They’re not really running an election campaign, but two candidates for Shawnee City Council are nevertheless trading barbs ahead of their job interviews with council members Monday.
Owen Donohoe, a former state representative, contends that Stephanie Meyer, who is director of external affairs for the Kansas Bioscience Authority, would have a conflict of interest if appointed to fill the spot being vacated by Ward 3 Councilwoman Dawn Kuhn.
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“Candidate Stephanie Meyer is a lobbyist who is in a paid position to garner more taxpayer dollars for her employer,” Donohoe said. “If appointed to the council, Ms. Meyer would have the ability to direct tax dollars to projects that she personally influences at her job. This conflict is a serious matter.”
Meyer responded that her agency is partly funded through the Kansas Economic Growth Act, which is an income tax on bioscience companies to fund the growth of that industry in the state. None of her employer’s funds come from municipal government, she said, and all her lobbying is done at the state level.
“It’s unfortunate that Owen has resorted to this level of deception,” Meyer said.
She also questioned whether Donohoe had a good track record of getting along with his fellow committee members in the House.
Meyer and Donohoe are two of four applicants to replace Kuhn, who is getting married and moving out of the ward. Also in consideration are independent management consultant Tony Lauer, Jeff King, a retired career Army man, and Jason Sheahan, general manager of Reddi Services.
According to its charter and state law, Shawnee is allowed to appoint someone to fill a vacancy that occurs between elections. Kuhn resigned effective Oct. 14. She would have been up for re-election in 2015.
The application deadline was Tuesday. The council will interview the applicants at a special meeting Monday and choose one to represent Ward 3 along with Councilman Jeff Vaught.
Council appointments have been controversial in the past, and this time promises to be no exception. Mayor Jeff Meyers has said he would not allow the public any comment time during the special meeting because past meetings that had public comment have been contentious.
This hasn’t set well with everyone, though, including Donohoe. In written remarks, Donohoe said the lack of public comment amounts to an abuse of power and taxation without representation. “To appoint a representative with no public discussion is contrary to our founding principles,” he wrote.
Donohoe, suffering from bronchitis, sent his written remarks in response to The Star’s query to the candidates about their backgrounds and reasons for applying.
Meanwhile, City Councilman Mike Kemmling sparked a spirited discussion at a recent council meeting by asking his fellow council members not to choose a replacement and instead put the seat up for a special election. That motion was defeated 6-2, with opposing council members questioning the $30,000 cost for the election. Kuhn, whose vote against a special election was one of her last official acts, said the vote would rob the new council member of time needed to learn the job before the next year’s budget process.
Kemmling said a special election would avoid the appearance of backroom deal-making that has dogged the council since it appointed the uncle of the mayor’s wife last year. “I feel like the people should be able to elect their representative,” on the council, Kemmling said.
As of Tuesday morning, the candidates for the open seat:
Donohoe, 68, served three terms in the Kansas House of Representatives, District 39, from 2006 to 2012, when he retired from the Statehouse.
Donohoe referred to his election results as one reason the council should consider him. In his last election, he received 63 percent of the vote in Ward 3, and was consistently elected by high margins in the ward, he said. “I am the only candidate who has been elected to public office and all three times the citizens of Ward 3 elected me to represent their interests in fiscal responsibility and accountability in government,” he said.
He added that the city’s budget is beyond its means but that it can be trimmed while essential city services are maintained.
King, 48, recently retired from the Center for Army Lessons Learned in Fort Leavenworth. The center analyzes past operations in order to better adapt for combat conditions in the future. King served 25 years with the U.S. Army, which included five combat tours in the Middle East.
King has not held public office before. He said his problem-solving experiences as director of public works in a military community of 12,000 in Germany make him a good candidate for the city council post.
Contentious meetings are not a deterrent, he said. “I’m not afraid of any of that. I’m pretty used to working in contentious environments.”
Lauer, 38, has been known for his efforts to revive the detailed minutes of the city council and improve access to public records by citizens. He has been active in neighborhoods’ interactions with planning commission requirements of developers. Lauer is an independent management consultant.
“A position on the Shawnee Council enhances my potential to speak up for those who think they can’t,” he said.
He has not held elective office before. He is on the De Soto School District’s enrollment and boundary committee.
Meyer, 32, handles lobbying and public relations for the Kansas Bioscience Authority. She ran for the open seat in the Kansas House vacated by Donohoe in 2012, but lost in the Republican primary to Charles Macheers. Meyer also has been on the board of directors of the Shawnee Rotary and was press secretary for former Kansas Secretary of State Ron Thornburgh.
She said the biggest issue facing the council for Ward 3 is encouraging robust development. She said she has been “relatively supportive” of special taxing districts, but that a good balance should be maintained between business and residential growth.
“I’m interested in serving on the council because I really love the city of Shawnee and I wanted to contribute more,” she said.
Sheahan, 34, is general manager of Reddi Services, a plumbing, heating and air-conditioning business. He is on the board of directors of the Fairfax Industrial Association. He has not held elected office.
Sheahan said he has been interested in politics and government since childhood and has always had a desire to serve. “You really don’t have a right to complain unless you’re standing up and making a difference,” he said.
His work with the business at Fairfax gives him experience in resolving different points of view, he said.
He said there is a time and place for special taxing districts, but he doesn’t have a blanket position for or against them.