love) the existing Arboretum.

Newlin: The Overland Park budget is very tight and trimming it would result in a reduction of services that I believe would leave a majority of residents unhappy. If there is one point of investment we need to make, it would be in the street infrastructure especially in our residential streets. 

As our city ages, we need to find a way to reconstruct our streets with the proper technology that will last 40 to 50 years. This is why I voted for and support the creation of the Infrastructure Advisory Board. I expect over the next year with this group they will bring back community-approved recommendations which we can then start implementing. This will require some tough choices to be made on how we will need to pay for that implementation, but if the community is open to making the substantive change we should find a way to budget for it.