Candidates for City Council in Overland Park’s Ward 4 answer questions on government transparency, equity, and improving the city
We asked the candidates running for City Council in Overland Park’s Ward 4 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 current candidates are Ty Gardner, Stacie Gram, and Scott Mosher.
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?
Gardner: I really enjoyed being involved in Big Brothers Big Sisters. Having the opportunity to provide direct, one-on-one mentoring with a little brother was a fantastic experience. I’m also proud of my past work serving on the board of a nonprofit that encouraged entrepreneurship in an underserved community.
Gram: I have been honored to represent Ward 4 on the Overland Park City Council since last May when I was appointed to fill a vacancy. During the last year, I am proud to have:
- Advocated in support of adding mental health co-responders to the OPPD and training 100% of officers in crisis intervention to provide better support to residents with mental health issues.
- Walked door-to-door in my ward to notify small businesses of CARES Act funding available through the city.
- Voted in support of innovative development, like repurposing underperforming hotels into affordable apartments.
- Advocated for the Infrastructure Advisory Group to address the city’s need for improvements to roads, sidewalks, curbs, and stormwater facilities for the next 15 years.
- Joined the Board of ForwardOP, which is now looking at affordable and diverse housing, and improving Overland Park as a “welcoming” community for all.
- Responded to numerous resident concerns, including sidewalk and road maintenance, trash, and traffic safety.
Mosher: I haven’t held an office in public service, but have been involved with many charities, raising money for them through my work affiliations and the Overland Park Fraternal Order of Police. I helped my son Mike with raising money for Special Olympics, Shop with a Cop, Trunk or Treat activities, and raising money for the Hero Fund, which gives money to deceased officer families at the time of their death to get through the worst time of their lives. They also buy equipment for all first responders, police and fire, and EMTs across both Kansas and Missouri. I served as my Homeowners Association President for 10 years, serving 162 homeowners.
What are your plans to implement a more transparent Overland Park following the Albers/MORE2 Press Conference?
Gardner: We should expect a whole lot more than what we’re getting from the city today on the issue of transparency. We need leadership that’s going to push information out to our residents, tell them the truth, and be confident enough in their decisions to want to be held accountable. Our neighbors shouldn’t have to dig through websites or watch hours-long city council meetings to know what is going on in our city. But that’s the reality today. To improve on this, I’ll do things like put out a regular email newsletter, maintain an active social media presence where I’ll openly share and engage with residents what is being done at City Hall, and give out my personal cell phone number to our residents (785-418-1165) so that they can have direct access to the person who is supposed to be representing them. Transparency and accountability are essential to building trust with the public, and I’m committed to providing it.
Gram: Government actions should be transparent to residents. Since joining the council, I have advocated for transparency on various issues including the release of the police investigation into the Albers shooting. I support the move to add a public comment section to council meetings and live streams, and to record all meetings. I have asked that meetings of the new Infrastructure Advisory Group also be live streamed to maximize resident involvement.
Mosher: I am not in agreement with the MORE2 letter to remove Chief Donchez as it is premature, accusatory, and one-sided. We base our whole justice system on giving everyone a “Day in Court”. This letter makes an assumption based on one side of the story. These charges regarding personnel matters have not been investigated, nor has the Albers case fully, which is under FBI review. There was no finding against Chief Donchez in the matter regarding his officer’s termination, just released. There are processes in place to handle workplace personnel matters, which is what these lawsuits are about. Let the system work, while it’s not perfect, it is the best one out there. We can’t put people on trial by public opinion without fact-based information. They are basing their letter on their perception. To my knowledge, they are not part of the process to investigate these allegations. Therefore, I don’t support their position. Let’s judge with facts. I, for one, truly support Chief Donchez and respect his leadership and dedication to his officers and the Overland Park community. He has kept this city safe in these uncertain times. I have seen this leadership first hand, before and after my son sacrificed his life for all of us!
Everyone is for improved transparency, from relationships to politics. (Me too.) The citizens in Overland Park want this from the council as well. Let’s practice inclusion, say what we mean, and then do what we say!
