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OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — In Johnson County, advance voting by mail for the general 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.

The race to represent the 3rd Ward on the Overland Park City Council pits local educator Amanda Vega-Mavec against incumbent Jim Kite, who has served on the council since 2013. 

Here’s a look at what Kite and Vega-Mavec had to say: 

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

Jim Kite, Overland Park City Council Candidate, Ward 3

Kite: Transparency is first found in the fact that most everything the city does is covered by the Kansas Open Meetings Act. A good deal of transparency, as compared to non-government sectors, is already present by law. All meetings are on live streaming now, and recordings are available to those who miss them. The public comment period was just introduced into the council agenda in the past two years.

Every councilmember has a published phone number and a City of O.P. email for inquiries. Legislation and the courts require what must be shared, at the same time they may identify that which can’t be shared.

In addition, if there is information that is required to be shared it has to be available to everyone under the same conditions. Any improvement in engagement, I believe, must come from adding proactive programs that put information in citizen’s hands in advance. I will be working toward that end.

Vega-Mavec: The city of Overland Park has made important changes in terms of transparency when it comes to making information on meetings available to citizens. All city council meetings and many committee meetings are now streamed live on the city website. This has greatly increased accessibility for many residents. However there is still work to do.

Amanda Vega-Mavec, Overland Park City Council Candidate, Ward 3

The recent ETC survey indicated that overall OP citizens are satisfied and find the city to have a high quality of life. There were some areas where there was a decrease in satisfaction since 2018, including, “level of public engagement in decision making.” This lower level of engagement is seen in the current process of updating our comprehensive plan which includes a series of videos and surveys. Based on the number of views for the videos on YouTube the most watched video had about 200 views.

For a city with a population of about 200,000 this begs the question of how do we engage more residents.  As an educator who has always worked with bilingual families, I believe it’s important to meet stakeholders where they are. This could include providing information in more languages, providing more opportunities for residents to engage that doesn’t involve first going to the city website, and holding input sessions in a wider variety of locations throughout the city.  I would also encourage going to the residents rather than always expecting them to come to us.  

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

Kite: I have been one of the strongest advocates of on-street bike lanes and the building out of walkable and bikeable infrastructure. While we have a good story to tell with bikes, we need more options for public transportation.

Although the bus system from KCATA is contracted with the county, the City of Overland Park coordinates on transit studies, offering technical review, advice for potential services, and building out of new transit stops.

In addition, we directed staff to provide funding for the Micro Transit downtown option on Saturday that is used to offset the cost of service to those riders to and from the downtown and the Farmer’s Market. The committee I chair will soon be reviewing a planned pilot program for 2022 involving e-scooters and e-bikes service for downtown OP and other areas of the city.

Vega-Mavec: First, Overland Park needs to continue the work of researching options and possibilities, as well as gathering input from those who live, work, play, and learn in Overland Park. The recent Metcalf/College study is an example of researching and getting input on options for change. The third video in the Planning the Plan series is another example of information that could be more widely shared.

Using the information gathered, the city should make decisions to implement projects and strategies that increase access to public transit, micro transit, bike/pedestrian lanes, and more. Part of any change in this area will require showing residents that relying less on private vehicle transportation is still a high-quality life. 

As a city we are very dependent on cars for work, school, activities, and entertainment. When I moved here from Boston it was one aspect of life here that I had to adjust to. I was used to going days without using my car. I would ride the bus or subway and walk. As the city, with resident input, makes decisions on where to make change we need to make sure that it will be used as intended. The saying of “build it and they will come” is not always true, so we do not want to proceed with projects that will then be under-utilized.  Overland Park should continue the work of researching options in order to move forward with projects that will attract users and maintain a high-quality of life.

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

Kite: The biggest change I’m advocating is approval of the One Mill increase currently before the council. While I’ve fought to keep taxes down for eight years, and they have indeed been relatively flat during that period.

I believe this new investment in all new public safety services is right for the times. It puts more officers on the streets and provides a new mental health team within the department, that will free up even more police for duties specific to fighting crime.

Vega-Mavec: Through recent research and my own conversations with residents I am learning that residents are generally satisfied with taxes collected and how they are used. I am also learning what areas residents would like to see prioritized. These include public safety and takes into account access to mental health education and resources, such as the new behavioral health.

For this reason I support budgetary decisions that provide for these priorities. The most recent survey of OP residents shows that residents would also like to see street maintenance prioritized in the years to come. I know that various methods of street maintenance cost different amounts, so this would be an area where I would personally need to learn more in order to understand and contribute to conversations on how to meet the needs of the city while maintaining a healthy budget.