OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — With the August 3 primary less than a week away, FOX4 is working to help voters understand where candidates stand on issues impacting residents.
FOX4 sent out a questionnaire to all primary candidates in Johnson County.
Q: What is your top policy issue for the City of Overland Park?
Gardner: Increasing citizen involvement in local government. There are several concrete issues I think the City needs to address. For example, we need to take steps to become a regional leader in combating climate change and treating mental health. We need to take measures to increase the amount of affordable housing available in the City. We need to treat transparency and accountability as priorities and not just good talking points. And we need to do so much more. But we need all of us to get there, not just some of us.
In Ward 4 city elections, we have about 50% more voters over the age of 70 than we have under the age of 40. This, despite the average age of OP residents being about 37 years old. I think our government works better and our representatives are more accountable when we have more people involved.
To get them involved we need leadership that understands them, understands their needs, and understands how to communicate with them.
We need to make it easier for people to follow what’s going on in their city. City Council meetings can last over four hours. Many of our residents are raising kids and working jobs. They shouldn’t have to sit through several hours of politicians arguing just to know what’s going on. That’s why I’m the only candidate who has committed to putting out regular newsletters to help educate our residents.
We need to make it easier for people to voice their opinions. It’s great that we finally have a public forum at City Council meetings, but that’s far from enough. We have to recognize that very few people can attend Council meetings to make sure their voices are heard. We need leadership that will work hard to get in front of our residents instead of making our residents work hard to get in front of them. That’s why I am committed to holding regular town hall meetings. It’s why I share my personal cell phone number (785-418-1165), so that our residents can have their voices heard when it works for their schedule.
Most of the candidates agree on what the issues are. We might even agree on big, bold goals like getting to net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Yet we don’t see action. Or, when we do, we see small first steps that leave a big gap between where we are and where we want to be.
If we cannot get more people involved in our city government, we’ll continue to be underwhelmed by what current leadership is able to get done. So, the biggest issue for me is fixing that problem. There are several specific issues we need to address as a city. But none of them will be able to get done unless we expand the number of people participating in city government.
Gram: My top policy issues include addressing aging infrastructure needs, fulfilling the vision of ForwardOP and implementing a new comprehensive land use plan. Now that Overland Park is over 60 years old, it’s time for a plan to address aging road surfaces (including chip seal), curbs, sidewalks, street lights and storm water drainage. I believe the Infrastructure Advisory Group that I advocated for is the correct approach to addressing this complex issue and we are in the process of putting it together now. The Advisory Group will make recommendations to approach this urgent need.
The city came together to develop our vision for the future in ForwardOP’s initiative areas. The challenge we face now is to implement those goals by convening community groups and residents to push those goals forward. I am pleased to be on the Board for ForwardOP to help make the vision a reality (ForwardOP.org).
The comprehensive land use plan will be addressed in 2022. Public input will be needed as we look at the city’s master plan for land use and this will be key to our design for the future.
Mosher: There currently is an issue that keeps surfacing between the council and those that elect them. It is [a] collaboration. The current council doesn’t really answer to those that elected them based on how they have voted in the last year! They tend to ignore the input of those that put them there. There is example after example of this. This behavior of ignoring the input from those they represent needs to change. Just this year the council opened their meetings to the public, allowing input at council meetings. As a merit badge councilor for the BSA [Boy Scouts of America], I would take scouts to the city council meetings in Olathe to see democracy at work for the Citizens in the Community Merit Badge. I couldn’t do this in Overland Park closed meetings!
When you are elected to represent someone, you should seek input from your election base. The current council doesn’t do this, and when confronted with inclusion, they make comments like “We don’t respond to “mob” rule. (Kite)
When Mike Mosher, President of the Fraternal Order of Police, tried to discuss with the council the issues facing first responders when COVID hit, he was ignored. He was asking for hazard pay and possible benefit extensions as he and his fellow first responders were facing an unseen danger! Councilman Lyons stated, “Why would we give them anything extra, they knew the job was dangerous when they applied for it.”
