Johnson County moves ahead with proposal to create unincorporated trustee

Kansas News

OLATHE, Kan. — The Johnson County Charter Commission has begun voting on potential changes to the county charter. 

The 25-member commission will review 15 proposed amendments to the Johnson County Home Rule Charter that could be placed on the 2022 ballot.

The commission will also review two recommendations for the Board of County Commissioners after a third recommendation to review and reconsider Reverend Thomas Johnson as the namesake of Johnson County was withdrawn.

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.

On Monday, the commission reviewed seven proposed changes and progressed two proposals to a second hearing. 

With a vote of 8-17, the commission voted against a proposal to change the positions of County Clerk, Register of Deeds and County Treasurer to elected positions from their current status as appointed positions. 

Commissioners Bingesser, Brownlee, Denning, Dirks, Hutchins, Klingensmith, Smith and commission chair Musil voted in favor of progressing the proposal to a second hearing, but fell short of the nine required votes. 

With nine votes of support from commissioners Bingesser, Brownlee, Denning, Dirks, Hutchins, Klingensmith, Mikkelson, Smith and Thomas, a proposal to create the elected position of Johnson County Unincorporated Trustee will move on to a second hearing. 

During the hearing Commissioner Randy Hutchins gave a presentation highlighting what he felt is a need for more representation for residents in the unincorporated portion of the county.

Unincorporated Johnson County represents 40% of the land mass within the county and about 10% of the total population. Hutchins said establishing a trustee position would give residents in the unincorporated portion of the county a voice in local government. 

“There is virtually no capital investment that has been made in the unincorporated area. What we’ve seen is most, if not all, of the CARS [County Assistance Road System] dollars being shifted to the city limits,” Hutchins said. “We are one of the wealthiest counties in the nation, and your unincorporated citizens are driving on dirt roads.”

Funding would come from General Expense and Capital Budgets for employees, contractors, facilities and equipment. The proposal also includes a 10% increase in the annual expense budget and $20 million annually for capital improvements to bring the unincorporated area up to incorporated standards.

Per state statute, the proposal to change the head of the Johnson County Appraisal Office to an elected position will not be considered as a proposed change to the Home Rule Charter, but instead will be considered as a recommendation to the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC). No formal vote was taken on this proposal. 

The commission agreed to combine proposals four and five to create a Health Advisory Council, which will  provide guidance when the BOCC acts as the Public Health Board. The combined proposal will be reviewed and voted on at a later date. 

A proposal requiring all directors and members of governing boards to be appointed by the BOCC was withdrawn to be reconsidered at another time. That proposal would require each member of the Johnson County Library System, Parks and Recreation District, Mental Health Center, Developmental Supports, and the Airport Commission to reside within the county and be appointed based on education and experience. 

With only Commissioner Chris Iliff not participating in the vote, the Charter Commission voted 10-14 to progress a proposal that would require a special election to fill all vacancies on the BOCC within 90 days of the position becoming vacant. 

The proposal did not receive support from Commissioners Boehm, Charlesworth, Housh, Koesten, McCune, Mikkelson, Peterson, Rattan, Russell, Schwach, Sharpe, Shelton, Thomas, or Chair Musil. 

“I would find it difficult to support for this reason: Special elections are costly. If the current process allows the person to be elected permanently at the next general election, I see no reason to incur that cost,”  Westwood Hills Mayor Paula Schwach said. 

Commissioners Bingesser, Brownlee, Denning, Dirks, Gaona, Hutchins, Klingensmith, Rivarola, Roberts and Smith voted in favor of the proposal. 

Remaining proposals and recommendations for the BOCC will be reviewed and voted on at the next commission meeting. The next Charter Commission meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, Nov. 17 at 4 p.m. 

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