Text exchange between commissioners Charlotte O’Hara and Shirley Allenbrand about 199th Street meeting. Photo courtesy of Charlotte O’Hara
Transparency and Open Meetings act concerns have been raised recently over a meeting called by 6th District Johnson County Commissioner Shirley Allenbrand.
Frank Moles, unincorporated county resident, brought this to attention during public comments at the Thursday, June 23 commission meeting.
He said Allenbrand needed to be investigated for a private party held the day before in regards to discussions on 199th street projects namely involving the business Carvana.
“It’s unethical and illegal,”he said. “The constant speeding is out of hand, and I’m being run off the road from truck drivers. Keep speeding trucks off rural roads. Listen to the people you actually represent.”
Carla McCoy, another resident at 199th Street and Clearview, said she also had concerns about the area not being built for interstate traffic and it not being built for semis.
“It’s incredibly dangerous,” she said.
Ed Eilert, county chair, said many times they have small meetings with constituents and there had been lots of misinformation presented on social media.
Charlotte O’Hara, 3rd District County Commissioner, said she and other stakeholders had been disinvited from the meeting along with other area residents and they had serious safety concerns for the area.
Allenbrand had called the meeting to discuss the reconstruction of 199th Street for accommodation of large trucks and 18-wheelers in the southwestern part of Johnson County.
Kenneth Klingensmith, Southwest Zoning Board member, said Eilert had told him there was no need for attendance since the meeting wasn’t considered a public meeting.
Eilert said these types of meetings with county officials are common.
“Elected officials often informally meet with constituents, staff, experts and others to gather facts on issues of general public interest,”he said. “Who attends such informal meetings is up to the elected official who schedules the meeting.”
O’Hara said truck traffic will most likely be diverted to her district from Allenbrand’s and her and her constituents should be able to attend and voice their opinions.
She told the Gardner News in her opinion clarity and transparency should always be the goal.
“I was shocked and greatly disappointed by the lack of an open and transparent process,” O’Hara said. “Closed door meetings are not how business should be conducted in Johnson County.”
A motion was made at the June 23 BOCC meeting by O’Hara to request the Kansas State Attorney General’s office to go to court to determine legality of the narrow corridor for annexation east of Gardner Road into Edgerton. It failed 5 to 2.
Moley sent in a request to Attorney General Derek Schmidt’s office about the 199th Street Project and the actions of Commissioner Allenbrand.
“When I heard about the meeting I immediately contacted Commissioner O’Hara for information on it and was told the times, despite Eilert telling people there wasn’t a meeting and Allenbrand staying silent,” he said. “After Eilert chastised me publicly at the last BOCC meeting he confirms that he knew about the meeting and had sent emails on the topic.”
Moley said when he arrived at the admin building he was informed it was a private meeting and him and Commissioner O’Hara were not allowed in.
“So not only is Allenbrand doing a disservice to her well-respected family name in this county, but she is going against her own campaign promises of transparency,” he said. “There should be no meetings about 199th and the travesty of converting a rural and residential road to a truck route that doesn’t include impacted citizens.”
Moley said the dealings are clearly backed by people who neither reside in the the county nor pay taxes in the county.
“She is essentially disenfranchising the voters of this county by not giving them the information that she is trying to push through,” he said.
Moley said the underhanded dealings of the commission under Eilert’s leadership are unethical, irresponsible and downright wrong.
“They spend money we don’t have, increase taxes when the economy was suffering from their response to Covid-19 and ignore the taxpayers and the citizens that are impacted by their decisions,” he said.
Gardner City Manager Jim Pruetting responded to O’Hara in a letter stating she might receive pushback because the county has long considered 199th Street a primary east-west corridor, but the county has the authority to restrict truck traffic on 199th Street.
“But that was established before the intermodal was even contemplated,” he said. “It also doesn’t align with the fact that Gardner now controls most of the roadway between I-35 and Claire Road,” he said.
Kansas Attorney General Opinion 87-173 restricts use of highways and allows counties to impose limitations on size and weight of vehicles on certain roads.
As part of CARNP it has been stated Johnson County is to provide adequate access through the county for interstate truck traffic. However, they will take aggressive action to discourage truck traffic on local routes due to safety concerns and high maintenance costs. As part of CARNP the county will start conducting a study for the unincorporated area to determine the needs for local trucks.
Information on the county’s local truck routes could not be found.
