Candidates for Mayor of Overland Park answer The Pitch’s survey on government transparency, equity, and the status quo
We asked the candidates running for mayor in Overland Park’s primary election some hard-hitting questions. We wanted to determine their stances and commitments to improving equality and transparency issues that have plagued the city’s current leadership. The primary candidates are Dr. Faris Farassati, Curt Skoog, Clay Norkey, and Mike Czinege.
Czinege registered to run the final week possible and declined to complete the survey, stating, “I am spending all my time walking and speaking with my likely voters.” We have had everyone else’s responses for over a month.
The following will help you determine who is committed to improving Overland Park, who is status quo, and who would potentially make Overland Park less equal and transparent.
The Pitch: Which accomplishments are you most proud of in your time of public service?
- Fighting for fiscal responsibility and logical expenditure of tax dollars: I have consistently been promoting the investment of tax dollars into what is beneficial for all residents of OP and enhances the quality of life—such as schools, parks, libraries, roads—and out of the pocket of undeserving private projects with no public benefit.
- Enhancing the participation and interest of residents in their local government and taking the government to the people: I have been listening to people in all four corners of the city and encouraging them to voice their opinions while supporting their priorities at the dais.
- Establishment of “public comments” at city council meetings: For the first time in the history of Overland Park and with the overwhelming support of the people, a period for public comments was established in 2020 based on my original proposal in 2019 after I fought for it for more than a year. This new public comments period will forever serve to promote freedom of speech in OP City Hall.
Skoog: It has been my honor to serve the residents of Overland Park’s Ward 2 for the past 16 years. I am proud of many important accomplishments that have moved OP forward. Of these, the most impactful has been the public creation and implementation of the Vision Metcalf plan. It has delivered the redevelopment of downtown OP and Metcalf Avenue. This has resulted in new energy from the diversified housing choices, new jobs, and new gathering spaces. Other accomplishments include the adoption of police body cameras, updates in police policies, CIT training for police, mental health co-responders, the parks master plan, rental property registration, and the bike master plan. Taken together, these actions are improving the quality of life in Overland Park. I now look forward to keeping this momentum going.
Norkey: Of all the time I’ve spent engaged in serving our community, three things come to mind that I am most grateful for. First and foremost are my six years as a commissioner on the Blue Valley Recreation Commission and my 12 years coaching Blue Valley Rec youth sports. Helping shape our young people alongside other moms and dads has been an incredible privilege. Second, my pro bono representation of foster families in the adoptions of their foster children to create their “Forever Homes” was a profound honor. Third, helping to lead the Church of the Resurrection’s leadership team during a transition period from a small-church model to a large-church infrastructure was an exciting and fulfilling opportunity.
What are your plans to implement a more transparent Overland Park following the Albers MORE2 Press Conference?
Farassati: The lack of transparency and openness is sadly a feature of the status quo of OP government. I have fought fervently against this misguided culture! As an example, we pushed to reveal facts in the case of the shooting death of a teenager in July 2020.
I am dedicated to continuing these efforts by pursuing the following:
- Creating a Citizen Advisory Board on Public Safety which brings citizens in direct communication with our public safety leadership.
- Establishing public comments for all committee meetings: Although my proposal in 2019 included this, the current City Council rejected committee-level public comments. As mayor, I will try to re-establish public comments at committee meetings as many critical decisions are made at the committee level, long before discussion and voting at the public City Council meetings.
- Establishing a social media presence for Overland Park. Currently, OP does not have an easily accessible channel to disseminate facts or encourage public participation. Our current Public Relations Office functions solely to justify decisions made by the status quo, resulting in one-sided, unresponsive, or ineffective communication.
- Creating the Office of Media Relations at city hall to provide free and easy access to city hall for the media. The current culture of non-transparency resulted in two lawsuits by media against the OP with thousands of dollars of taxes spent only to lose these cases in court or settle them.
- Creating the office of Research and Development: This office will function to provide unbiased data for council members so they can make informed and well-studied decisions free from the pressure of lobbyists.
