For the three candidates running for the Fourth District Johnson County commissioner spot, it all boils down to leadership.
The incumbent, Jason Osterhaus, would like to continue his leadership on county issues he’s worked on the past four years.
His challengers, Curt Skoog and Mayre Hoffman, cite their own leadership experience: Skoog is on the Overland Park City Council and Hoffman is a former board member of a mental health center in Topeka. Both are business consultants. Both say they are dissatisfied with Osterhaus’s performance as his first four-year term in office comes to a close.
The top two vote-getters in the Aug. 5 primary will advance to the Nov. 4 general election.
The fourth district is comprised of an area in the central eastern part of the county, roughly between 75th and 135th Streets and Mission and Pflumm roads. The job pays $47,349 a year.
Skoog, who has been a city councilman since 2005, said that as the economy improves, Johnson County will go through a re-development phase and his experience with Overland Park and its development strategies will be a plus on the commission.
“It is important for reinvestment in neighborhoods that have not seen reinvestment in a long time,” Skoog said. He said he’d like to see a strategic plan for the county transit system become a part of that long-term thinking.
Hoffman said her experience on the board of the Shawnee Community Mental Health Center in Topeka would make her an asset on the commission. Last year, the Johnson County mental health center ran into budget trouble and had to be bailed out with reserve funds. The county still does not have a replacement for former Executive Director Maureen Womack, who resigned.
Both challengers cited Osterhaus’s performance as a reason they entered the race. Skoog and Hoffman said Osterhaus has not done enough to promote a long-term vision forward for the county.
“From what I understand, he votes no a lot and doesn’t initiate any new ideas or plans,” said Hoffman.
Osterhaus, however, said he has voted in favor of things far more often than he opposes them. “A citizen survey says more than 90 percent of the people are pleased with their commissioners and in favor of the library, parks and public safety,” he said. “I have shown clear leadership in those areas.”
The biggest issues coming up will be long-range plans for the library and county parks, Osterhaus said.
The library is developing a master plan that will look at how its traditional functions will change as a result of technology, and how the budget will accommodate those changes. “A shift is coming with tablets and readers and electronic offerings,” Osterhaus said of the library.
The county also should move more quickly to develop parkland and get it open to the public, he said. “I think that should be a priority for the commission.”
But if a mill levy increase for parks is proposed, it
should go before the voters, Osterhaus added.
Osterhaus and his callengers also differed on what should happen with the stalled appointment of Dr. Allen Greiner as public health officer. The appointment was tabled after Kansans For Life expressed concerns over Greiner’s testimony before the Kansas Board of Healing Arts supporting another doctor that was associated with the late George Tiller, a provider of late-term abortions.
It was Osterhaus who asked for the appointment to be tabled indefinitely while he sought more information. Now that he’s investigated, Osterhaus said he would not support Greiner’s appointment or ask that it come up for a vote.
But Hoffman said wedge issues like abortion are one reason so many people have lost faith in government. “When things start to move forward we have these wedge issues thrown in to distract people,” she said. The public health officer position is required by law and needs to be filled, she said.
Skoog said Osterhaus should have been more involved in the process earlier rather than waiting for voting day to make an issue of it. “My belief is the last thing an elected official should do if he has concerns about a person to be appointed is to wait for the public meeting to make that known,” he said.
On other issues:
Fate of the King Louie: The former King Louie building, which the county bought and re-roofed and wired is still in limbo while the commission decides what to do with it. Commissioners have most recently considered a plan to move several county services there, including the museum, the Enterprise Center and some early voting. Skoog said the Metcalf corridor and the King Louie look like a good fit and a wonderful place for the museum.
Hoffman said she hopes a use can be found for the building, but wondered if it was too hastily bought. She said maybe the county should look for private partners for use of that building.
Osterhaus said the best use of the King Louie may be for a public-private partnership. However the museum should still move there because of mold problems at its current location, he said.
New courthouse: Osterhaus said he would prefer the county look at options other than building a new courthouse, such as moving civil and criminal courts into different county buildings. “Personally I don’t think we need a new courthouse,” Osterhaus said. “The price tag is way too high.”
Hoffman said she is still studying the idea, but thinks the county may need a new courthouse. Any proposal should be well researched and credible, she said.
Skoog agreed the current courthouse is in bad shape and added that the commission should develop a long-range strategic plan to deal with its problems.
MAYRE MACEY HOFFMAN
Education: Bachelor’s in English from Washburn University, 1968
Occupation: Independent consultant
Elected experience: None
Education: Bachelor’s in communication, Park University, 1999
Occupation: Johnson County commissioner
Elected experiences: Johnson County Commission, 2011-present
Education: Bachelor’s in business administration, University of Kansas, 1985
Occupation: Independent consultant
Elected experience: Overland Park City Council, 2005-present