Guest Commentary

Overland Park City Council primary is a call for the geeks to vote

I’ve become a local government geek. Actually, I prefer the term enthusiast. Don’t hate me because I stream Overland Park City Council meetings and study the agendas for meetings like the Planning Commission’s. My relationships with city staff and fellow community organizers are satisfying.

I love Overland Park so much that I moved here — twice. But the Overland Park I returned to after a 12-year absence is much different from the city I left.

How so? First, there is construction everywhere. John Petersen, a well-connected attorney who works with big developers to structure tax abatements and tax credits, must be very happy with the “new Overland Park,” because he describes his idea of a perfect horizon as “one dotted with construction cranes.” I prefer my horizon to include trees and blue sky.

Second, there must be many more retired people than millennials, because senior living developments are popping up all over. I wonder if the city’s lack of moderate and low-cost housing plays a factor in that?

Third, the traffic. Whoever dreamed we’d have to sit through a traffic light three times in order to make a left-hand turn? Councilman Curt Skoog frequently touts traffic congestion as a sign of progress. He must live very close to his office and not have to shuttle kids around.

If you’ve lived in Overland Park for at least 11 years, you probably know the council members who have been governing throughout this building boom. Of the five incumbents running for re-election, Terry Happer Scheier has served on City Council for 18 years, Fred Spears for 16, and Paul Lyons for 11. David White is retiring after 13 years.

Council member Faris Farassati is the fresh voice who has served one full term plus a few months as an appointed council member.

If you attend (or stream) a City Council meeting, you will notice that Faris asks a lot of questions about proposed construction, and frequently objects to giving tax incentives to developers who are not constructing in blighted areas.

For the first time in recent memory, all six council seats up for election this fall have drawn multiple candidates, necessitating a primary election on Aug. 6. Could this be related to a recent Importance-Satisfaction Analysis of Overland Park from the ETC Institute, which determined that the city must target resources toward service of high importance to citizens? 56% of respondents selected overall quality of traffic flow and congestion management on major streets.

That’s not happening. The number of people satisfied by leadership of elected officials dropped 4% in the past two years.

Maybe residents of the City of Trees are distressed that 80% of Overland Park has now been developed. Or perhaps the council’s liberal dolling out of tax-increment financing has hit a nerve. Under a TIF plan, tax revenue that developers’ projects create go back to the developer rather to the city to support needed services. Or it could be that traffic has become a nightmare during the peak hours, which has added stress to nearly everyone’s lives.

On Aug. 6, we have the opportunity to vote for change where change is needed. To say that we want to be heard when we object to over development and misuse of tax credits. To demand proper notification of proposed rezoning for our neighborhoods.

You don’t need to be a city government geek to dig a little and discover the big law firm I referenced earlier is funding candidates for Ward 5 and 3 — people who are favorable to excess development and tax abatements.

Pay attention. Speak up. Please vote on Aug. 6.

Janet Milkovich and her husband Jim returned to Overland Park a year ago after a 12-year stint in Chicago. She recently retired from a rewarding career in the nonprofit sector.