Editor’s Note: All questionnaire responses from candidates that include quotations are not endorsed nor verified by FOX4. Each candidate has been given the opportunity to speak to their own platform, with edits only made for spelling, grammar and stylistic conformity. FOX4 reached out to Councilmember Paul Lyons about Mosher’s statement. This was his response:
“I don’t recall saying anything close to what I’ve been quoted. My position has always been that salary decisions, including bonus or hazard pay fall within in authority of the city manager. Our roll as council members is to approve overall funding for ongoing city operations and leave details to the city manager.”
I’ve never had hard feelings for someone who has a different opinion than mine, we can agree to disagree. My issue is with the rest of the council who stood by and accepted those statements, without comment! The silence was deafening.
Yet those same council members tell us in an election year we support our first responders. They got to stay home in the safety of their home at a time of uncertainty. Not addressing their concerns is not support! Not, at least listening is unacceptable. Examples of this are too numerous to cover, but the term for me that comes to mind is Elitism. (In fairness, 2 councilmen tried to address this issue, Hamblin and Farassati)
My priorities are simple, I will listen to those who elect me and hear them. Isn’t that all we ask from those that represent us?
Q: What initiatives would you support to improve affordable housing options in Overland Park? How can Overland Park offer a range of housing options for residents of different income levels throughout the city?
Gardner: Affordable housing is an issue that every candidate will claim is a priority. And for good reason! It’s a great quote for a politician to say they support affordable housing so that our teachers, police, firefighters, and other underpaid public servants can afford to live here. It’s a great quote for a politician to sidestep the question and say we just need to stop giving tax breaks to luxury apartment developers. Unfortunately, it’s far too easy for politicians to give those quotes and then do nothing to actually fix the problem.
You cannot create more affordable housing options without denser living solutions. Period. Because so many businesses and families want to be in Overland Park, land here is expensive to acquire and develop. Those looking to develop affordable housing options don’t think they can be profitable and because of that, they look elsewhere.
So, we need to consider all options, including smaller, more compact homes like we’ve seen be successful in the Veterans Community Project, accessory dwelling units, and additional senior community housing. We also need leaders who will convince those developers of more affordable housing that the City is capable of considering creative solutions to help ensure these projects can be successful here, despite the high upfront cost.
But like so many areas of our city government this is also a transparency and accountability problem. We all say this is something we value. If that’s truly the case, it should be something we’re all eager to publicly own. Track the data on affordable options in the city. Release it publicly so that our leaders can be held accountable by the people and by news organizations like the Post. If we treat this as something the Mayor, City Council members, and other local leaders will all be required to stand in front of our residents and report back on, I think we’d see the kind of collaboration and creative thinking that would help deliver results and not just good quotes for politicians.
Gram: Attainable housing is one of the most difficult problems facing Overland Park. I would consider zoning changes to allow for denser and more affordable housing. Many young people entering the workforce and low to moderate income workers cannot afford to live here. In addition, our aging population needs diverse housing choices as they age in place. Single family home prices have increased dramatically as well.
The good news is the Council has already supported some initiatives to provide more affordable housing. These include converting extended stay hotels into lower cost apartments and a new development of affordable single family rental homes in south Overland Park.
There’s still plenty to do. While taking into consideration the impact on neighboring properties, we should carefully evaluate zoning proposals that would allow higher density infill development. This could include appropriate multiplex units or accessory dwelling units on lots. I would also like to see cottage communities and more mixed-use development that includes reasonably priced housing units.
We will need public/private partnerships to implement more creative developments and provide funding for new programs. I also would consider a fund to provide money to rehabilitate older homes so they can remain viable living spaces.
The economy’s emergence from the pandemic has brought this issue into focus. We are seeing the difficulty businesses are having attracting qualified applicants to fill open positions. Rising housing costs will exacerbate the problem and shrink the pool of applicants to fill important roles. If we can’t provide businesses with the employees they need, the economic health of Overland Park will suffer.
The pandemic has also clarified the importance of being near family. Allowing for additional density, including accessory dwelling units or multiplex units built near single family homes, will allow us to live near family members. For example, elderly grandparents could live in an apartment on the same lot as their child’s single-family home.
The pandemic caused us all to focus on home as a place of work, for family, for entertainment, for rest. As we focus more on our homes, it is critically important that the city offer options that are affordable for all residents at all stages of life.
