2021 general election forum: Overland Park mayor

Overland Park mayor

Overland Park mayoral candidates Mike Czinege (left) and Curt Skoog (center) debated more than a dozen topics during a public forum Tuesday night at the Blue Valley Conference Center in south Overland Park. Post editor Kyle Palmer (right) moderated the event. Photo credit Leah Wankum.

Resident satisfaction, a property tax increase to fund public safety, how to address housing affordability and partisanship in the current campaign, were all among the topics touched upon Tuesday night in the Post’s forum featuring two candidates vying to become Overland Park’s next mayor.

Long-standing mayor Carl Gerlach is stepping down after 16 years in office, and two men are competing to replace him on the Nov. 2 ballot.

They are current City Council President Curt Skoog and businessman and political newcomer Mike Czinege.

Wednesday’s forum hosted at the Blue Valley Conference Center at Hilltop drew an in-person crowd of about 50 people.

The candidates, who were the top two vote-getters from August’s four-way primary contest, conducted a lively back-and-forth on more than a dozen questions.

The Post livestreamed the forum on its Facebook page. The video can also be found embedded below.

There was a slight hitch in the livestream towards the end of the forum. This additional video captures the candidates’ closing statements:

Here are the questions that were asked Tuesday night, complete with corresponding time stamps if readers want to fast-forward to that topic. All these time stamps relate to the first video above.

  1. Candidates’ opening statements [4:00]
  2. What is the greatest challenge you think Overland Park faces over the next four years, and what steps will you take in office in order to meet that challenge? [6:41]
  3. In line with current guidance from the county, Overland Park at this time is strongly recommending but not requiring masks be worn indoors. Some Johnson County cities, namely Prairie Village and Roeland Park, have mandated masks in most public indoor settings amid spread of the Delta variant. If elected, you may be confronted with a decision that involves the city’s response to the pandemic. A two-part question: what is the best approach, in your opinion, for the city to take in helping mitigate spread of the COVID-19? And under what circumstances, if any, would you support imposing a citywide mask order? [11:34]

    Mike Czinege
  4. Property values have increased sharply across Johnson County in recent years, making many of our readers nervous about the burden of property taxes on their incomes. Overland Park has the lowest mill levy rate by far of any city in the county, at just around 13.5 mills. Though that will be going up this coming year. The current city council voted to pave the way for a 1 mill increase, which will raise additional revenue that will go primarily towards mental health supports for police and first responders. For a homeowner with a home appraised at $350,000, the rate increase translates into about $40 more dollars per year, according to the city. Is this property tax increase for the purpose its intended worth it, in your opinion? Why or why not? [15:52]
  5. What is one area of the city’s budget you would like to see cut? And one area towards which you think more money could be allocated? [21:08]
  6. There has been much debate in recent years over Overland Park’s use of tax incentives for major development projects. Supporters say in the context of a competitive Kansas City metro … tax incentives lure developers to Overland Park, bringing residences, retailers and commercial activity that otherwise could land somewhere else. Opponents say given Overland Park’s enviable reputation … developers don’t need the added bonus of tax incentives and will want to build here anyway, so using public tax dollars for that purpose is unnecessary and wasteful. Each candidate was asked their own tailored question on this topic:
    1. Mike Czinege, you expressed skepticism about tax incentives during the primary, saying they should be used sparingly and only for blighted areas. Given that, is there a tax incentive deal in recent years that you think has been beneficial for the city of Overland Park? Why or why not? [24:28]
    2. Curt Skoog, during the primary, you likened tax incentives to public investments that attract businesses to Overland Park, growing the city’s tax base and commercial activity. Still, is there a tax incentive deal in recent years you think has not benefited Overland Park taxpayers as much as it could have? [27:12]
  7. The race for Overland Park mayor, as well as city council seats, have historically been nonpartisan. That is, candidates’ names do not appear with party labels on the ballot and, in practice, in recent decades … at least … candidates have not run openly as members of a particular political party. Mike Czinege, you are open about your affiliation with the Republican Party. Curt Skoog, earlier this year you changed your party affiliation to Independent. For both of you: given the increasingly divisive political rhetoric at the state and national levels, how can you assure Overland Park residents of all political persuasions that you will represent their best interests if elected? [30:36]
  8. Overland Park, like a lot of Johnson County cities, is feeling tension as some residents — especially single family home owners in established neighborhoods — push back against developments that, generally, are aimed at trying to address housing needs in a rapidly growing city. If elected, what would be your stance on how Overland Park should tackle its future housing needs? And what steps would you take on the council to make that happen? [35:00]

    Curt Skoog
  9. What is your definition of “affordable housing” and does Overland Park offer enough of it? [39:00]
  10. Local leaders are increasingly sounding the alarm over the potential negative impacts of the so-called “dark store” theory on county and municipal revenues. Big box retailers, including Walmart, Target and Bass Pro … have won cases before the Kansas Board of Tax Appeals in which they argue that the valuations on their properties are too high and that they should be paying less in property taxes. They essentially argue that their properties should be appraised as if their stores are empty and that the commercial activity that goes on inside should not be part of the appraisal calculation, hence the “dark store” theory. County officials have warned that if such arguments continue to be successful and appraisals are adjusted, local tax revenues could be greatly curtailed. What do you see as the potential impacts of such “dark store” cases on Overland Park’s revenues, and as mayor, would you urge the city to do anything about it? [41:10]
  11. We asked both of you during the primary about your thoughts on the city’s handling of the aftermath of the fatal police shooting of teenager John Albers in 2018, and the Post continues to get questions about this matter. Namely, some readers question Police Chief Frank Donchez and retiring City Manager Bill Ebel’s decision to grant the officer who killed Albers a $70,000 severance payout while also telling a state police oversight board that that officer was leaving the Overland Park force voluntarily under “normal circumstances.” Do you think Donchez and Ebel misled the public in coming to this severance deal? [44:25]
  12. Bill Ebel has served as City Manager for 16 years now and has been with the city in some capacity for decades. He is retiring in February, so one of the first big decisions that will be made on a new mayor’s watch will be hiring his replacement. If elected, what qualities will you be looking for in a new city manager? And how do you want to see the search process play out? [48:56]
  13. What is one cause or project or initiative you would hope to be remembered for after your time in office is complete? [51:35]