Danedri Thompson
After months of discussion and information gathering, members of the Johnson County Charter Commission will vote Nov. 7 on an amendment to the county charter that would make county commissioner elections partisan.
Today, elections for the seven-member Board of County Commissioners are non-partisan, and the county charter prohibits candidates from printing their voter affiliation – Republican, Democrat, or other party – on campaign materials.
But some members of the Charter Commission are seeking to change that.
Clay Barker, a charter commission member appointed by the Republican Party, said there are 103 counties with boards of commissioners in Kansas, and of those, only Johnson County holds non-partisan elections.
“I want to return to partisan elections,” Barker, said. “It has to do with how the money flows around (in politics).”
In partisan elections, political parties can donate unlimited resources to county candidates.
“What’s coming in to fill that vacuum? It’s hidden,” Barker said. “That’s my logic so the parties can take the role the legislature intended.”
Jody Kramer, a second Republican Party appointee, said county residents overwhelmingly voiced support for maintaining non-partisan elections during a forum in Mission last month. At an earlier public hearing in Olathe, public sentiment appeared to sway in support of partisan elections. Also, she said partisan elections make it harder for women and minorities to win spots on elected boards.
“You have to give women an opportunity to participate,” she said. “Which system does the most to promote diversity?”
County commissioners would need to approve the charter commission’s amendment, and voters would have the final say on all of the charter commission’s recommendations on the November 2012 ballot.
Partisan elections is one of several issues charter commissioners have discussed since last February. They’re also considering proposals that would increase the size of the county commission from seven to nine members and make the county chair a non-voting member of the board. However, the charter commission is unlikely to vote on those matters at its next meeting, which will be from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 7 at the Johnson County Administration Building in Olathe.
Johnson County residents approved the current charter in 2001. It includes a provision that created the charter commission to review the document every 10 years.  The committee began meeting in February of 2010 and is expected to complete its work – including proposed changes to the county charter and a written report for county commissioners – by next February.
The 25-member commission was appointed by Johnson County legislators, the county Republican and Democrat parties, county commissioners and from the council of mayors. Among the members are nine attorneys, one medical doctor and six women. The group includes one rural, Gardner resident – Glenn Bonar – and no Edgerton, Spring Hill or De Soto residents.
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.