Brandon Kenig, a member of the Shawnee Planning Commission who has been active in local Republican politics, on Monday became the newest member of the Shawnee City Council.
Kenig will fill the vacancy in Ward 4 created when Councilwoman Michelle Distler won the mayoral election. He will serve the rest of her term and said he intends to run in 2017.
During questioning by city council members, Kenig said he considers himself a fiscal conservative, “but also pragmatic when it comes to government.” He said the city’s biggest challenge is to ensure development is attractive and appealing, walkable and has parks and other amenities people expect. In Ward 4, which covers the southern part of the city, Kenig said speeding and upkeep of the neighborhoods are two of his top concerns.
He also said he generally supports incentives to lure business to town, but would consider each project on its own merits.
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Kenig, 29, has been on the planning commission three years and has also served on the Johnson County Heritage Trust Fund grant review board. In addition, he is chairman of the Kansas Young Republicans and has worked in constituent services for U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran. He works at VinSolutions as a search engine optimization and social media manager.
The council approved Kenig’s appointment 4-3 with relatively little discussion at a special meeting. Kenig was sworn in shortly afterward at the regular council meeting.
Besides Kenig, the candidates were Doug Hill, area manager at General Motors and resident of Bell Road, whose residents have opposed a development nearby; Frank Imgrund, retired director of systems development at DST Systems; Christine Loomis-Nay, office manager in Johnson County government; and Frank Neal, coaching consultant in conflict resolution with Johnson County and Clay County small claims courts and the Kansas City Police Department citizen complaint division.
Despite the split vote, there was little discussion, and no meeting time was given to public input. A new system for nominating candidates showed that Kenig would have had four nominations, Imgrund two and Hill, one.
Past appointments to fill Shawnee council vacancies have brought public criticism and the scrutiny of the Johnson County District Attorney’s office. In May 2012, the council named Alan Willoughby, uncle of then-mayor Jeff Meyers’ wife, to fill a seat vacated by David Morris. That move was controversial in part because of who wasn’t appointed. Just a month earlier, Mike Kemmling had lost the election for the other seat in that ward to incumbent Neal Sawyer by only 11 votes. Kemmling went on to win the seat over Willoughby in the next election.
District Attorney Steve Howe said the council had violated the spirit of the open meetings law by talking about it outside of council chambers.
Before that, council members took public heat in the 2010 replacement of Cheryl Scott, who moved out of the city. Scott could have resigned in time for the seat to be open at the next election, but chose to wait until after that window closed. Council members were criticized for not pressing hard enough for an early resignation.
Fearing a perception that council appointments were greased in secret backroom deals, members spent some time in a recent committee meeting agonizing over the details of how Monday’s meeting would be conducted.
To increase transparency and avoid the appearance that any nominations were pre-arranged, council members decided that each one would put the name of his or her top candidate on a piece of paper for the city clerk, and the person with the most supporters would be considered first. A two-way tie would be decided by coin flip and a three-way tie by drawing names from a hat.
Although the appointment process went smoothly this time, city council members are still smarting from the fallout of past appointments — so much so that there is a move afoot to fill future vacancies by special election instead.
Such a move would require a change in the city charter. Council members considered it at length during a Feb. 2 meeting, but could not arrive at a consensus in time to fill Distler’s seat. They are scheduled to continue that discussion at a July meeting.
Council members Dan Pflumm and Stephanie Meyer pushed for the change during a sometimes testy committee meeting in February. “Right now there’s this perception that it’s this cloaked process, that it isn’t a fair thing,” Meyer said at that meeting. “I want to do something so people feel like they have some buy-in in this and it’s not a decision we’re making in the middle of the night.”
Meyer was herself an appointee when the council filled a vacancy in 2013.
Councilman Jeff Vaught expressed reservations, citing the potential cost and the fact that the council would still need to name a replacement for the time left before the next available election.