Voter guide: What you need to know about the Kansas City, Kansas, mayoral election
Mayor David Alvey seeks a second term and says he has guided the Unified Government responsibly during the pandemic. Challenger Tyrone Garner says the community demands tax relief, help for neglected neighborhoods and more engaged leadership.
The race for mayor of the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kansas, is a study in contrasts.
It pits incumbent David Alvey, who says Wyandotte County is on a roll, against challenger Tyrone Garner, who says the county has been on a “merry-go-round to nowhere, with nothing getting done for the people.”
Garner won the five-way August primary, with 3,575 votes. Alvey came in second with 3,527.
The general election is Nov. 2. Key campaign issues have been development in older neighborhoods, tax relief, government accountability, and public safety reform.
Alvey maintains that in his first term in office he has guided the county responsibly through an unprecedented public health crisis while promoting economic development momentum and opportunity.
“I think the leadership I have brought, the experience I have in leadership has produced the right results for our community,” Alvey said at an Aug. 31 Chamber of Commerce debate. “We are making progress in reducing our taxes. We are making progress in bringing new development, over $900 million of new investment in Wyandotte County.”
Garner, who retired after a long police career, says the county needs more efficient and responsive government. He believes too many neighborhoods and small businesses have been ignored while taxes and utility bills are too high.
“We need to talk about where we should be,” Garner said at that same debate. “And where we should be is lower taxes, we should have investment in our disinvested areas of our community, we should have a utility bill that really is a utility bill. We should have infrastructure programs that are equitable.”
The chamber is sponsoring another debate at 4:30 p.m. Oct. 27, at Memorial Hall and via livestream.
How to vote
Polls open Nov. 2 at 7 a.m. and close at 7 p.m. A photo ID is required. Masks are required for in-person voting.
Information about polling places and voter information is available here.
People may submit an application to vote by mail until Oct. 26.
In-person advance voting begins Oct. 23 at various locations.
Who are the candidates?
David Alvey: Alvey, 61, lives in the Turner neighborhood. Prior to becoming mayor, Alvey served eight years on the Board of Public Utilities and as a Rockhurst High School administrator. In 2017 he won an upset victory over then-Mayor Mark Holland. Alvey’s first campaign got a boost from the Wyandotte County firefighters, who opposed Holland.
This year, the firefighters have endorsed Garner because Alvey supported an outsider for new fire chief. Alvey’s top priority is neighborhood revitalization, especially in the northeast, to broaden the county’s tax base.
He says he is the best candidate for mayor because of his leadership at a challenging time.
“Whether it was the COVID-19 pandemic, equitable policing, sustainable economic development, or neighborhood improvements, I have always been honest about where we are and what it will take to address these issues,” Alvey said in an email to KCUR. “I do not believe in political favors nor do I believe that special interests should dictate decisions for our residents. I will always do what I believe is right and never make promises that I cannot keep.”
Tyrone Garner: Garner, 52, lives in the Rosedale neighborhood. He joined the Kansas City, Kansas police department in 1987 and rose through the ranks to retire as deputy chief in June 2019. He also served on the KCK Community College Board and on the KCK Housing Authority Board.
Garner says he will bring 32 years of public service experience to county government and provide more energetic and inclusive leadership.
His platform includes tax relief, audits to promote government efficiency, and more equitable development and investment, especially east of Interstate 635.
Garner says he is the best candidate for mayor because of his vision, collaborative management style and servant leader principles. “I am a forward thinker that wants to be a unifying force to facilitate opportunity, equity and hope,” he said in an email to KCUR.
Economic development, taxes and policing dominate the race
Lack of development and investment in the county’s east side
Alvey cites first term progress, with the Merc downtown grocery in 2020, senior housing in a former YMCA building, loft apartments at 8th and Washington, new ownership at the Monarchs baseball stadium, and plans for an Urban Outfitters distribution center near the Speedway and for a Menards at I-35 and 18th Street. A new Amazon fulfillment center has just opened at the former Woodlands Racetrack site.