Please finish this sentence: “I am more qualified for this role than the others running because…”
Gardner: My experience. That may sound strange as the youngest candidate in the race by over two decades, but I think it’s accurate. I have a broad range of life experience, educational experience, and professional experience that uniquely qualifies me to represent our residents well. I grew up in poverty in a single-parent household. I know what it is to struggle, and I know what it is to overcome adversity. I’m someone who has both rented and owned a home in Overland Park in the last decade, so I understand the needs of both groups. I’m a father to a young child, giving me the perspective of so many of the young families in our community. And I’m a member of a generation that we desperately need to get more involved in local government. I majored in political science at KU which can help me in dealing with the minutiae of local government. I received an MBA from Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business, helping me understand and communicate with our local business leaders. And I’ve studied law at KU, which is an area our council is routinely asked to address by making decisions with legal implications for the city. I have had success in business, managing people and projects. The teams I’ve led have set sales records and successfully onboarded tens of millions of dollars in new business. I know how to lead and I know how to deliver results. Experience is about more than years lived. It’s about having the right kinds of it for the job. My life, educational, and professional experience are the right kinds of experience to do this job and serve the people of Ward 4.
Gram: I am uniquely qualified to sit on the council, having been a life-long resident of Overland Park, with a commitment to volunteerism. Among other things, I served on the Board of Directors and Executive Committee of the Overland Park Chamber of Commerce, graduated from Leadership Overland Park, served on advisory committees to the Blue Valley School District and AdventHealth South Overland Park, and worked on the foundation efforts for ForwardOP. For more than 15 years, I volunteered in my childrens’ schools, most recently leading the parent group for the Blue Valley Northwest marching band. These experiences give me a comprehensive view of the city and its future challenges.
I am an attorney and have worked for more than 20 years for companies with offices in Overland Park. I am an accomplished leader and currently lead a team of more than 70 professionals at CNA Insurance. I am committed to diversity and inclusion and am launching an LGBTQ+ friends and family affinity group at work. My job requires that I carefully and thoroughly assess complex situations, while listening and taking into account divergent views, to make decisions with significant financial ramifications. All of these skills directly translate to my role on the council.
Mosher: The City Council has no real requirements to run. I have a background in management and training and have worked for two Fortune 500 companies. I was a Reserve Police Officer for 13+ years in the City of North Las Vegas and Henderson, Nevada. I currently work as a firearms instructor at Frontier Justice in Lee’s Summit. I don’t personally know my other two candidates. I do know that Stacie has a voting record to see. That shows she is the status quo. I do know she was not elected, but appointed. I can say however, I will be more than someone that attends meetings and votes. I will set up monthly appointment times to have one-on-ones with my ward members to get to know their thoughts and ideas as it relates to making our city a place that all will want to live, work, and play. I will solicit their input as their representative. I will listen to what my constituency says and seek out their viewpoints. I challenge the other two to do the same. This will start with me in mid-June 2021, before the election. Why? I want to give access to all of those who are voting to get to know me and what they can expect from me. This is more to me than a part-time position. This is why I am more qualified. This is a change I think all city officials should implement.
What would you do to remediate the disproportionate citations and arrests of Black people (3x more likely to receive citation; 6x more likely to be arrested) in Overland Park in 2020?
Ty Gardner: It’s tough to look at those numbers and be satisfied with where we’re at as a city. And it’s important to note that those statistics were only brought to light through a Kansas Open Records Act request. That’s why I’d start by proposing we announce that we are going to publicly release this data, and statistics like it, at least every six months in open sessions. And our leaders are going to be on the hook to deliver. In the business world, I’ve often heard, “What you measure is what you get.” Our city can learn a lot from this. If we handle failures on racial issues as something we’re ashamed of and try to hide it in the darkness, we will not improve. We all say this is something we value. If that’s truly the case, it should be something our leaders are eager to publicly own. I don’t see that today, and I hope to help drive change here. If we treat this as something that the mayor, our city council members, and the police chief will all be required to stand up in front of our residents and report back on, I think we’d see the kind of collaboration and creative thinking that would help this unacceptable status quo change pretty quickly.
