Making Shawnee city government open and transparent and pursuing development are issues that have come up often in city elections, and this year’s race for mayor is no exception.
While other cities around Shawnee bring in big new shopping areas the way Kansas City, Kan., has done, or spirit away Shawnee business, as Lenexa has, Shawnee has struggled to build up a commercial and retail tax base that would take pressure off property taxes.
Hopes were high for retail development near Interstate 435 when the city and county governments approved construction of a sewer system for the Shawnee Landing development. They were deflated later when developers pulled out of the deal.
In the older part of town, city leaders tried to breathe new life into the largely vacant Westbrooke Village Shopping Center near 75th Street and Quivira Road by paying a third party to be the middleman. That fell through, costing the city $25,000.
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In the meantime, residents have sometimes questioned the city’s openness on such issues as what types of minutes should be kept and the appointment process for vacated council seats.
Two City Council members — Michelle Distler and Dan Pflumm — survived the primary field of four candidates and now will run for the mayor position being vacated by Jeff Meyers.
Distler has represented much of the city’s southern half covered by Ward 4 and Pflumm the northern Ward 1. Neither of their council terms expires this year, but the election will leave a vacancy that will have to be filled in one of those wards.
Distler has stressed transparency as one of her top priorities. Citizens deserve a city government that is easy to navigate and understand, Distler said, and to that end she supports detailed minutes and timely responses to open-records requests.
Development is a particular concern, Distler said, citing a study that says the city loses $475 million in sales each year because of a lack of retail in the city. Distler called development incentives a “necessary evil” to keep the city competitive but said each development plan should be considered carefully on its own merits. She said she’d like to see more programs helping small businesses as well.
Top priority should be given to infill development, putting new businesses in vacant buildings, and preserving neighborhoods, she said. She also said the city should consider writing rules that punish developers for leaving property vacant for extended periods. The Westbrooke shopping center has been mostly vacant since 2011.
Distler supports road repairs but is sorry to see that the recent sales tax vote has put Shawnee’s sales tax rate near the top of Johnson County cities. A different distribution of the impact fee on the landfill years ago might have kept the city from falling so far behind on its road repairs, she said.
Pflumm stressed his experience as a small-business owner in Shawnee for 20 years. Having done business in the city that long gives him a good understanding of how the city’s policies affect business, he said.
Pflumm emphasizes development, especially in the older parts of town. The city needs to do better job of marketing itself to fill the vacant spaces, he said. “I sell for a living. I think I can help fill the empty space.”
For instance, he said the area around the recently vacated building of Perceptive Software, which was lured to Lenexa by incentives there, could become a bioscience hub. He also said he would continue to work to develop Westbrooke and to get the former Aztec Theater downtown occupied again.
Roads have also been a top issue for Pflumm. He promised to keep a close eye on road money to make sure it does not get diverted into other projects. And he said he would keep taxes down if elected. “I’ve been on the council 13 years and I’ve never voted for a tax increase,” he said.
Education: Master’s in human resource development and organizational development, Friends University, 2003; bachelor’s in organization management and leadership, Friends University, 2001
Occupation: Publications director/emergency manager, Grace Christian Fellowship
Elected experience: Shawnee City Council 2006-present
Education: Bachelor’s in engineering, University of Kansas, 1985; associate’s, Johnson County Community College, 1984
Occupation: President, DanCo Systems Inc.
Elected experience: Shawnee City Council 2002-present