Boosterism vs. reality for Overland Park's mayor
The Kansas City Star
Overland Park Mayor Carl Gerlach had a pretty easy gig Tuesday, highlighting the community’s high quality of life during his annual State of the City luncheon.
The area’s second largest city boasts a world-class youth soccer complex, lots of retail stores, a growing trails system, houses worth an average of $250,000 as well as strong schools, low crime and a well-educated workforce.
Of course, elected officials’ upbeat “state of …” speeches usually leave out a few crucial points. And so did Gerlach’s.
- Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback wasn’t mentioned.
That’s odd, especially given the fact that Brownback is actively promoting the state’s huge income tax reduction from 2012 as a way to lure Missouri businesses to Kansas. But Gerlach didn’t praise or pan the governor’s controversial tax plans, even though they could dramatically affect the city’s budget and its ability to provide services.
After the speech, the mayor said he wanted to concentrate on talking about what the city could control, a tacit admission that Overland Park is at the mercy of the governor’s huge tax experiment.
- The city’s main drawing points for young families — the Blue Valley and Shawnee Mission school districts — were hardly mentioned.
Again, that’s unusual, especially given the potential budget fiascos that could be ahead for schools if Brownback’s tax plan fails to raise sufficient revenues for education. Any plan that imperils schools imperils Overland Park, and the mayor could have taken a stand in defense of school funds. He didn’t.
Gerlach’s after-lunch explanation for being mum on the subject: While he strongly “supports the schools,” they have their own boards of directors to rally behind education in Topeka.
- The fortunes of Sprint, the city’s biggest employer, didn’t merit attention.
Sprint has shed thousands of jobs in recent years, is in the process of being largely acquired by Japan-based Softbank, and still faces questions about how it can best grow its customer base.
Instead of talking about Sprint’s woes, Gerlach emphasized that other companies were creating jobs in Overland Park. He promoted the coming Prairiefire retail/museum project as a “game changing” moment for the city, albeit without mentioning the tens of millions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies that will make it possible.
As expected, Gerlach emphasized the points that put Overland Park in the best light. Out of the limelight, he should be devoting time to the significant challenges the city faces in keeping its attractive schools and humming economy.