Stacie Gram: The last year has brought policing issues to the forefront. I believe the police department should employ officers that are representative of the city they serve, so we should work toward diversity and inclusion in recruitment and promotion. A few months ago, I attended a racial diversity training conducted by a member of the OP Police Department and I support providing that training to every officer as well as government officials like me. Any well-run organization should constantly examine its methods and its resuWlts and work toward improvement. I was pleased to learn that the OPPD already follows the “8 Can’t Wait” guidelines, but my participation in events hosted by the Advocacy and Awareness Group of Johnson County has heightened my understanding that there is more to be done.
Scott Mosher: This statement is based on a report that says blacks are 3 times more often to get citations and 6 times more likely to get arrested in Overland Park, based on residency percentages, and is disproportionate. I can’t really draw a conclusion from the numbers presented. This is comparing resident percentages (hard data) to calculated data without knowing if those arrested or cited live in Overland Park. We are talking apples and oranges here. This makes an assumption and not all data presented ties together. I understand what is trying to be insinuated. For me to make a statement, I would need to know if those stopped and those arrested live in Overland Park. At that time, having all of that information could allow me to draw some kind of a conclusion. Just from my experience as a police officer and even getting a ticket or two, when is the last time you had a policeman pull up beside you, seeing what you look like, then, lets you get ahead of them and pulls you over? I would encourage you to try to decipher the ethnicity of the next driver you are following from behind and see if you can guess. They can’t either. There is a process where citizens can do a ride-along with a policeman, I would encourage all citizens to do this to open the lines of communication with your police officers, it may just give you a different perspective.
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 Monday’s city letter spoke of?
Gardner: The way the city has handled the killing of John Albers shows that we have a long way to go on transparency and accountability. And it highlights how much work we need to do to regain trust in the community. Without seeing the details of how this Board would be created and run, or what kinds of powers and responsibilities they would have, it’s tough to answer whether or not I’d support it. I will say I’m exhausted by all the work that’s being done to make it seem like we’re acting on issues. I’m exhausted by the creation of committees to think about maybe one day acting on issues. It wastes taxpayers’ time and money. I’m looking for solutions to this and other city problems that are action-based with clear goals, measurable objectives, and concrete definitions of success. If this proposed Board met that criteria, I’d support it. If a different proposal did, I’d support that.
Gram: I have heard some residents express an interest in exploring a community review Board, and I have been reading and educating myself on this. These ideas are important, both because of the conversation they provoke and the benefits they may ultimately produce. However, because of my business background, I know that even the best ideas can ultimately fail if they are not carefully examined and properly executed.
Mosher: I have not voted to establish a police board in any way. I believe that having a review board like we do is a good thing and all demographics should be represented. I also believe that the city should put on a citizen academy that board members should go through as a member of this committee. They should do a “Ride along” on each of the three shifts as well. It is important to walk in someone else’s shoes to get a true perspective.
Is it your goal to serve in Overland Park only, or do you see yourself running for state and national posts?
Gardner: Every politician who has ever been asked this question has responded the same way. They never answer the actual question, and instead pivot to telling you how their focus is on the position they’re running for. It’s BS 100% of the time and it’s never fooled anyone. So I won’t do that. What I can say with certainty is that I won’t be serving on city council 20 or 30 years from now. A big part of why I’m running is this idea that we need turnover in these positions. Perhaps even term limits. We need capable leaders who will bring new ideas and fresh perspectives. I’m running because I’m in a position to provide that now. But before long, there will be a new generation that can bring a perspective I can’t, and it will be time for them to lead. I hope I can help inspire them to get involved so that they can come replace me and help make our city better. And while I don’t have any specific plans to run for any office higher than this one, I’m a firm believer in recognizing opportunities when they present themselves. If I accomplish what I’m setting out to do here and a new opportunity presents itself where my skill set and experience matched the needs of a larger community, of course I’d consider it. And so would just about everyone who has ever run for office and sidestepped this question.
Gram: I applied to serve on the council to give back to the city that has given so much to me over the years. I’ve lived in Overland Park almost my entire life, raised two kids here, worked here, and taken full advantage of all the city offers. I am committed to community service and hope to continue my work to make Overland Park even better than it is now. I have no aspirations for any other office.
Mosher: OP only, I want to improve where I live, no other posts.
Who are your notable endorsements?
