August 28, 2014

EDITORIAL: Charter review committee lacks small town representation

A group of Johnson County residents will be reviewing the county’s Charter – essentially the county’s constitution – and recommending potential changes to the document.

They’ll meet for the next year reviewing county processes as well as our form of government. As Don Jarrett, attorney for the Johnson County Board of Commissioners noted during the group’s first meeting, the Johnson County government oversees 34 agencies and is more complex than most large cities, including Kansas City, Mo.

So it’s discouraging to note that of the 25 citizens appointed to serve on this yearlong committee, only one hails from one of the three smaller southwestern communities in Johnson County.

The committee was formed by appointment with a variety of elected officials and politicians having some say. Six members were appointed by the Johnson County legislative delegation. Four members were appointed from the county’s Democratic and Republican parties – two from each. Two members were appointed by area Chambers of Commerce. Three were appointed by Johnson County’s Council of Mayors. A few were appointed from the county’s planning and zoning boards, and eight were appointed by the Johnson County Commissioners themselves.

We were appalled to learn that the Sixth District of the Johnson County Board of County Commissioners – which currently includes Gardner, Edgerton, De Soto and a portion of Olathe – will be represented by a retired Sheriff’s office employee from Olathe.

Calvin Hayden, who made the appointment, told The Gardner News that his appointee is familiar with the more rural, small towns in Johnson County through his work with the sheriff’s office.

Working in a small town and living in one are two different things. And while public safety is of concern to everyone in Johnson County, their representation on the board isn’t as critical as that of the people who live and pay taxes in these communities.

Judging from the number of retired sheriff’s employees who attended the poorly publicized meeting – there were three sheriff’s employees or retirees in attendance as spectators; a Gardner News reporter and a few commissioners and county staff also watched the proceedings – there will be plenty of input from that arena. It’s an area that will probably receive plenty of consideration as the commission makes its recommendations, as the sheriff’s office comprises the largest share of the county budget.

Of particular concern for those of us in the more rural parts of the county are rules the county uses to govern development. The parts of the county that are well represented on the committee are fully developed. When and if the county grows, development will occur around Gardner, Edgerton and Spring Hill. That’s where the developable land in the county exists.

By our count, there is exactly one person on the review committee familiar with living in this part of the county. Glenn Bonar, who serves on the Southwest Johnson County Consolidated Zoning Board, was selected by the zoning boards to represent their interests on the committee. We have no doubt he’ll represent his friends and neighbors in this part of the county well.

However, we wish he weren’t alone in that venture.

While citizens will have the opportunity to vote on potential changes to the county’s charter, once a question is on the ballot, it’s too late. They should have input from the start.

For Johnson County to have a government that represents all of its citizenry, the rural, developable parts of the county should have a larger say in how they’re governed and how the land around them is used.

Elected officials, take heed. We’re watching.

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