For the first time in 12 years, Overland Park Mayor Carl Gerlach faces a challenger as he seeks a fourth term in office. Charlotte O’Hara, who served one term in the Kansas House, is his rival in the race.
And while Gerlach touts his political leadership of one of the most family-friendly cities in America, O’Hara says he and the rest of the city are too generous with developer incentives, including sales tax exemptions, property tax abatements and sales tax revenue (STAR) bonds. She’s criticized incentives for projects like PrairieFire and for proposals like Brookridge.
The election is Nov. 7. Voters can meet the candidates at a forum sponsored by the Overland Park Chamber of Commerce on Oct. 11 at 9001 W. 110th St. in Corporate Woods. The forum, with a moderator asking questions, begins at 4 p.m. and will last about 90 minutes.
Both candidates sat down separately with The Star for a Q&A, which was edited for length and clarity.
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Charlotte O’Hara, 66, is a businesswoman, mother and grandmother who lives in south Overland Park (Ward 6). An active conservative in the Kansas Republican Party, she was appointed and served one term, 2011-2012, as a Kansas state representative. She ran unsuccessfully in 2002 and 2006 to be chairwoman of the Johnson County Commission.
Her campaign website is www.oharaformayor.com.
What’s something people might not know about you?
I own industrial buildings and am part owner of a manufacturing company in Olathe. We manufacture plastic products. One is the margarita spigots on the margarita buckets. Somebody has to make them. Isn’t that hilarious? I’m also an avid horsewoman.
Why run now for mayor of Overland Park?
I went to a public hearing for Brookridge (proposed $1.8 billion mixed-use development near 103rd Street and Antioch Road) in December of last year. I know that prior to 1996, Overland Park never gave out incentives so I assumed they were very conservative on giving out incentives, especially after the fiasco with Sprint. I did some research on the Brookridge project and naturally I thought it was absurd that the developer was asking for nearly $600 million in tax incentives (TIF and Kansas STAR bonds). That just seemed absolutely ridiculous.
So why not run for city council? Why run for mayor? What equips you to be the mayor?
I think my business background and political experience equip me very well. I’m a nerd. I crunch numbers. With the family business, if there’s anything that needs financial care and strategy, that’s when they really want me. And my political background, understanding how this system works. This is a huge problem. Overland Park is a wonderful city. We’re one of the best cities in the United States. There’s absolutely no need for us to be paying people to come here to do business.
How are you campaigning?
I’ve knocked on almost 2,700 doors. I really have visited with people, talking about incentives and the lack of public comments at council meetings and the fact that our property taxes have gone from 7.65 mills to 13.8 mills since 2003.
What about a possible Sprint and T-mobile merger? How would you address that?
Actually Sprint has dwindled down from 14,000 to 6,000 employees. This exemplifies how when you bet on a whale, if it doesn’t work out, you really do have a problem. Companies are looking at Overland Park all the time. And if there’s suddenly this opportunity to have this much office space, you’re going to have to let the market work. I want to make sure that Overland Park is saying we are open for business, but we don’t have to pay you to come here.
Carl Gerlach, 63, lives in central Overland Park (Ward 3). The 6-foot-10-inch tall incumbent has a wife and children. When he’s not serving as mayor, he’s vice president of marketing for Gill Studios, a specialty printing company in Lenexa.
His website is http://www.carlgerlach.com/.
What’s something people might not know about you?
I played basketball in college and was drafted by the Atlanta Hawks. They let me go. I went overseas and played for a year, came back and played for part of a year with the San Antonio Spurs. Then I was injured. I don’t play but I have in the past coached my son and daughters.
Why seek re-election to a fourth term?
I want to finish out a lot of the good things that we’ve started in Overland Park: The redevelopment of Vision Metcalf; downtown Overland Park, which includes Metcalf south, 95th and Antioch, 95th and Nall. This is an area I grew up in. I remember it as a vibrant downtown and bringing it back to a vibrant downtown and redevelopment is very important to me.
Your opponent is critical of the city and you for awarding what she says are hundreds of millions of dollars in corporate welfare.
I would say she’s wanting to run an experiment on Overland Park. She wants to risk the Overland Park economy. What proof does she have that her experiment will work? Other cities in the Johnson County area have tried to get out of the incentives world. They’ve experimented with not doing incentives and when they’ve done that they’ve watched cities on both sides of them redevelop past them. You’ve got to be competitive. We have one of the strongest economies in the entire state of Kansas. In the last 12 years, we’ve added 23,000 new jobs to Overland Park and investment by developers of over $1.1 billion. We’re the No. 1 city to raise a family (according to WalletHub). There’s plenty of proof showing that what we’re doing is working.
What about T-Mobile possibly taking over Sprint? Would that be a huge setback for Overland Park?
I don’t have any communications with Sprint to know what they’re doing in the T-Mobile partnership. I don’t necessarily agree it would be devastating to Overland Park. They’ll still have employees there. We’ve got some very high-end companies already located on the Sprint campus, so more companies could come in and backfill.
Your opponent says she’s knocked on 2,700 doors and she hears a lot of frustration. Are you getting negative feedback?
I’m going door to door also and I’m not hearing that. I’m hearing people are very, very pleased. Being mayor of one of the top-rated cities in the entire nation isn’t just one or two issues. It’s a complex (job) that needs the ability to work with a lot of different people, from the business community to our citizens to our council to our staff.