Mosher: I first believe in a long range plan to address this issue. The city should have an existing plan to build “like” homes in areas slated for “like” homes! If homes are on 1 acre lots, and the plan calls for higher density houses in the plan near them, this should be told to potential home buyers as subdivisions are built.
This way they enter into the purchase knowing what is to be built around them. Everyone [is] on the same page. We should have a solid plan for growth and expansion for the next 10-15 years and we should follow that plan. To me it is like entering into a contract with the city! Variances should only happen with homeowners support! Could there be exceptions, maybe, but very rare and the decision should include everyone involved. It needs to be a win,win and not decided without collaboration.
We continue to build luxury apartments and [but] just how affordable are they? I live in an apartment that is many years old and I pay $1,500.00 a month. Is that affordable? So to me, “affordable“ doesn’t necessarily mean apartments.
I believe in adding single family homes for young, old and anyone in between to live in Overland Park. Those homes would allow someone just starting off in life or entering into retirement to own and live in our great city.
While land cost is high, maybe we go to smaller lots and homes with less square feet to get the price down. Maybe we go to mixed neighborhoods, where all homes are different sizes, but we plan for it and those moving in know what is being built up front! That is all that anyone wants. They want no surprises down the road after their life long investment. We can do this! Apartments have a place, but planned out and not added to neighborhoods after the fact just to fill a space. But remember this, when we go higher density, more services will need to be added! (Police/ Fire/ Schools/ etc.)
Q: What is your view on the use of tax incentives for new commercial development? What criteria would you use when determining if incentives like Tax Increment Financing (TIFs), tax abatements or the creation of a Community Improvement District (CID) should be granted to developers wanting to build within the city?
Gardner: For a city like Overland Park tax incentives should be pretty rare. We have a highly educated workforce and one of the higher-income populations in the area. These facts make us highly attractive to business without needing to spend taxpayer money to bring or keep them here. I would support the use of incentives when it is a project that would not get done without them and would bring more value to the community than it costs. I would also support using incentives to attract key industries that will help drive our future success. But my support of these incentives would be far more limited than what we’ve seen from current leadership.
What I am against is categorical rules that say we should never use tax incentives or we should always use them. The reality is that tax incentives are a tool. When used correctly, they can bring great value to the community. The same way we wouldn’t say that you should never use a hammer because you might hurt your thumb, we should not outright dismiss tax incentives as a tool just because they’re not always successful. We should use them when it makes sense for our community. With a city like Overland Park, those instances where it makes sense will be pretty rare, but our leaders should not be afraid to act where it will benefit our City.
Gram: I support the careful and judicious use of tax incentives as part of fulfilling the vision of ForwardOP, the city’s long-term plan for its future. Incentives are appropriate under certain circumstances.These include:
- Attracting a business that would not otherwise come to the city, if the business will bring desirable jobs that spur additional tax revenue.
- Improving an area that is not otherwise succeeding.
- Providing needed office space when we have insufficient supply to meet demand.
- Creating a public amenity or space that we need but don’t have.
Cities all over the country use tax incentives as a tool to create exciting and innovative communities – the kind of communities that succeed because they attract businesses and families. Tax incentives are great tools for blighted areas, certainly, but can also be used to upgrade areas like Cherokee South Shopping Center, build the youth sports center at Bluhawk or attract a major business center like the Sprint (now Aspiria) Campus. They should not be given out too freely or quickly, but carefully and thoughtfully and only when they truly benefit Overland Park residents.
Our city has benefited from the use of incentives in the past and can continue to be successful with them in the future. Overland Park’s use of tax incentives has resulted in consistent net revenue gains. Our professional city staff carefully structures all incentive agreements to protect taxpayer dollars. I am committed to reviewing each new proposal carefully to determine if it is suitable for tax incentives.
Mosher: I believe that giving money to developers for the most part is a mistake and puts the city into survival mode when it comes to services! Too often projects go dead; office space is not filled, businesses fail and we are left holding the bag so to speak. Let’s just take a look at office complexes and what we have for the Sprint complex. Let’s look at Prairie Fire and how we allow businesses to charge more sales tax and we return that money to the business. Why do we do that![?] It’s time to reel in these programs! We have services and infrastructure that needs to be improved and we give money away! Time for change!
