By Ben McCarthy
Leawood Mayor Peggy Dunn is not seeking re-election after nearly three decades in office. With the controversial 135th Street Corridor and East Village development spurring some candidates, the direction of Leawood could take a turn.
Marc Elkins and Steve Hentzen are running to replace Mayor Dunn. Neither one has held elected public office. (Candidates listed in the order they appear on the ballot.)
Marc Elkins calls the election a pivotal one for Leawood. The city will be undergoing changes at Mayor, City Council, City Administrator, and Finance Director positions. He not-so-subtly suggests that his experience in local government should be weighed against his opponent’s relative inexperience.
Elkins has never run for elected office, but has held appointments, including 20 years with the Leawood planning commission (with the last 9 as chairperson). He has served on the Board of Directors for the Leawood Community Foundation, working to identify needs the city isn’t positioned to fund. He points to the dog park and bathrooms along Tomahawk Creek Parkway as recent successes of the group. He also served 2 years on the Leawood Arts Commission.
“The reason why I’m running is because I believe in ‘servant leadership’,” Elkins said. “A person must have served an organization in a significant way before they can lead.”
He says he wants to re-evaluate the 135th St. Corridor plan:
“There have definitely been market changes with everything from retail going online to the pandemic that make it (essential) that we re-evaluate our assumptions and strategies for commercial growth,” Elkins said. “I still agree with the overall vision for it as a mixed use development.”
Additionally, he aims to encourage reinvestment in north Leawood (around Lee Boulevard), and find creative ways to find housing for seniors.
“Our residents are aging and we have to investigate creative ways to meet that need,” Elkins said. “I will not make additional reductions to the mill levy. It has been lowered for five years, but it is what finances the high quality government services that the city delivers.”
Elkins says the budget increases are largely inflation-based, and a reality of the current economic situation and expects that Leawood will continue to face these rising costs in the coming years.
Steve Hentzen bills himself as a unifying candidate who objects to what he sees as Elkins “trying to follow Dunn’s footstep to a ‘T.”
“I want to go in a bit of a different direction,” Hentzen said. “I will be a leader that unifies and a leader who listens. 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.”
Hentzen says his top three policy priorities are: Public Safety, Public Works, and Economic Growth.
“I am committed to offering public services of the highest quality with a strong emphasis on approachability and exceptional customer service,” Hentzen said. “Transparency is a cornerstone of my agenda.”
Hentzen says the Planning Commission and City Council have not done enough to address residents’ concerns or to adequately respond to public comments, such as the 135th Street Corridor project.
“Over 2,000 Leawood citizens signed petitions protesting the way the planning process was being handled, and yet the Planning Commission – led by my opponent – rejected their concerns out of hand,” Hentzen said. “This has left our residents in the dark.”
He calls the 11% jump in spending in the 2024 budget a serious misstep, one that will make life more difficult for residents on fixed incomes.
“As Mayor, I will challenge the excessive spending that has led to an inflated $100 million budget, “Hentzen said. “Cuts need to be considered across the board to ensure our resources are being used with the best interests of the whole city in mind, including potential cuts to the mill levy.”
Hentzen has served as the Co-chair of the Survivorship Workgroup for the Kansas Cancer Partnership, lead the Prostate Cancer Workgroup for the Missouri Cancer Consortium, and is the Co-founder and Chairman of the Prostate Network a 501(c)3 founded in Leawood, KS in 2013.
Leawood Council Member Ward 1
Three candidates are running for the seat in Ward 1: Alan Sunkel, (Charles R.) “Bob” Brettell, and Matt Peppes. Ward 1 is north, bordering Ward Parkway Center to 103rd Street.
Alan Sunkel says he would be bringing 30 years of business experience to the office for a community that he and his family have called home since 1989. He says he would like to see Leawood continue to improve as a very desirable place to live, raise a family, and do business. He would like to make Ward 1 more walkable and bikeable.
“Ward 1 is the oldest part of the city,” Sunkel said. “We should be focused on maintaining and improving the current infrastructure, as the city is currently in a transition phase from high growth and development to a more modest rate of growth now and into the near future.”
He says he would like to cut the mill rate further. He also acknowledges the city’s costs are rising with inflation (and labor costs are rising faster than inflation), and does not want to cut services that residents value, such as police and fire protection. He says he has personally dropped a survey at 2800 homes in Ward 1 this summer, and that respondents were very pleased with the overall level of services they were receiving for their tax dollars and do not wish for those services to be cut.
“This could involve instituting a cap in some way on the current level of property taxes,” Sunkel said.
Sunkel says he would like to see all developments adhere to the vision and goals of the Leawood Comprehensive Plan, to promote neighborhood oriented commercial developments, sustain environmental sensitivity, and retain natural landscapes.
Bob Brettell had not responded to the Telegraph at press time. Through his campaign materials, Brettell says he is running to change the way Leawood governs, engages with and responds to its citizens.
“Everybody can agree that there’s lots to like about our lovely city, but behind the scenes there’s a need for additional work to bring the city into the 21st century,” Brettel says.
As part of his proposed change agenda one of the first revisions to city code that Brettle would make would be mandating term limits for mayor and city council to 8 years total (2 terms each).
Amongst the many other proposed changes are: consider the appointment of an engagement ombudsman to mediate between citizens and the city council, require open process and invitations for input to allow City staff, experts, and citizen voices to be heard and Incorporated in the lawmaking process, revise city code to allow citizens to directly place an item for discussion on the council’s agenda, and require council members to have on-the-record office hours.