- Establishing wide-ranging Public Advisory Councils to encourage and enhance the voices of OP residents, provide entry points to promote and restore openness, and—importantly—restore confidence and trust in government and leadership! Here are some examples:
Advisory Council on Aging in Place
Advisory Council on Heritage
Advisory Council on Inclusivity, Equity, and Diversity
Advisory Council on Community Action
Advisory Council on Workforce Housing
Bottom line…transparency requires inclusivity. This topic needs a data-driven approach. There are a number of entities who can help us with this. One of them is the City for All Women Initiative. I have studied their interesting publications on this topic and believe that the following chart summarizes steps that need to be taken to provide a sustainable impact in transparency.
Skoog: As mayor, I will lead the City Government on expanding transparency. My advocacy for releasing documents resulted in the eventual release of all documents related to John Albers’ shooting. It took too long and I commit to implementing the lessons learned into city policy.
Norkey: Overland Park absolutely needs to be more open and transparent. The handling of the officer-involved shooting death of 17-year-old John Albers is a prime example of the need for more transparency. It should not have taken more than three years, three lawsuits, an ongoing Department of Justice investigation, and tireless calls for truth and transparency from the community to access information that has been held by the city.
Good governance and good policing require the trust of the people. We must strive to maintain that trust and restore it when it begins to falter. We owe it to the people of Overland Park—as well as the brave men and women who serve and protect us—to ensure we are doing all we can in this area.
To facilitate better transparency, we must make the reports from Officer Involved Shooting Investigation Teams (OISIT) available to the public when no charges are filed. If charges are filed, those details will come to light in court. If an officer is cleared internally, the public has a right to know the basis for that decision.
The people of Overland Park deserve a government that is honest and accountable to them. Citizens must be able to evaluate their leaders’ decisions, and our government must be committed to giving them that power.
Please finish this sentence: “I am more qualified for this role than the others running because…”
Farassati: During the last four years as a council member, I have been with the people of OP in all four corners of this city, listening to their concerns and working with them to find solutions. I have been their voice on the council, from the issue about the Overland Park Arboretum & Botanical Garden to downtown’s former Santa Fe park, from their concerns about projects that were threatening the quality of life in south OP all the way to the radical transformation of Brookridge Golf and Fitness.
I have supported people’s demand for fiscal responsibility, logical use of tax dollars, responsible use of COVID money, and banning the safety threat to our children named chipseal!
I focused my efforts on establishing hazard pay for OP first responders after the status quo cut their compensation at the beginning of the pandemic, at the very same time that first responders’ casualty from the virus was more than health care workers nationally!
I fought for making OP’s largest publicly-owned facility—our Convention Center—available for COVID vaccinations when our elderly were waiting in freezing temperatures in those days of desperate need.
I have acted in an evidence-based manner and have not been worried about asking tough questions to deliver my fiduciary duties to the constituents.
A simple Google search of my name shows my level of involvement and effort in supporting a better future for OP.
Other mayoral candidates are ‘status quo INSIDERS’ or ‘status quo OUTSIDERS’. They’re detached from reality and dismissive of the voice of the people or have never demonstrated measurable interest in city affairs! Other candidates seem averse to asking challenging questions…or uninterested in pursuing better options.
Based on input from OP citizens, I’ve developed a people-driven, fact-supported platform to insure local government immunity from external influences or personal ambitions.
My platform? Enhancing the quality of life for everyone while investing resources back into communities. Please visit farisforop.com to learn more.
Skoog: I am a proven leader at implementing change that moves our community forward. The Mayor of Overland Park is responsible for leading the City Council and community on issues that improve the economic dynamics and quality of life in Overland Park. My track record of success in implementing change in Overland Park and on the Mid-America Regional Council Board of Directors is clearly demonstrated.
