By Don Bradley
The big windows in Leawood Mayor Peggy Dunn’s office look out over trees, rolling green hills and upscale homes in the distance.
Tell her it’s a beautiful view and she’ll smile and say: “All of Leawood is beautiful.”
After more than a quarter-century in office, Dunn will soon give up the gavel, but it may take longer for her to give up a mayor’s perspective.
She became mayor in 1997. The city’s population was about half what it is now. Residents often went out of town to shop. Some of today’s trendy corners could have been a lemonade stand back then.
Leawood’s population is now about 35,000 and people from other towns come to Leawood to shop and wine and dine on those trendy corners.
Retail and commercial development are proud accomplishments.
“We diversified our tax base and that takes pressure off residential property taxes,” she said.
Dunn, who decided not to seek another mayoral term, gives all credit for the growth to her fellow elected officials and to the city’s professional staff. The mayor doesn’t even have a regular vote. The job does, however, come with veto power.
“And I never used a veto in all this time,” said Dunn, who previously served on the Leawood City Council.
On Nov. 7, for the first time this century, Leawood voters will not see the name of Peggy Dunn on the city ballot. The last time that happened the Soviet Union was teetering toward collapse, Patrick Mahomes hadn’t been born and little-known presidential candidate Bill Clinton was dodging questions about women and White Water.
The mayor’s race this year will be decided between Marc Elkins, a lawyer and longtime member and current chair of the Leawood Planning Commission, and Steve Hentzen, an information technology professional and health activist.
Not running again, Dunn now has time to reflect. When asked about her worst day in office, her darkest day, she didn’t have to think long.
On June 18, 2002, she was in a budget meeting when she was called out of the room by the city’s police chief. He told her about the murder of Ali Kemp, a college student home for the summer. Her father had found her dead in the pump room of a Leawood neighborhood pool where she worked as a lifeguard.
Dunn knew the family. She went back inside and told those at the meeting what had happened. Everything else discussed at the budget meeting got pushed aside.
“It was all about increasing police protection after that,” she said.
Not everyone was happy all the time with Dunn. She angered some residents when she cast a tie-breaking vote on the city’s pit bull ban.
Dunn also broke a tie when she cast the deciding vote in favor of plans for East Leawood Village, a massive, $300 million mixed-use development at 135th and State Line. The plan calls for 600 luxury apartments, row houses, brownstones and retail and dining.
Some residents and homeowner groups opposed the plan because of worries about traffic and density.
Last year, Dunn took heat over her support, as a private citizen, of a referendum that would have stripped the right to an abortion from the Kansas constitution. Voters overwhelmingly rejected the ballot issue.
Going out the door, she wishes more development could have happened along the 135th Street corridor.
“That would have been amazing,” she said. “But a thing about Leawood, we are deliberate, we take our time. It will get done and it will get done right.”
Over the years, as Leawood racked up national awards for livability, residents kept re-electing her to office. The last few times she ran unopposed.
And now, as Leawood hits its 75th year, Dunn is bowing out.
“I never dreamed I’d be around this long,” she said in her office. “But 75 years for the city, I think the time is right for somebody else.”