To retain non-partisan county elections, or to hold partisan elections for county commission candidates – that was the question several Johnson County residents voiced during a charter commission public hearing Tuesday night.
The 25-member charter commission is charged with reviewing the Johnson County Home Rule Charter and recommending revisions to it every 10 years.
Several residents voiced recommendations of their own at Olathe City Hall March 29.
Speakers were asked to say their names and their addresses before starting their remarks, but
Brenda Lamar stated her voter affiliation first.
“I am a Republican,” the rural Johnson County resident told members of the commission. “You put me in a column and you knew things about me before I told you anything else. You know how I felt about the size and the role of government.”
She requested that county commission races be partisan elections saying that you can tell a lot about a candidate based on their political affiliation.
“I want to know what company my elected officials keep,” she said.
Steve Shute, Gardner, agreed.
“Who are these people and what is their party?” he said. “(Party affiliation) is a great guidepost. A great reference.”
Gene Paris, Overland Park, disagreed saying there’s plenty of information about people running for office already.
“Party affiliation doesn’t affect the governance of the county,” he said.
Rick Worrel, Overland Park, said he also believes nonpartisan elections have served the community well.
“Nonpartisan elections require candidates to campaign on the issues and the diversity of views,” the business owner said.
Worrel said he advises only “tweaks” to the county’s original charter which was approved by voters in 2000.
He asked that positions that were once elected – county treasurer, county clerk, county auditor, and register of deeds – remain appointed positions; and requested that the Johnson County Sheriff position be elected through a nonpartisan election. The Sheriff’s role is one of two countywide positions that are elected through a partisan process.
Several residents requested that the position continue to be elected rather than appointed.
Ken Smith, Overland Park, said the sheriff is the last line of defense against government tyranny.
“To make it appointed would be a grave mistake,” he said. “…Most important aspect of the sheriff – he is elected and answerable only to the people. If we take away people’s right to vote on who the sheriff is, he will not have autonomy.”
Other residents voiced concerns about the six county commission districts.
Ken Dunwoody, rural Olathe, said four out of six commissioners represent Overland Park. The current chair, Ed Eilert, also calls Overland Park home.
“That makes five,” Dunwoody said.
The districts haven’t changed much in the last 10 years with only a few cul-de-sacs moving from one district to another when the district lines are reviewed every three years, he told members of the commission.
“Proportionately, Overland Park is smaller now than it was 10 years ago,” Dunwoody said. “I would ask this body to consider taking responsibility for redistricting.”
A chicken farmer, he said re-districting and chickens have a lot in common.
“If I have too many hens, the hens will kill one another,” he explained. “If I have too many roosters, the roosters will kill each other. So I have to manage the flock.”
At the state level, he said, the Secretary of State is the chicken herder that oversees redistricting in the Kansas Legislature.
But things are different at the county level.
“At the county level, we leave it to the chickens,” he said. Under the existing charter, the Board of County Commissioners oversees its own redistricting efforts.
Lamar also worried that rural Johnson County wasn’t well represented on the board of commissioners. Rural residents battled with cities attempting to annex in the last few years, she explained.
“No one represented us,” she said. “We in the rural part of the county are still citizens.”
Americans for Prosperity – Kansas surveyed its Johnson County members about possible revisions to the Johnson County Home Rule Charter.
Jim Mullins, field director for Eastern Kansas Americans for Prosperity, said the group’s poll was a voluntary survey.
Approximately 80 percent of respondents to the poll said they support electing the county
clerk, county auditor and county treasurer; making the commission elections partisan and agreed that no more than three commissioners should reside in the same city.
“I believe the 2011 Charter Commission should initiate a scientific poll with very simple questions to determine the true feelings and desires of the voters,” Mullins said.