Is Johnson County government working? Commission tasked with updating county charter

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OLATHE, Kan. — The Johnson County Charter Commission will tackle a once in a decade task that could shape county policy for years to come. 

The commission is composed of 25 members that are appointed every 10 years to collect public feedback and consider possible changes to the Johnson County Home Rule Charter. 

Any proposed changes to the charter will be placed on the 2022 ballot. 

“The charter can only be amended by the voters,” Charter Commission Chair Greg Musil said. “Proposed amendments can be placed on the ballot by the charter commission or by the supermajority of the vote of the seven member county commission.”  

Wednesday the commission held a public hearing in Olathe and received feedback from more than a dozen residents. One of the main topics many people weighed in on was the potential to transition the county sheriff from an elected position to one that is appointed by the Johnson County Board of Commissioners (BOCC). 

Phil Bauer of Leawood said he doesn’t support making the office of the sheriff an appointed position. Bauer said he would like to see positions like the county manager and county treasurer returned to elected positions instead of being appointed as they are now. 

Shawnee resident Robert Davis said he feels the traditional method of electing a county sheriff keeps that person accountable to residents. 

“The question of appointing versus electing a sheriff absolutely should not be placed on the ballot,” Davis said. “The sheriff represents the county citizens and should be loyal to them, not to a committee that holds the power to appoint or terminate them.” 

Overland Park resident David Ball said he is strongly against giving the BOCC the power to appoint the county sheriff. 

“It would be a waste of our taxpayers time and money,” Ball said. “ I would ask how distrusting are you of the people of Johnson County? Do you think we are unable to make a decision on who we want as our sheriff, or do you just not like the sheriff that we have elected?”  

The Charter Commission will begin the first round of hearings for potential ballot initiatives on November 8. If a proposal receives at least nine votes of support from the commission, it will progress on to a second hearing.

A proposal must have at least 13 votes of support in the second hearing to be placed on the ballot. 

During the public hearing Wednesday, residents also weighed in on a proposition to allow Johnson County Board of Commissioner races to be partisan. 

Cassie Woolworth said she wants to see the charter remain the same. 

“The non-partisan is the way to go. Leave the charter as is,” Woolworth said. 

Overland Park resident Richard Pund spoke at the public hearing via Zoom. Pund said he worries making the BOCC elections partisan could reduce overall voter turnout. 

“In Kansas House elections last year there were several races in democratic and republican dominated areas that only had competition in the primary,” Pund said. “I think this is a big problem wherever it is happening. If there are multiple candidates running for an office, voters should not have to register with a part just to have a say in the matter.”  

“This question should not be on the ballot. We should be looking at ways to provide unbiased truth and information to the people about candidates, including having candidates run with party affiliation,” Bob Talley said. “We should be adding questions that would add more offices that are elected by the people, not  

Steve Smith said he feels listing the BOCC race as nonpartisan would not prevent candidates from aligning with a specific political party.  

“The fact that you declare something to be nonpartisan doesn’t mean the people on it will behave in an unpartisan way.One of the hardest things we have to do in elections is to vet candidates. Nonpartisan allows candidates to hid behind the non partisanship,” Smith said. 

The deadline to submit proposed amendments is November 1. County residents can submit written comments to the commission on the Charter Commission website. The next Charter Commission meeting is scheduled for Sept. 22 at 4 p.m.

The Charter Commission must submit a final report of its findings and recommendations to the BOCC by February 4, 2022. 

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