Gardner: Local leadership requires an ability to work with people of all backgrounds and beliefs. That’s why I’ve made it a point to show bipartisan support in the first two endorsements I announced. Our campaign is proud to have the support of Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas and Wint Winter, Jr., who spent a decade in the Kansas State Senate. We’ll be announcing more in the coming weeks and months, but that theme will remain the same. This is a campaign that is about working with people from all backgrounds and experiences to deliver results for our residents.
Gram: I have not yet sought or received any endorsements.
Mosher: I really haven’t sought out endorsements at this point. I have reached out to Gina Burke, who was elected to the council in the last election. She has stated that she would not only endorse me but help in anyway. I have the endorsement of Faris Farassati and Scott Hamblin, who currently sit on the council. By city contract, no city employee can endorse a candidate, so as it relates to the police and fire departments and their members, there is no endorsement. I sure wish that would change. Of course in full disclosure, that is an assumption on my part!
Please finish this sentence: “What Overland Park needs most is…and I can make that happen by…”
Gardner: It starts with the massive changes we need on the issues of transparency and accountability, which I’ve already mentioned. Without that and without the public’s trust, we cannot accomplish much. Beyond that, we need leaders who will protect what makes our community strong today, plan for the issues that will be key for our future, and work hard to bring all voices into the mix—not just those who vote regularly or yell the loudest. Being in the position I’m in as a young father laying down roots in Overland Park, I have a different perspective on the future. I’m thinking about the city I’ll be living in and my son will grow up in. Not about what’s going to raise money or get me reelected. It is also essential for our leaders to bring more people into participation in city government. Our last city elections have had about 50% more voters over the age of 70 than we’ve had under the age of 40. We cannot continue relying on so few people to do so much of the work. As a member of the generation we need to step up, I am the right person to bring them in. I understand their needs and I understand how to communicate with them.
Gram: What Overland Park needs most is to build on its success and deliver on its vision of a welcoming, vibrant, diverse, and thriving community. I can help make that happen using my background and experience to advance good ideas, bridge diverse opinions, and move us forward.
Mosher: I believe the city needs to progress forward with a city government that listens and encourages its citizens to participate in the governing process. Using a hot topic as an example, chipseal. This was a disaster from the start. The council pushed this through based on budget and without any real input from the citizens that would have to live with it. It is unsafe, doesn’t last, and is proven ineffective in neighborhoods. When there was an outcry from the public, the council put together a committee to look at it again, but in the meantime it would continue on. I don’t want my street to get it, it needs to stop until this issue is resolved. My council representative Stacie Gram voted for it to be approved, then later, after all the opposition, was proud that the city formed a committee that may or may not change a thing. We don’t need a committee made up of the same people who voted it in, we need change. We need STOP. This will not blow over, it is a bad process and in the long run will cost way more. I am just waiting for the law suits to surface when someone is hurt riding a bike on one of these streets that we as a city willfully put down. By being a voice for those that truly elected me, I will change what I can, and influence those around me with facts and not emotion.
What is your stance on the common criticism that Overland Park avails corporations more than its citizens’ interests?
Gardner: It’s completely accurate. I’ve been shocked at how many doors I’ve knocked where our neighbors tell me I’m the first person to ever knock on their door and ask for their opinions. If you’re a corporation or someone who donates to local races, our city government is probably very responsive to you. If you’re not, you’ve probably never heard from them. My campaign is about leadership that will work hard to get in front of our residents, not make our residents work hard to get in front of them.
Gram: I have never heard anyone say that Overland Park serves corporate interests over citizens. In fact, when I walk doors and talk to residents, they universally say that they love living in this city and that they chose it because of everything it offers. Attracting and retaining business is key to success, because we need to provide jobs and enhance revenue so we can support our schools, build parks, and provide essential city services. We should carefully scrutinize incentives designed to attract development and use them sparingly.
Mosher: I do believe that Overland Park does give too many incentives to businesses and developers. We need to attract businesses to Overland Park, but need to drive that in different ways, not just financial ones, by giving tax incentives. By keeping our Police and Fire Departments strong, well trained, and staffed, we can attract new business and residents making sure we provide the environment we all want to live in. Having good schools and a solid infrastructure will drive this, we want people to make OP their destination for work, play, and living.