Candidates for Ward 5 of Overland Park answer The Pitch’s survey on government transparency, equity, and the status quo
We asked the candidates running for Ward 5 in Overland Park’s August Primary election some hard-hitting questions. We wanted to determine their stances and commitments to improving equality and transparency issues, which have plagued the city’s current leadership. The candidates are Sam Passer, Sheila Rodriguez, and Amy Goodman-Long.
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?
Sam Passer: I’d characterize my public service as responding balancing a healthy degree of interest with meeting needs where service would help the most. My first year in our neighborhood, there was a great 4th of July Parade and we enjoyed pushing our daughter around in her stroller. The next year, there wasn’t a parade—so I inquired why and was informed the person who had organized it stopped doing it and no one else stepped up. So, for the next 9 years, I planned our neighborhood July 4th parade—and then someone else reached out to me and suggested some great ideas to make it even better. Then I remarked it seemed like a great time to transition and let someone else take the parade to the next level. After I completed Leadership Overland Park, I reached out to a few leaders in the city looking for opportunities to get involved but ended up serving on a committee for the state in Topeka. That was interesting, and I learned quite a bit.
Sheila Rodriguez: For more than 25 years, I’ve been actively involved in our community. I’ve volunteered at my kid’s school, my workplace, church, neighborhood, and a variety of non-profit organizations. Additionally, I chair the largest fundraising event each year for Keep the Spark Alive, a local organization determined to prevent teen suicide. I’ve also volunteered as a House Captain for Christmas in October, helped develop a program called #SprintStrong to support co-workers battling a serious injury/illness, and was recently a recipient of the Paul Harris Fellow Award from The Rotary Foundation.
One of my most rewarding accomplishments was serving as the Community Service Chairman at Valley Park Elementary and Overland Trail Middle School for 6 years. Organizing and promoting a wide variety of opportunities that appealed to a large student body helped encourage and inspire young students to give back to their community. Demonstrating the importance of public service, while making opportunities fun and rewarding, increased participation year over year. We achieved record-breaking numbers of Presidential Service Awards earned by students. I was proud to help foster a passion for public service in children, which I hope continues into their adulthood.
Amy Goodman-Long: I have been a licensed social worker for the past 20 years and had opportunities to meet and serve many people. I am most proud of my time helping to facilitate end-of-life dream requests for patients and their families.
What are your plans to implement a more transparent Overland Park following the Albers MORE2 Press Conference?
Passer: When I originally received this question in May, I reviewed MORE2’s website and reached out to Chief Donchez to better understand the situation. This information is concerning and I’m disappointed that I have not seen a response yet. I have chatted with others in the community to better familiarize myself with this situation and I strongly believe that transparency is a key success factor for any successful relationship and this is an area where I will continue to push for progress.
Rodriguez: Like any government entity, it’s crucial that Overland Park be completely honest, transparent, and accountable. Fostering a culture of trust is vital to the effectiveness of our governing body. I was always taught that those who have nothing to hide, hide nothing. I believe a successful implementation plan is one in which all city leaders have an opportunity to contribute input on and ultimately approve. I look forward to collaborating with all City Council members to discuss how we can restore confidence in our city leaders.
Goodman-Long: Part of transparency is having the ability to put yourself in others’ shoes and make decisions based on trust. If citizens feel you can be trusted, that is only half the battle. Citizens should easily be able to receive information about why decisions are made and can ask questions. Sometimes those decisions are not always the best and, in those situations, follow-up and accountability need to occur. I would always do my best to help others find the answers they need and deserve.
Please finish this sentence: “I am more qualified for this role than the others running because…”:
Passer: First and foremost, I’m not an expert on the others who are also running, so I hate to compare. But ultimately, I have a unique perspective as someone who’s raised two children in the Blue Valley School District. We’ve enjoyed first-class schools and have been able to enjoy many of the amenities that Overland Park offers. I think this background is important as it’s core to who we are as a city. From a more traditional qualification perspective, I’ve founded my own business, my wife is a physician and part-owner of a medical practice based in OP, and I’ve worked at three of the larger employers in the area where I have managed budgets, hired managers, and made difficult decisions when needed. I am fiscally responsible, open-minded, am a good listener, and enjoy working hard to find creative solutions to meet multiple constituent needs without creating win/lose situations.
