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Leawood Mayor Peggy Dunn will step aside after 25 years in office

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The end of this year will mark a milestone for Leawood Mayor Peggy Dunn — her last as an elected official.

The city’s long-tenured mayor is not seeking reelection this fall, paving the way for Leawood to get a new mayor for the first time since 1997.

After more than a quarter century leading the Johnson County suburb, Dunn says she is ready to step aside and has considered the opportunity to serve Leawood “a tremendous honor.”

Leawood Peggy Dunn
Above, Mayor Peggy Dunn at Leawood City Hall. Photo credit Lucie Krisman.

Dunn’s history at city hall goes back to 1993

Dunn initially ran for Leawood City Council in 1993, on what she recalls was a “very grassroots” door-to-door campaign.

She won that race and, four years later, the opportunity arose to run for mayor. She’s been reelected six times since, running unopposed the last five times. (Over her tenure, the city gradually transitioned from two-year terms to three-year terms to the current four-year terms, so her elections have come at irregular intervals).

During that span, she said she has learned many lessons not only about the city, but about working with people in general.

“When I first came on the city council, I felt like I had gone back to school — I just learned so much,” she said. “I would say enjoying working with people and trying to help find resolutions to issues and problems is keenly important to enjoy your time in elected office.”

Not only has the city itself changed during Dunn’s tenure, but the city’s leadership has changed as well — including going from having only one female councilmember (Dunn) to five of them, which she cites as a positive change.

She said she’s also grateful for her time working with her fellow councilmembers, the city’s staff and what she calls her “army” of roughly 300 city volunteers.

“I’ve kept running because I’ve enjoyed it immensely,” she said.

Dunn oversaw Leawood in a time of growth

Throughout her time as Leawood’s mayor, Dunn said the city has changed in a number of ways.

That includes a nearly doubling in size, going from roughly 19,000 residents when she first entered office, to roughly 35,000 residents today.

With the city’s explosive residential growth came a boom in retail, with the development of Leawood’s Town Center Plaza at 119th and Roe shortly before Dunn became the mayor.

The development of the Park Place shopping center at 115th and Ash followed, going up in phases from 2007 to 2013.

Dunn said the subsequent spike in retail sales tax revenue kept the city from having to rely solely on property taxes, keeping the mill levy, or local tax rate, from increasing since 2003.

“You can see why it’s been a fun time to be involved,” she said. “It’s been a really great time to be involved because there’s been so much growth — high quality growth.”

Though she faced very little opposition at the ballot box, her time in office wasn’t free of controversy.

In her current term, some of the most heated conversations at city hall have revolved around the city’s pit bull ban, one of the last of its kind in the Kansas City area. Earlier this year, following a citizen survey, the city council opted to tweak the ordinance instead of roll it back entirely, much to the chagrin of some residents.

Dunn also received some blowback last year, when, as a private citizen, she appeared in an ad urging support for the “Value Them Both” amendment, which would have stripped the right to an abortion from the Kansas Constitution. That measure was ultimately defeated.

Dunn prepares to step down as city celebrates a milestone

Dunn’s 25 years as Leawood’s mayor coincides with the city’s 75th anniversary this year. That means Dunn’s tenure as mayor has covered a full third of the city’s overall history.

Going forward, she said she will remain active in local nonprofits but does not plan to run for another office.

Ultimately, Dunn said her primary hope for the city’s next mayor would be that they try their best to make decisions for the greater good of the community — although, she said, it’s impossible to make everybody happy.

“I think it will be great for someone else to have this opportunity as well,” she said. “I hope that the next person will love this city as much as I love it.”

Fellow city leaders praised Dunn

Councilmember Andrew Osman, who is also not seeking reelection this year, said Dunn’s efforts helped establish Leawood as more than a “bedroom community” and helped transform it into an economic hub on its own.

“She and the council really helped shape Leawood into what it is today,” he said. “No one likes to see anyone go, but she left a long-lasting legacy for the city.”

Councilmember Jim Rawlings commended Dunn’s leadership on an interpersonal level as well, calling her an “excellent leader.”

“She is just an absolute joy to work with,” he said. “She was very kind to everyone and very analytical —she pours her heart and soul into the job.”

Marc Elkins, current chair of the Leawood Planning Commission and one of two candidates vying this November to succeed Dunn along with IT developer Steve Hentzen, said her leadership and value for consensus has helped shape his own goals as a city leader.

“The good news is Leawood has a very engaged citizenry, and sometimes that can be a challenge for a leader,” he said. “But (Mayor Dunn) has always done a great job of making sure that people have the opportunity to be heard.”

Dunn’s departure is part of wider JoCo changes

Dunn’s decision is part of a larger changing of the guard in some of Johnson County’s biggest cities.

Lenexa Mayor Mike Boehm, who has led that city for two decades, is also not running for reelection this year.

Similarly, Shawnee Mayor Michelle Distler announced earlier this year she will step down when her current term — her second as mayor — ends.

Overland Park also went through a leadership change just two years ago, when long-serving mayor Carl Gerlach announced his retirement, ending a 16-year-tenure. He was ultimately succeed by Curt Skoog.

About the author

Lucie Krisman
Lucie Krisman

Hi! I’m Lucie Krisman, and I cover local business for the Johnson County Post.

I’m a native of Tulsa, Oklahoma, but have been living in Kansas since I moved here to attend KU, where I earned my degree in journalism. Prior to joining the Post, I did work for The Pitch, the Eudora Times, the North Dakota Newspaper Association and KTUL in Tulsa.

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