The CARNP plan shows the county making 199th Street a four lane arterial road.
Pruetting said if the county moves forward with plans to put shoulders on the road east of Clare Road to better facilitate commercial truck traffic, he would immediately move to shift Gardner’s portion of the road down to all commercial truck traffic.
Brian Pietig, director of Johnson County public works, told O’Hara there had been discussion regarding a proposed improvement of 199th Street by the Mid America Regional Council (MARC).
Pietig said the proposed 2023 improvement of 199th Street from Ridgeview Road to Renner Road had been requested by the City of Spring Hill and they had submitted a federal funding request to MARC.
The project is an urban style curb and gutter design that would include reconstruction of 199th Street to address safety and drainage and possible turn lanes, he said.
Pietig said a request had been made for clarification regarding the County’s Comprehensive Arterial Road Network Plan’s classification of 199th and guidance with interstate truck traffic.
199th Street from 56 Highway to Mission Road is the highest designation at a Type III. It is planned for future right-of-way width of 150 to 200 feet—which allows a cross section of 4 to 6 lanes with a median and turn lanes similar to 135th Street in Overland Park.
Pietig said CARNP was addressing the concern of interstate truck traffic leaving the interstate and using local roads to cut through and gain access back to the interstate.
“An example would be a truck using the local system to avoid the interstate scales or move between I-35 and K-10,” he said. “This guidance was not intended for truck traffic with an origination or destination in Johnson County where a truck necessarily has to use the local system to gain access to or from the state system.”
Pietig said there had been confusion about a meeting on Wednesday June 21st, and Allenbrand was facilitating a meeting with a few residents to hear concerns regarding development and traffic in the Southwest area of Johnson County.
“This is a working meeting not a public meeting and no board action will be taken,” he said.
Pietig said the county is meeting with Edgerton, Gardner, Miami County and Spring Hill to discuss development and traffic issues in the southwest area of Johnson County with the potential outcome of developing consensus on traffic, routine of trucks and road safety improvements. “The county has and continues to complete safety improvements on 199th Street,” he said. “Next year we will be improving 199th from Clare Road to US 169. This is a joint project with the City of Spring Hill.”
Don Roberts, Edgerton Mayor, sent a letter to Eilert refuting O’Hara’s claims from the June 23 BOCC meeting.
“At the meeting Commissioner Charlotte O’Hara states on three different occasions that it had been determined in court that Edgerton’s annexation was illegal. This is untrue,” he said.
Roberts cited the District Court Case of Protect Rural JOCO vs City of Edgerton, Case #21- CV-2184 and said Judge Vano only ruled that the Court did not have subject matter jurisdiction, and dismissed the case.
“It is unknown how Commissioner O’Hara obtained information regarding the ruling of the Court,” he said. “The court did have a hearing on June 7, 2022 and directed the attorney for the City to draft a journal entry. That journal entry was submitted pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 170, which only provides for adoption of a ruling after a period of time for the parties to object to the form of the journal entry. As of this date, the ruling has not been entered as a matter of record.”
Roberts said the Court ruled that it had no subject matter jurisdiction to address the annexation issue. Subject matter jurisdiction is necessary before a court will address any of the merits of a case. The Court essentially said it had no basis in law to even address the claims of the Plaintiffs and dismissed the case. As such, nothing that the Court would state about the annexation would be a ruling of any sort, nor would the Court make such a ruling in a case where it had no jurisdiction. Thus, representations of any party that the Court ruled that the annexation was illegal is plainly false and has misinformed the public.
“The City of Edgerton has always scrupulously followed the legal requirements for annexation and zoning of property in its jurisdiction,” he said. “It has been transparent in its actions, and it has openly and fairly addressed every legal issue presented in the appropriate forum. It is extremely disappointing that the County Commission has fostered misinformation regarding such an important matter to the citizens of the County and to the citizens of Edgerton. It is hoped that Commissioner O’Hara will withdraw her comments regarding this matter and correct the record regarding the Court’s ruling. In addition, I hope that the Commissioner will exercise more care in relaying the statements of third parties with an agenda that seeks to spur action by the Commission under false pretense.”
O’Hara had no comment in response to Roberts letter but said the truck routing of 199th Street impacts hundreds of families.
“It changes the entire direction of Southern Johnson County,” she said. “This is our community not the oligarchs. This is a tsunami and the costs are catastrophic.”