Rodriguez: I’ve led cross-functional teams to develop strategies, launch new programs, and achieve aggressive goals within a Fortune 500 company for more than 20 years. I’m passionate about keeping Overland Park an amazing place to raise a family and my extensive involvement in our community over the past 25 years while balancing being a mom and working full-time reflects that. I understand the value of hard work and the importance of public service. I’ve consistently demonstrated a strong work ethic in everything I do. Whether I’m serving in a leadership role in my company, on our HOA Board of Directors, as a PTO committee chairman, or as a committee member on a community project, if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right. I will seek feedback, listen be responsive with Ward 5 residents to ensure their majority opinion is reflected in every decision I’m asked to make or issue I’m asked to vote on.
Goodman-Long: Local politics has unfortunately become so partisan I would say “qualified” is subjective to the issues a voter cares most about, and how a candidate will vote on those issues. I can tell you my two opponents, from what I have seen and read, are both accomplished professionals in their respective industries. I hope most people in healthcare would say the same about me. For me to assume they lack the qualifications I possess would be presumptuous as I have never worked directly with either of them and none of us have served in public office.
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?
Passer: My roommate after I graduated from college was a St. Louis city police officer. From living with a police officer for a few years, I have a strong appreciation for what our first responders go through. That said, in the wake of the George Floyd tragedy last year, I had the opportunity to hear from numerous friends and colleagues where I heard accounts of these types of disproportionate actions. As I mentioned in a prior question, I did put a call into Chief Donchez because I wanted his feedback and to understand how this compares to prior years and to understand what’s being done to address this situation. I would like to help remedy this situation by encouraging greater discussions between the residents and the city, including our police force, as well as expand training programs to drive a more welcoming and supportive environment.
Rodriguez: While I acknowledge there are issues that need to be addressed, I’m unable to make a recommendation at this time.
Goodman-Long: Unfortunately, there will always be bad apples in every system. When those people are exposed, it is our job to make sure they are not allowed in our city government and positions of authority. Local advocacy and awareness groups have been fantastic in bringing issues to the forefront and reaching out to cities across the metro. Continued engagement with these groups and policy development should be an ongoing goal.
How have you voted prior and how would you vote on establishing a demographically representative Community Police Review Board to reestablish the community trust Monday’s City letter spoke of?
Passer: I’m always for increased dialogue between residents and the city.
Rodriguez: I would support a demographically diverse Community Police Board. Historically, the Overland Park Police Department has held high ethical standards and has maintained one of the lowest crime rates among similar-sized communities. I look forward to learning more about how the City Council can help restore trust where needed.
Goodman-Long: I certainly do not think it could hurt anything, but I would like to see it established in a more partnership style of language.
Is it your goal to serve in Overland Park only, or do you see yourself running for state and national posts?
Passer: I do not see myself running for any other office.
Rodriguez: Since I’m passionate about keeping Overland Park an outstanding place to raise a family, my goal is to serve in Overland Park only. There are so many areas of our city where Overland Park does an exceptional job; however, I’m committed to improving three areas in which the last City of Overland Park Community Survey reported we need to focus our efforts. Eliminating chip seal from our neighborhood streets is at the top of my list.
The last survey reported that maintenance of neighborhood streets (66% satisfaction rate), quality of leadership provided by the city’s elected officials (67% satisfaction rate), and the city’s communication (77% satisfaction rate) should receive the most emphasis over the next two years.
Goodman-Long: My goal is to serve in Overland Park. I have no plans on running for a state or national office.
Are you endorsed by Mayor Gerlach? Mary Birch? Ed Eilert? Steve Howe? ACLU? PD? FD? Other notable endorsements?
