Pflumm, Kemmling, Vaught win council races
Two Shawnee City Council incumbents defeated their challengers and one incumbent fell during the general election Tuesday.
In Ward 1, incumbent Dan Pflumm defeated John Segale 767 (55.7 percent) to 607 (44 percent).
In Ward 2, challenger Michael Kemmling defeated incumbent Alan Willoughby, who was appointed to his seat last July. The totals were 673 votes for Kemmling and 532 for Willoughby.
In Ward 3, incumbent Jeff Vaught decisively defeated challenger Gordon Herron by a vote of 797 (62.5 percent) to 475 (37.25 percent).
Michelle Distler, unopposed in Ward 4, received 633 votes.
Pflumm, Kemmling, Herron were keeping tabs on the results during an election watch party sponsored by the Northwest Johnson County Republicans at Minsky’s Pizza in the WestGlen Shopping Center.
The NWJCR, a conservative GOP group, endorsed Pflumm, Kemmling, Herron and Distler in their Shawnee City Council races.
Party politics, however, wasn’t the only thing that those candidates had in common.
In addition, all four have voiced support for municipal government being more transparent and responsive to constituents, including those critical of the city and its staff.
“I think the people were tired of what was going on in Shawnee,” Kemmling said. “There’s a perception that the tail is wagging the dog.”
The constituents vs. staff theme became more pronounced last May, when former Ward 2 City Councilman David Morris resigned his seat.
After emails between Morris and City Manager Carol Gonzales were obtained by The Dispatch, Morris acknowledged he had resigned due to philosophical differences with Gonzales over the role of City Council members.
“Staff doesn’t see your role as ‘advocating for citizens,’” Gonzales wrote after Morris had intervened in a landscaping issue on behalf of a resident. “They see a council member’s role as being part of a city team that all works together for the overall good of the community. Based on how you have approached things since being elected, staff members feel like you always believe the citizen and always just assume that we are making big mistakes and not handling things right.”
In July, Willoughby, the uncle by marriage of Mayor Jeff Meyers, was appointed over four other applicants to replace Morris. Allegations that the appointment followed private discussions involving the mayor and members of the council prompted an investigation by the Johnson County District Attorney’s Office. It found that those involved in the discussions had violated the spirit of the Kansas Open Meetings Act.
“A lot of the feedback I received (while campaigning) was about the appointment process” that resulted in Willoughby replacing Morris, said Kemmling, who was one of five applicants who sought the appointment.
The two council members who voted for Kemmling in July, Pflumm and Distler, noted that he deserved the appointment because he had run for a Ward 2 seat earlier that year, losing to incumbent Neal Sawyer by only 11 votes.
Vaught, who voted for Willoughby’s appointment, criticized the district attorney’s statement that the council had violated the spirit of the open meetings act while finding no actual violation of the act.
In seeking to unseat Vaught, Herron’s campaign issued a mailer, quoting District Attorney Steve Howe as saying, “the electors will ultimately have the ability to judge the actions of the members of the city council and Mayor Meyers.”
The campaign piece also included Vaught’s response, which asked, “What the hell kind of statement is that from the District Attorney’s Office?”
Another mailer characterized Vaught as a “deadbeat dad” and “backroom broker” while criticizing him for spending $2,353 in taxpayer money to attend a recent League of Municipalities conference in Boston along with other council members.
Vaught said Tuesday’s vote showed that “partisan politics and that nasty demeanor don’t play well” in Ward 3, where voters are “very happy with their city, with their city services and with their quality of life.”
“I feel like I ran a clean campaign and they ran an attack campaign,” Vaught said.
Herron, however, attributed his loss to the fact that a De Soto school board race and De Soto school district tax question on the ballot in Ward 3 had attracted to the polls many voters who weren’t familiar with what’s been going on at City Hall.
Pflumm didn’t have much to say about his race other than it was a clean one in which he and Segale both worked hard.
“Congratulations to Mr. Pflumm,” Segale said. “ Although I did not prevail I will continue to fight on for what I believe is the right path forward for our community and I would encourage my supporters to do the same.”