Voters fill out ballots at a poll site inside.
Kansas City voters fill out their ballots at the National World War I Museum for last year’s Aug. 2 primary. (Zach Bauman/The Beacon)

Early voting has begun for the April 4 Kansas City Council primary election, which will eliminate 11 candidates among seven competitive races. At least half of the current City Council will be replaced with fresh faces after this year’s municipal elections, with only six incumbents running to keep their seats.

Among the seven competitive primary races is the 1st District at-large, a position currently held by Kevin O’Neill. He is running against former Clay County Presiding Commissioner Pam Mason and Ronda Smith, who has experience in real estate and accounting.

All Kansas City voters can vote in this race, but the City Council candidates are required to live in Kansas City’s 1st District. When the districts were redrawn last year, the most significant changes came in the Northland. 

Prior to this year, the 1st District included most of Kansas City in Clay County and the 2nd District included all of the city in Platte County. Under the new map, the 1st District covers most areas of the city north of Barry Road, and the 2nd covers most of the area between Barry Road and the Missouri River.

Over the past few weeks, The Beacon has published candidate questionnaires to introduce the candidates in all of the competitive primaries. The top two candidates in each will proceed to the general election on June 20, and The Beacon will publish questionnaires for other City Council elections with two candidates at that time.

The questionnaire includes three biographical questions, five lightning-round yes-or-no questions and five short-answer policy questions. 

Two of the candidates, Pam Mason and Ronda Smith, did not respond to multiple requests by email and phone to participate in the questionnaire. 

O’Neill’s answers are below. Some responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Click on a link to jump to a question:

Meet the candidates

Kevin O’Neill

Kansas City Council 1st District at-large candidate Kevin O’Neill. (Provided photo)

O’Neill is the former owner and publisher of the Labor Beacon newspaper.

Favorite Kansas City fountain: Fountain in Mill Creek Park

Favorite Kansas City ice cream shop: Betty Rae’s

Lightning round questions

Candidates were asked for a yes-or-no position in response to these five questions:

  1. Do you support a 3% tax on marijuana sales?
  2. Should Kansas City be granted local control of its police department?
  3. Should third-party “but-for” financial analysis be required to receive tax incentives in KC?
  4. Should access to information for the news media be restricted by the city manager’s office? 
  5. Do you believe that $1,200 per month for rent is affordable?

How would you increase affordable housing in Kansas City?

O’Neill: I’ve been to every corner of this city since taking office and I know that housing issues are complex and vary from district to district. We should consider freezing property taxes in areas that are seeing rapid growth so that growth doesn’t kick out families who live there. We should also ensure that our policies create more housing stock, not less. Additionally, my focus on ensuring every Kansas Citian has a good-paying job is vital when it comes to affordable housing. Put simply, you’re more likely to be able to afford housing if you have a good-paying job.

How should the city collaborate with a police department that cannot be held accountable to city regulation?

O’Neill: I’ve been impressed with Chief Graves’ willingness to collaborate and communicate. That’s a step in the right direction. However, we must have greater transparency on how our tax dollars are being spent. If we can track dollar for dollar how our tax dollars are spent on city services like roads and trash pickup, then we should also have that transparency around the money KCPD receives. I’d also like to see more of a focus put on filling the positions currently open at KCPD rather than focusing exclusively on finding more money for the department.

What deciding factors would convince you to ask city taxpayers to subsidize a downtown stadium for the Royals?

O’Neill: It would depend on how much public money will be involved, what the public funding would be used for and how the community will benefit from a downtown stadium.

Is Kansas City taking the issue of missing Black women seriously enough? What can city government do to address this?

O’Neill: This is an area where holistic programs like KC 360 can help address the disconnect between law enforcement and the community. It’s also clear that the process to file a missing persons report should be overhauled.  

If elected, what issues will you make your own?

O’Neill: We must decrease crime, create more good-paying jobs and protect your tax dollars. Our residents deserve to feel safe in every corner of our city. I’ll continue working on creative solutions to bring down crime. I also understand that hard-working people across our community don’t just need jobs, they need and deserve good-paying jobs. I’ll continue my efforts to protect working families and bring more economic opportunity to Kansas City. I also recognize that our city runs on our tax dollars. I have been, and will always be, an advocate for efficiency at City Hall.

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Josh Merchant is The Kansas City Beacon's local government reporter. After graduating from Seattle University, Josh attended Columbia Journalism School, earning a master’s degree in investigative journalism....