For far too many years in the past, elected officials in Jackson and Clay counties engaged in political infighting and lawsuits, showing poor leadership.
Times have changed for the better and — while far from becoming models of excellent government — the courthouses in those two counties are quieter these days. Residents are getting reasonable services, as they are in Platte County.
Part of the improvement has to do with the quality of elected officials now serving. That helps explain why The Star is recommending some incumbents, but not all, in key contested primaries on Aug. 7 in the three counties.
Sheriff: Incumbent Mike Sharp is the best choice of the three candidates in the Democratic primary.
Four years ago The Star withdrew its initial endorsement of Sharp when he acknowledged that as a reserve police officer he had received and transmitted emails containing pornography. That violated police policy and was unbecoming behavior for a law enforcement leader.
Despite concerns that some unprofessional conduct is still tolerated in the department, Sharp appears best prepared to continue in office.
The other candidates are Dwon Littlejohn and Randy Poletis. Neither has made a compelling case for throwing Sharp out of office.
No Republican filed for the office.
Western commissioner: Incumbent Larry Larson offers a solid record of service as he seeks re-election to a third term. Larson, a Democrat, has worked well with the two Republicans on the commission, putting the needs of Clay County first. He and the commission have solved several complicated budget issues in the past few years. Larson also has continued to support the county’s growing trails system.
David Peironnet, an opponent who does not have Larson’s political experience, does offer very thoughtful views on economic development and transportation issues. The third Democratic candidate is Gene Owen, who was involved in much of the political bickering when he served on the commission.
No Republican filed for the office.
Assessor: In the Democratic primary, Tom Brandom has years of experience working in a variety of offices in Clay County, including a long stint as a commissioner. He would bring a high level of professionalism to this job, and pledges to work well with other officials.
His opponent is incumbent Cathy Rinehart, who was first elected as assessor in 1996. However, the year after Rinehart’s last re-election in 2008, the county’s insurance provider agreed to pay more than $650,000 in two sexual-harassment cases involving her office. Employees alleged that she failed to stop offensive behavior by another employee. Democrats have good reasons to select Brandom to run in November.
In the Republican primary, Donald Jobe has crucial job-related experience as a certified appraiser, and has worked for the U.S. military, private businesses and the county assessor’s office. His opponent is Philip Wilson, who has run unsuccessfully for other county offices.
Sheriff: Challenger Bob Neal has worked in law enforcement for more than 35 years, including service in the sheriff’s office for almost a decade and as police chief of Claycomo for 12 years. It’s an attractive resume.
The incumbent is Democrat Bob Boydston, who has a checkered history in this office. He served as sheriff in the 1990s until voters, fed up with his battles with Brandom and others, made a good call in 2000 and ousted him in favor of Republican Paul Vescovo. Eight years later, Boydston defeated Vescovo and returned to the office.
The other candidate is Daryl L. Justis.
Vescovo is unopposed on the Republican ticket.
County Commission, District 1: This Republican primary pits incumbent Kathy Dusenbery against Beverlee Roper.
For much of her term, Dusenbery has done exactly what she said she would do when elected in 2008, especially by fighting to keep the county’s effective sales tax for parks improvements. Dusenbery, a former Parkville mayor, has worked for projects to improve air quality and transportation. However, Dusenbery did — along with other commission members — turn down a valid initiative petition to place the zoo tax on the ballot last year.
Roper, a former television journalist and now a lawyer, serves as municipal judge in Weatherby Lake. Supporters say Roper would be an independent voice on the commission, an implication that Dusenbery votes too frequently with presiding commissioner Jason Brown. Dusenbery points to her parks tax crusade as evidence that is not true.
No Democrat filed for this office.