OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — Ahead of the general election on Nov. 2, 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, Ryan Spencer will take on incumbent Logan Heley to represent the 1st 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?
Heley: Part of my re-election platform is to continue to promote transparency in our city government by encouraging community participation and engaging with residents online. I have been a strong advocate for transparency and have consistently engaged with residents via social media, email, newsletters, and frequent meetings with residents. I was also instrumental in Overland Park’s decision to begin live streaming meetings and add public comment periods to meeting agendas, as well as establish better notification of residents before rezoning and redevelopment decisions.
We need to better-resource our communications and community engagement department at the City. Residents have higher expectations than ever before for engagement, and we need to ensure our city’s professional staff have the resources they need to better meet those expectations.
It’s important that elected officials be engaged with our community. I am an active member of our community through his work for Harvesters — The Community Food Network, as well as my volunteer work throughout the community.
When it comes to law enforcement transparency, I support a demographically-diverse Community Oversight Board for policing that has real power. We need a system that the community trusts. I’m committed to taking action to move that reform forward.
Spencer: I think having all council and committee meetings recorded was a great step forward, and I appreciate that residents can speak at council meetings as well. I would like to see that open forum portion extended to committee meetings as well as it currently is not. I’d also like the city to not delete recordings online that are over a year old.
Almost everything in government takes longer than a year to come to fruition and anyone should be able to access the records of their public officials from any point in time. It’s also not a “policy” to adopt but while the open forum for residents is great, if the council members are doing nothing to address the opinions and concerns that they’re hearing at the microphone and completely brushing off any dissent, you might as well not have the microphone there.
By the same token, I’d like to see council members holding regular public meetings with their residents (something I plan on doing on a bi-weekly basis) to allow residents to meet with them, ask questions, voice concerns for neighborhood issues to resolve, and provide feedback on upcoming votes. An online presence is great but there’s a lot of people who want to meet in person, I can’t tell you how many people I’ve spoken to from multiple wards who had no idea who their council members even were.
Q: How can Overland Park improve connectivity and public transportation?
Heley: As Vice Chair of our City’s Public Works Committee, I believe in finding sustainable solutions for Overland Park’s infrastructure that will make our neighborhoods healthier, safer, and more affordable. In my first four years, and next four if the voters allow, I work to make our city more walkable and bikeable. I work to protect our tree canopy and encourage native landscapes, which help encourage more walkable and bikeable neighborhoods while beautifying our city. As a member of the Johnson County Transportation Council, I’m an advocate for better public transit in our community. One of my accomplishments in my first four years was expanding the Micro Transit service in our city.
Spencer: I honestly think this is an issue that needs to be taken to the people of OP. There are a lot of residents who don’t need and wouldn’t use additional public transportation while there are many who would like to see it expanded to certain locations around the city. I think compiling a list of the top 10 or so resident suggestions as to expansion routes and locations and determining the cost would be a great first step. I’m sure there’s a solid list of bus routes with specific stops and terminus that could be a cost-efficient way of expanding but not unnecessarily.
Q: What changes, if any, would you like to see in the city budget?
Heley: We need to start making wiser, stronger, and more realistic budget decisions when it comes to climate action. For example, increasing resources for our forestry department would not only sequester carbon and beautify our city, but it would better our air quality and help residents maintain trees in their neighborhood, which also helps reduce their cost of living. I will be watching our Comprehensive Plan process and Infrastructure Advisory Group closely to see what budget recommendations might come over the next year or two.
Spencer: I think a line-item audit is needed for our annual budget. We really need to be evaluating whether spending levels per department need to be increasing at the rate that they are. We have double digit percentage increases throughout but we’re cutting the budget of Community Planning which I’ve heard from many residents that we need more of. If the city is coming in under budget for 2021 there’s no reason to be raising taxes to pay for unnecessary budget increases. I also want to look at the reasoning and need for over 50 new full-time positions to be needed in a single year, payroll and HR costs can quickly become a major expense and we shouldn’t be too quick to expand departments unnecessarily.