Passer: To me, the most meaningful endorsements have come from friends and family who have supported my campaign efforts, but in terms of notable names: as of July 6, I’ve been endorsed by John Thompson, one of our current Ward 5 Council Members as well as four other former council members (Georgia Erickson, Jim Hix, John Skubal, and Greg Musil). Other state and local leaders who have endorsed my campaign include Jan Kessinger (former State Representative), Inas Younis (disability rights activist), David Duntz (HOA president of one of Ward 5’s largest HOAs), Dr. Mary Davidson Cohen (Former Regional Representative for US Department of Education), Bob Regnier (Former Blue Valley School District Board Member), and Dave Lindstrom (Former JCCC Board of Trustees. I am thankful for those who have been willing to lend their names to my campaign—for someone who’s running for office for the first time, receiving endorsements, and most importantly advice and wisdom have been invaluable.
Rodriguez: At this time, there have not been any publicly announced endorsements.
Goodman-Long: I have not asked anyone, including the named people for their endorsements. As far as I know, the only notable endorsements I have received have come from my mom and my dogs.
Please finish this sentence: “What Overland Park needs most is… and I can make that happen by…”
Passer: What Overland Park needs most is more citizen participation to drive and implement Forward OP and I can make that happen by providing increased information and communications as well as a levelheaded voice between Ward 5 and the Council.
Rodriguez: What Overland Park needs most is a willingness to listen to residents, be responsive to concerns, be more transparent and reinvest in our public amenities/services. Great ideas often come from resident’s feedback, so it’s important to have an open and active line of communication. Residents are looking for transparency and accountability as to how their tax dollars are being spent. Knowing that the City Council is making informed and prudent decisions strengthens their confidence and trust.
I can make this happen by establishing open lines of active communication. In order for our city to continue thriving, there needs to be a respect for each other’s opinion and a team effort between the Mayor, City Council, City Manager, Committees, and its residents. With more than 160 HOAs in OP, I believe HOAs would be a valuable addition to this team. One of the first things I’d like to facilitate is a stronger partnership between the city and each HOA Board of Directors.
Over the past month, I started a grassroots effort to bring as many HOAs together as a unified voice regarding our common concerns. These efforts resulted in 24 HOA presidents, representing 5,132 homeowners, signing a letter to the city asking that the 2021 budget be revisited so the 151 lane miles scheduled for chip seal this summer could be repaved with a higher quality material. The full story can be viewed here. This effort followed numerous letters my HOA board sent to the City with a proposal for an alternate solution in Feb/March 2021 and the letter Scott Mosher (Ward 4 candidate) and I sent with a different proposal for an alternative solution in April 2021. To date, the City has not pursued any of the proposals we’ve asked be considered. Overland Park residents deserve better. It’s time for a change.
Goodman-Long: I am a leader who appreciates the hard work of those who have come before me. I think we need to continue to build on the successes the city has achieved. However, it is evident that many citizens are feeling marginalized from that success. Everyone has a unique story, and I will always do my best to listen and advocate for their story to be heard.
What is your stance on the common criticism that Overland Park avails more to corporate than its citizens’ interests?
Passer: There is no doubt that the partnership between the city and business has resulted in providing revenues to support the high quality of life our citizens enjoy. Overland Park has a policy of incentives that keeps it competitive with other cities here and around the country. They have also done a great job of instituting many qualifications for those abatements to work such as timelines and clawbacks both of which have been used often. I think most residents understand this and for those that have concerns. If they look into the details, hopefully, they’ll understand this criticism is unfounded.
Rodriguez: I believe in balanced development. The primary role of City Council is to create policies and approve budgets. In doing so, the City Council has a fiduciary responsibility to ensure a sufficient amount of tax dollars are reinvested in public amenities/services (streets, schools, parks, bike trails, first responders, etc) to meet the high expectations of Overland Park citizens, business owners, and visitors.
Overland Park is attractive to new and expanding businesses. I believe most commercial development will happen organically and without the gift of a tax incentive. I’m not against tax incentives if they are part of a larger strategic plan to revitalize an area of the city that needs revitalization, but I AM against giving away tax incentives to commercial developers on multi-million-dollar developments when it’s at the expense of our taxpayers.
Goodman-Long: I honestly cannot understand this perspective, but I can understand how it has developed. Obviously, we need to come up with ways to stop these feelings. I see many improvements over the last two years alone, encouraging public involvement and education. Overland Park is one of the safest, most well-liked cities in the United States. I believe in continued growth, and I trust the city staff and other experts in this field who have years of experience.
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.