Q: Do you support the city’s current chip seal program? If not, what would you recommend the city use to repair streets?
Gardner: This question is a perfect example of the problem current leadership has created with the discussion around chip seal. Too many people are trying to mislead the public and offer simple solutions to a complex issue because it’s good for them politically. And too few others are willing to call that out or put in the work to have a nuanced conversation about what it really is. So, we get where we are now. Where people are confused and upset, and the current Council has kicked the can down the road by creating another committee to maybe one day think about solving a problem our residents have been complaining about for over a decade.
Despite it being presented by so many politicians as a yes or no question, whether you do or don’t support chip seal, the real question is whether you support it based on the cost a reasonable alternative would bring. And as the question prompt points out, we don’t really know how much an alternative would cost. We don’t know because current leaders have been unwilling to have those conversations with us. They haven’t acted on the transparency or accountability we all claim to be fans of.
So, do I support the use of chip seal generally? No. Our residents have been complaining about it for years and nothing has been done. Most of our peer communities were able to find solutions to this problem. I think we should be able to do the same.
But this is where the tough part comes in, and why our leaders have danced around this for so long. It costs money. What we need is full transparency on the costs associated with alternatives. Instead of asking our residents whether or not they support chip seal, we need to be asking whether they support chip seal if the alternative will cost them an extra $250, $500, or $1,000 in annual property tax. And then we need leaders who will be confident enough in their decision-making process to want to be held accountable. Leaders who will put in the work to go out and explain to our residents why they support the solution they do.
That’s all happening in darkness today and until we have leadership that’s actually committed to being transparent and accountable, our future will be filled with more committees, task forces, and inaction.
Gram: I am no fan of chip seal. It’s on the road in front of my house, it’s in bad shape and I am in favor of using a different method to resurface our roads. I raised this issue when I interviewed to fill the vacancy on the Council and my feelings have not changed.
Since joining the Council, however, I have learned that chip seal is just one of many infrastructure issues Overland Park must address for us to maintain our quality of life. In addition to road surfaces we need to repair and replace sidewalks, curbs, gutters, streetlights and signs. We also must deal with stormwater drainage, a critical matter of personal safety and property protection that’s top of mind given our recent weather patterns.
During election season I certainly understand the appeal of demanding an immediate halt to the use of a road surface no one really likes. But, as [a] Councilmember who takes my responsibilities seriously, I believe immediately terminating road maintenance – without a solution in hand – would be irresponsible. Our roads would deteriorate further, making the problem worse.
Instead, I think we’re on a path that makes more sense. I am a member of the Council’s Public Works Committee and I advocated in favor of creating the Infrastructure Advisory Group made up of Overland Park residents and community experts. The group will help us prioritize infrastructure improvements, assess our options for addressing them and figure out how to pay for them.
Of course, cost is a major consideration. Chip seal is unloved, but it has the advantage of being 6 to 10 times less expensive than alternatives that have about the same lifespan. Our city paves 150 lane miles of roads each year using a combination of chip seal and more expensive options, including Ultra-thin Bonded Asphalt Surface. UBAS [Ultra-thin Bonded Asphalt Surface] has more appealing characteristics, but city staff estimates that switching to it exclusively would cost an additional $20 million to $29 million per year.
Since joining the Council a year ago, I have received countless emails and knocked on hundreds of doors. And even though our city property taxes are far lower than our neighboring communities, property taxes are among my constituents’ top concerns. Therefore, changing our approach to road maintenance will require us to address funding and may ultimately require a public vote.
Mosher: No, I can’t get much plainer than that! When 24 home associations ask the sitting council to stop it after they voted it in and they don’t, something is wrong! That is adding insult to injury. We have one council person who in their campaign literature says: that they are for an alternative to chip seal.
If they are for an alternative, why did she vote for it in the first place! This process is one step above gravel and is not something I want in my neighborhood. The developer of my apartment complex did an overlay, if he can, the city can. It is said it is what we can afford, then the budget needs to be adjusted to take care of infrastructure so we are not wasting our money. It is dangerous, messy, has a short life span and is not wanted by our citizens! So why do it! We need to cease and desist, now! We can do better or nothing until the details are worked out to do it right!