He says he wants to budget and reprioritize tax relief for homeowners. He says he’s alarmed by the mounting property tax bills, and the city needs to be proactively looking for federal and state opportunities to upgrade city infrastructure (but doing so at a lower cost to the local taxpayers).
He promises to use the megaphone provided by the office to advocate for those under legislative assault from the state, pointing to women being able to enjoy bodily autonomy without interference and transgender kids being able to get medical treatment in conjunction with their parents’ consent. He also recommends the Johnson County sheriff should be impeached for his continuing refusal to end his meritless investigation into the: “most free, fair, and secure election in the history of our country.”
Matt Pepes has lived in Leawood almost his entire life and says the city holds a special place in his heart.
“There wasn’t a specific issue that brought about my candidacy, as this is something I’ve wanted to do for a very long time, really ever since my dad held the very seat 14 years ago,” Peppes said.
Peppes currently serves on the board of the Leawood Homes Association, which has approximately 1500 homes. He has been engaged with these residents and feels as though he has gained a deeper understanding of their concerns and needs.
“I went to further build upon the collaboration between the city government and the HOA’s of Leawood, ” Peppes said. “A good working relationship between the city and the HOA’s will create a more vibrant, cohesive and resilient community. “
Peppes says that another priority is to ensure that the old fire station off Lee Boulevard becomes a vibrant and accessible green space that will benefit all residents.
“We also need to be exploring adjustments to the city code to pave the way for the construction of smaller homes. We need to create more options to allow for retirees and empty nesters to downsize and remain in Leawood.”
Peppes feels that the city staff and council has been doing an excellent job of serving the residents based on the current budget. He says he’s unwilling to look at lowering the mill levy additionally at this time.
“The city has done an incredible job of keeping the infrastructure in top condition and helping make Leawood a safe place to live. I think cutting the mill Levy even further would have a huge impact on how we’re able to provide continuous infrastructure improvements, ongoing safety, and other amenities that residents have come to know and love.”
Council Member Ward 2
Jim Rawlings, Leawood Ward 2 Councilman, is stepping down after 24 years in office.
Sherrie Gayed and Margaret Berger are vying to replace Rawlings. Ward 2 district includes 103 Street to 123 Street.
While Margaret Berger was unable to comment for the story, her campaign materials note three main areas of concern: keeping Leawood safe, preserving neighborhoods, and ensuring the stewardship of tax dollars.
Berger’s top concern on her website is crime and the potential it has to affect Leawood’s future.
“Crime of all kinds threatens our community’s future. Our first priority must be to ensure our police and fire departments have the resources it needs to keep us safe,” Berger said.
Berger says she will work to preserve the neighborhoods, and is not aiming at changing city code to allow for smaller home lots to be built upon.
“Our suburban way-of-life has been the hallmark of Leawood for our entire history and is founded upon single-family neighborhoods, which must remain at the core of our city’s future,” Berger said.
She also wants to ensure proper stewardship of all tax dollars that pass through local government.
“Ever-increasing property taxes place a burden on all of us. As city leaders, we must ensure every dollar is spent wisely, keeping more money in the pockets of Leawood taxpayers,” Berger said.
In other interviews, Berger has said the city must pursue responsible ways to lower the mill levy and control a “ballooning city budget.” She promises to review every dollar being spent, and prioritize funding necessary expenditures, namely police, fire, roads, sidewalks, and clean and safe parks. She says we are in a recession and need to cut spending elsewhere.
After college, Berger worked for the federal government and then a medical research firm. She has been a Leawood resident for 15 years.
Sherrie Gayed says she decided to run for office because of her belief in community service. She has volunteered as a member of the Leawood Sustainability Advisory Board, and currently as a Commissioner on the Leawood City Planning Commission. She lists her top priorities as increasing transparency, communication and engagement with the residents of Leawood.
“I want to expand outreach to HOA’s and residents and increase awareness of opportunities (for residents) to have their voices heard,” Gayed said.
She says she will work to fully fund police and fire services, along with prioritizing public works projects to maintain high-quality infrastructure and street maintenance.
Gayed says a variety of housing options will be important to maintain Leawood as one of the most desirable places to live and raise a family, but also for companies to locate and bring high paying jobs.
“Unfortunately, due to the limited availability of housing, attracting new residents can be challenging,” Gayed said. “Smaller homes on smaller lots would solve two issues: attracting young professionals and younger families to move into Leawood, and allow seniors in our community to downsize their homes and stay in Leawood.”
Gayed says the city, like residents, is feeling the impact of inflation, but feels it continues to deliver exceptional services during these challenging economic conditions.
“From labor to electricity, costs have risen leading to increases in the budget,” Gayed said. “To account for these increases, prioritization and deferment of budget requests have been implemented. The fact that Leawood has been able to provide such exceptional services to the residents without raising the mill levy in 20 years, and in fact decreasing the mill levy, is a huge win for residents.”
Gayed is an attorney with a background in land use law and real estate development. Currently, she is the Director of Economic Development for KU Hospital.
Council Member Ward 3
Lisa Harrison, the incumbent, is running unopposed in Ward 3.
Council Member Ward 4
Dr. Steven Kaster is running unopposed in Ward 4.