Alvey argues the Legends retail development benefits the whole county, generating $36 million in sales tax revenue for basic services and helping the county reduce its property tax rate. “And $1.7 million is used for blight remediation, most of which is east of 72nd Street,” he said.
He said the Unified Government has strategies to attract new investors, including free water and power hookups and tax abatements to help rehabbers restore several thousand Land Bank properties.
Garner argues that better leadership is needed to address decades of disinvestment, especially east of Interstate 635. He said he would oppose most incentives for big box stores and concentrate on improving neighborhoods and small business opportunities. Priorities include reducing onerous fees, streamlining development regulations, seeking solutions to food deserts and providing homeless shelters to move people out of poverty.
“You’ve got people in the Northeast that have been begging for grocery stores and for streetlights that work, sidewalks and lawns to be mowed,” he said. He calls for “one stop shop” neighborhood resource centers to assist small businesses; park and community center upgrades; and more funding for blight removal and graffiti abatement.
Garner sees better days for the Quindaro Townsite: “I envision a DC-style type of venue, where people can come from all over the world to a museum with artifacts, interactive things for our kids, and really help people learn about the trek from slavery to freedom in free Kansas,” he said.
High taxes and utility costs
Alvey said the county mill levy was reduced in 2018, and if taxes are cut too precipitously it just results in curtailed services. A further solution to high taxes is to broaden the tax base, which Alvey said he is working to do by encouraging more development and job growth throughout the county. He disagreed with critics who say BPU’s fees are too high and said outside studies have shown it is a well-run utility.
“Of course, everybody wants to reduce taxes but everybody I’ve heard wants to improve services,” he said. “I don’t know how, other than economic development, and making things more efficient, that you reduce taxes.”
He defended county administration at the Chamber debate. “We’re spending the money in the right places. We are streamlining,” Alvey said. “We are engaging in what is called priority based budgeting to make sure the departments, the programs we are funding are aligned with what the community wants.”
Garner said Wyandotte County’s taxes and utility charges are a heavy burden. He wants to reduce or eliminate excess taxes within the utility bills and stop corporate exemptions or exceptions from utility payments. He also called for greater scrutiny of county government and the BPU.
“The first thing I’d do, if I’m your mayor, is I’d like to a complete top to down audit of both the BPU and the UG,” Garner said at the Chamber debate. “I want to see where money is being spent, how it’s being spent and see if there’s fraud, waste and abuse and have a consultant give recommendations on how we could better consolidate departments that haven’t been fully consolidated. Look at how we can streamline government and better use technology to provide better services at a lower cost.”
Alvey says he has tried to be pro-active about police reforms during his tenure.
After George Floyd’s murder in May 2020, Alvey says, a Wyandotte County task force studied policing and found the county had already banned choke holds, had safeguards against excessive force and provided conflict resolution and de-escalation training. The task force advocated for restorative justice, more community policing and body cameras for all patrol officers, which has been implemented this year.
Alvey said he fully supports Karl Oakman, appointed police chief in May 2021, and any reforms that Oakman may recommend.
CNN has reported on a federal grand jury investigation of former KCK police detective Roger Golubski, who retired from the force in 2010 but stands accused of multiple incidents of wrongdoing – including corruption and the abuse of Black women in Wyandotte County.
At the August chamber debate, Alvey said that if Oakman calls for a Department of Justice investigation of Golubski, he would support that. But Alvey noted such an investigation could cost $1 million or more, which takes away money from other services.
Alvey said Golubski’s alleged wrongdoing occurred while Garner was on the police force, and that if Garner knew about any misconduct he had a duty to report that.
Garner offered a stern rebuttal to Alvey at the debate.
“Just because I worked there like many other police officers doesn’t mean I had that information,” Garner said. “Don’t even go there with me … I served this community honorably.”
Garner said he agrees with the new police chief’s plans for a culture shift in the department. He said he’s seen racism in the KCK police department and lived it, and he fully supports the District Attorney’s conviction integrity unit.
“As mayor you need to have the leadership that if you get information of wrongdoing, you step out front, you take the lead,” Garner said. “I support and I will stand by anyone that says there needs to be an outside independent investigation into allegations of egregious misconduct by not just the police but any public official.”