Norkey: I am more qualified for this role than the others running because I am the only outsider who can bring a fresh perspective to city government and improve the way our city is run for the first time in decades. I am the candidate with on-the-ground experience as a leader in the organizations that make up our community, like Church of the Resurrection and Blue Valley Recreation, and the only candidate who has demonstrated the ability to lead collaboratively through trying times.
What would you do to remediate the disproportionate citations and arrests of Black people, who were three times more likely to receive a citation and six times more likely to be arrested in Overland Park in 2020?
Farassati: Considering my participation in the juvenile detention reduction task force from 2018-2019, I am very familiar with this issue in a scientific manner.
Here is the solution: The Advisory Council on Inclusivity, Equity, and Diversity, as mentioned above, can be tasked with researching this issue. That Advisory Council will then create a task force composed of law enforcement, legal system representatives, community and civil rights leaders, and social justice scholars. Within six months, this task force will make its recommendations, and they will be proposed to the city council.
Skoog: A deeper analysis of these numbers is the first step. On their own, these numbers are concerning. With a better understanding of the situations in which these citations and arrests occur, potential patterns of concern will be exposed. I support this analysis and implementing any necessary policy changes to address abuse or discrimination.
Norkey: These are disturbing statistics and, if they’re accurate, they must be addressed immediately. We cannot simply pretend that inequality is not a problem. We must acknowledge as a community that we are not immune to these concerns. As mayor, I will work with our police chief, the council, and other city leaders to investigate and understand the causes of this inequality. Second, we must look to best practices that have succeeded in other cities. And third, we must improve our training on fair and impartial policing while not casting blame or disparaging our officers, which only creates more division. We can and we will develop a system-wide plan that addresses the core issues and bolsters confidence in our first responders.
How have you voted prior and how would you vote on establishing a demographically representative Community Police Review Board to reestablish the community trust that the MORE2 letter spoke of. (This “Letter of Resignation” has since been removed from MORE2’s website, but called for the termination of Overland Park Police Chief Frank Donchez in response to the shooting of John Albers and the lack of transparency for over three and half years about the event.)
Farassati: I have advocated for the formation of a Citizen Advisory Board on Public Safety since 2019. Sadly, my efforts were derailed by the status quo. I believe one of the most efficient ways to promote “evidence-based policing” is by providing a focused and dedicated channel of communication between Public Safety and the community. Once “politicians” get out of the way, fruitful and trust-building collaborative efforts will start!
Skoog: The current Johnson County District Attorney Officer Involved Shooting Investigation Team (OISIT) process has lost the confidence of a significant portion of the population. It needs to be reviewed and restructured. As mayor, I will take a leadership role in the county to move this review forward.
Norkey: No community police review board will be long-lasting or effective without collaborative efforts between the police force, the city’s governing body, and the community at large. An analysis of these efforts from across the country reveals that these are some of the most difficult oversight boards to establish, maintain, and empower. Therefore, I am committed to working with all these stakeholders to find a way to create a board that has real ability to conduct fair and informed oversight. Therefore, I would expect to be a “yes” vote on a proposal for such a review board, which would make our city a safer, more fair place for everyone.
Is it your goal to serve in Overland Park only, or do you see yourself running for state and national posts?
Farassati: Great question, I am 100% committed, focused, and dedicated to Overland Park in a non-partisan and evidence-based manner!
Skoog: My goal is to keep Overland Park moving forward. This is where my passion lies.
Norkey: My focus is on winning this race and then being the best mayor I can possibly be for the people of Overland Park. We have a number of challenges ahead as we emerge from this pandemic that will require our full attention. I have no plans at this time to run for other offices.
Are you endorsed by Mayor Gerlach? Mary Birch? Ed Eilert? Steve Howe? ACLU? PD? FD? Other notable endorsements?
Farassati: I am proudly endorsed by the people of Overland Park! People from all walks of life who care about the quality of life in this city…people who have worked with me during the last four years to make a better and brighter future for OP.
Members of the status quo and agents of special interests will not find my platform favorable to their agenda.
