April 18, 2014

Charter commission hosts introductory meeting

Danedri Thompson
dthompson@gardnernews.com

The 2011 Johnson County Charter Review Committee met for the first time Monday afternoon. The 25 member appointed board will examine the county’s home rule charter and make recommendations for possible changes to the document.

Don Jarrett, attorney for the Johnson County Board of Commissioners, said the committee will wrestle with a variety of issues as they review the document which created the county’s form of government.

The charter document was drafted in 1999 and approved by general public voters in 2001. The charter created the existing seven member board of commissioners – the largest in the state.

“We have the most advanced and we’re much more complex than most cities,” he told the group of 25.

The charter also includes a provision that required a review in 10 years.
The 25 members were appointed by Johnson County legislators, the county Republican and Democrat parties, commissioners themselves and from the council of mayors. Among them are nine attorneys, at least one medical doctor and six women. The group includes one rural, Gardner resident – Glenn Bonar – and no Edgerton, Spring Hill or De Soto residents.

The group has one year to review the charter and make recommendations to commissioners. There are some stipulations, however.

“You can not propose something that is in conflict with existing law,” he said.
For example, existing law allows commissioners to condemn property, and that right can’t be eliminated.

“You can change how it’s done,” Jarrett explained.

Review committee members can review who, in the county’s 34 agencies, reports to whom and whether officials are elected. In the current charter, for example, the county clerk, register of deeds, and county treasurer are appointed. In many Kansas counties, the positions are held by elected officials.

Jarrett said in addition to the 34 agencies the board of commissioners oversees, there are five appointed governing boards that also have authority in the county. They include a parks and recreation board, a library board, and an airport board. Two of the boards have taxing authority – parks and the library.

The 1999 charter commission members hired an attorney, and Jarrett said the review committee could do the same.

“When you get to the end, you’ll need to provide a legal opinion that (the suggestions) comply with Kansas law,” Jarrett said.

The 1999 committee spent more than $150,000. The new committee will need to seek approval from the board of commissioners for expenses.

“With all the attorneys present, maybe you won’t need to spend that kind of money,” Ed Eilert, Chair of the Johnson County Board of Commissioners, told the group.

He said he was attending the first meeting to introduce himself and to offer the county’s services, however, commissioners themselves will not participate in the review process.

The original committee met once a week for one full year, Eilert said, but he doesn’t expect the new committee to meet quite as often.
The original committee drafted a new document. The new group is simply reviewing it.

“They were starting from scratch,” Eilert told the group.

The committee meetings will be open to the public and subject to Kansas Open Meetings Act and the Kansas Open Records Act. The next meeting will be from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Feb. 21 at the Johnson County Administration Building in Olathe.

A copy of the county charter as well as the more than 30 resolutions to the charter can be viewed online at http://bocc.jocogov.org/LIMS/homerule.shtml.

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