Earlier this summer, the Post asked our readers what issues you wanted to hear candidates running for Leawood Mayor and City Council to address leading up to the Nov. 7 election.
Based on that feedback, we developed a five-item questionnaire centering the issues most important to Leawood residents.
Each day this week, we’ll publish the candidates’ responses to one question. (Note: We only asked for responses from candidates in contested races.)
Today, we’re publishing candidates’ responses to the final question:
Regardless of who wins in November, this is guaranteed to be a change election for Leawood. The city’s long-serving mayor Peggy Dunn, along with three veteran city councilmembers, are all stepping down. What changes, if any, would you like to see in how Leawood city government operates? Beyond that, how can the public get more involved in what City Hall does?
Below are the answers the Post received from candidates on this issue:
I will be a leader that unifies and a leader who listens. Citizen voices are the most important part of everything that takes place at City Hall, and as mayor I will constantly work to uplift and uphold the needs of our citizens.
With the coming transition in the governing body and the challenges facing our city, we are entering a time of newfound change that requires a new approach to city government, one that requires changes to our city processes to refocus our system of planning and development towards the needs of real Leawood residents.
We have created a Leawood that we can all be proud of, and I’ll work to keep our community strong by giving citizen input the full consideration and pride of place that it truly deserves.
The main changes I would like to see in our municipal operations following the election is an improvement in communications and an expansion in citizen engagement. My proposal is to achieve this in three ways.
First, I am proposing a regular conference of the presidents of all homeowners’ associations in Leawood. This will be an opportunity for each of the city departments to inform the homeowners’ representatives of current activities for city government. More importantly, the conference will be an opportunity for home owners to communicate issues and concerns to the city staff and the city council.
Second, I would like to see citizen membership on city committees such as the Sustainability Committee, the Bike/Walk Committee and others expanded to add more residents. This can be accomplished by expanding the number of volunteer positions on each of these committees.
Last, I believe that communications will continue to improve as the sity’s newly appointed communications director completes their first full year of service in Leawood through new and innovative means of communication.
City Council Ward 1
The residents of Ward 1 want a representative who is relatable, fair-minded, treats others with respect, is able to be part of a team and shows an interest in the real needs and wants of Leawood residents. It’s time to usher in the next generation of adaptable and open-minded leaders in Leawood with longterm vision.
I am someone who can advocate for policies and programs that cater to emerging social, economic and environmental concerns, ensuring the city remains responsive to changing times. These fresh perspectives bring innovative and forward-thinking ideas to the council.
If elected, the public WILL be more involved as I plan to propose a new digital campaign that focuses on updating the city’s website to make it more user-friendly and accessible, as well as improving the city’s social media presence. I own a digital marketing company, so I know the importance and impact a digital strategy can have when trying to engage a community. Improving Leawood’s social media presence enhances transparency in government activities and could even encourage the younger generation to participate in local politics and instill a sense of civic duty and responsibility.
Many longterm issues, such as environmental sustainability and infrastructure development, will have a profound impact on the younger generation so their input will be critical in the years to come. An increased social media presence could also address the unique needs and interests of the older generation as it provides another way to connect with neighbors, gives residents a chance to participate in local discussions and enables Leawood to share real-time updates such as emergency alerts, road closures and community events.
By effectively leveraging social media, Leawood can bridge the generation gap and provide ALL residents with improved communication, access to services and opportunities for engagement — leading to a more informed and connected community.
When it was suggested to me that my 30 years of business experience and ongoing engagement with the community could help fill the gap left by three longtime councilmembers and the mayor, I saw an opportunity to serve the community in which our family has thrived since 1989. A friend of mine recently said, “Government is like air conditioning — when it is working no one notices but, when it’s not working, everyone knows it.” Based on the responses to the survey I dropped at 2,800 doors this summer and the conversations I’ve had with residents at their homes during the campaign, Leawood government is working pretty well because the residents are quite happy.
That may be because there are so many citizens who are already involved with what City Hall does by serving on committees, commissions and HOA boards. Community involvement makes our city government better and more responsive, and I would endeavor to increase citizen interaction. That is why I have already started a monthly newsletter for residents, informing them about council, committee and commission meetings that might affect them. They may sign up for that at my website, AlanSunkelForLeawood.com.
As the only candidate with a written agenda, it’s pretty easy for voters to know where I stand (www.brettellforleawood.com/change). To be clear, when elected, I intend to spur generational, transformative change at City Hall to simultaneously constrain the city council’s power and return control to the people.
Among voters who’ve expressed dissatisfaction with the city, a major sticking point seems to be “communication,” but it’s actually impact that’s missing: citizens feel their opinions are disregarded by the council. Changes made to the citizen comment process in May 2023 – where the council both limited what citizens could talk to them about (inserting an unconstitutional “germaneness” requirement) and barred the council from addressing citizens during … wait for it … Citizen Comment – are evidence of a paternalistic governing style that’s simply out of date.
Too much power has resided for too long in the hands of the governing class. Along with term limits for all elected positions, my agenda would re-situate power into the hands of the governed in critical areas such as development, zoning and taxation. Development would be made subject to prior public approval – developers would need to knock on doors (like I have since September) to get a percentage of potentially impacted neighbors within a defined area to allow the council to consider it. City-wide changes to zoning or budgets that violate the revenue neutral rate requirement would all be made subject to prior citizen approval.
Leawood has been frozen in time under the [outgoing Mayor Peggy] Dunn administration’s “command & control” mentality. It’s well past time for things to change. I’m confident that my experience in law, finance, taxation and economic development will help us achieve a better, more engaged and more citizen-centered government as we continue into the 21st Century.
City Council Ward 2
Economic conditions for Leawood and our country are not the same as they were when Leawood was one of the fastest growing cities in Kansas. We are in a different place in our story as a city. Our budget should reflect the new reality. I don’t know anyone who got an 11% pay raise for the coming year or even a rate of 11% interest on investments. Demanding more money from taxpayers who are under financial assault from property tax increases and rising interest rates doesn’t make sense. A fiscally responsible budget is the number one change we need.
Our citizens do want to be engaged. What the council needs to work on is how the residents access the council and engage with them. In addition to changes in the Governing Body format, a town hall night for residents would be a good start. Have it hosted by city councilmembers. Call it, “Listening To You.”
First, thank you for the years of service by the mayor and councilmembers. Their dedication to this community has helped Leawood continue to be one of the safest and most desirable cities in Kansas.
However, there is always room for improvement. Specifically, one area that we can improve on is more intentional community involvement. Raising awareness to residents of all the ways in which they can become more involved. We can make a concerted effort to enhance the relationship between the city and the HOAs. Additionally, social media is another great way for residents to stay connected and be better informed. The Leawood Chamber is also a great resource.
Further, I encourage all residents to familiarize themselves with our website Leawood.org where City Council and Planning Commission agendas and minutes from the meetings are posted. Residents can subscribe to receive the agendas or DVD recordings of the meetings directly. A livestream of the meetings is available on YouTube, and of course meetings are open for the public to attend and comment.
Ultimately, there are many ways in which a resident can become involved. I truly believe in service to your community and live that through my actions. First, I previously served on the Sustainability Advisory Board, and I currently sit on the Planning Commission. I encourage residents to research ways to get involved and importantly, research the candidates. Be informed and vote. With unprecedented change and turnover, the stakes could not be higher in this election for the future of Leawood.