Skoog: I am proud to be endorsed by the last two Mayors of Overland Park, Carl Gerlach and Ed Eilert. As the campaign moves forward, I will announce other endorsements from notable residents from across the city.
Norkey: At the time of this writing, I am not aware of any of the listed persons or organizations having made public endorsements.
Notable endorsements for my campaign that have been publicly announced at the time of this writing include Dr. Barbara Bollier. Others will be forthcoming throughout the campaign.
Please finish this sentence: “What Overland Park needs most is…and I can make that happen by…”
Farassati: What Overland Park needs most is trusted leadership listening and responding to the voice of the people and halting wasteful, multi-hundred million dollar tax giveaways which irreparably damage the quality of life and threaten the future of our children by defunding public education and city services.
We can make it happen by opening the doors of City Hall to all OP residents, by listening, understanding, caring, and acting on their priorities, and by reducing lobbyists’ influence via an evidence-based approach to government.
Skoog: Overland Park is now 61 years old. It is time to update our vision for the future. Starting next year, a public process will be utilized to update the comprehensive plan for the city. I made this happen by leading the city council to approve the public process over my opponent’s objection. Building off the items identified in the Forward OP vision process, the topics of affordable/attainable housing, being a more welcoming community, the regional climate plan, and future development will be studied. For this to be successful, an experienced leader will have to assure that discussion includes the voices of all residents, with a focus on including minority groups and young people.
Norkey: What Overland Park needs most is bold, new leadership that is willing to be better than the status quo and proactively address issues. We are no longer a small town—we’re a big city with big-city issues that must be addressed before they become big-city problems.
If we’re successful, we can keep much of the small-town feel of yesterday while securing a future that includes a thriving community for our local businesses, families, and schools. I can make this happen by fostering an open and transparent government, bringing more diverse voices to the table, and encouraging smart, responsible growth in all parts of our city. I will take steps to better engage the public, and collaborate with local stakeholders to make sure that our residents can continue to enjoy their high quality of life while preparing us for the Overland Park of tomorrow.
What is your stance on the common criticism that Overland Park avails corporations more than its citizen’s interests?
Farassati: I absolutely agree!
For the past four years, I have been fighting for the people and against this exact feature of the status quo!
I give you an example of corporate interest vs citizens’: When the people of Ward 4 needed their representative (a current mayoral candidate) to protect them against a project that would have destroyed the quality of their neighborhoods, he simply excused himself due to a “conflict of interest”! I met with that neighborhood over four sessions to have their voice heard, eventually resulting in the people winning over a misguided corporate agenda! The people won!
From a mechanistic point of view, Overland Park already has an Economic Development Council (EDC) lavishly funded by taxpayers ($500,000 a year!) but controlled by a private entity…OP’s “big-business-friendly” Chamber of Commerce.
We need to eliminate this immense—and costly—conflict of interest by making the EDC a free-standing agency or a part of City Hall to boost and promote small, startup, and locally-owned businesses.
Skoog: For the last 16 years I have been laser-focused on resident interests and their quality of life. My actions are all based on strengthening neighborhoods, schools, and public safety. Resident surveys and third-party organizations tell us that Overland Park is a great place to live, work, play, and visit. Recently ranked as the fifth best city in the United States to live, OP is also highly ranked as a place to buy a house, raise a family, as one of the happiest places to live, and one of the safest cities. Obtaining these recognitions and having the lowest property tax in the region reflect my focus on the residents of Overland Park.
Norkey: When residents believe that Overland Park leadership cares more about corporate interests than its citizens, there is a problem. The solution is certainly not more of the same, and it is most definitely not a halt on reinvestment into the city. The solution lies in bringing in new leadership who will put the people first and communicate openly and honestly. Responsible investment is vital to the continued prosperity of our city. In every business development decision, we should focus on what the development can do for the people, not what the city can do for the development.
Overland Park’s primary election will take place on Aug. 3, 2021. See here for more information regarding primary election candidates and how to contact them.