A battle is being waged over how boldly Johnson County government will act to improve parks, libraries, transit, roads, its courthouse and other public amenities.
The time for assertive moves has arrived. The county that prides itself on being the economic engine of Kansas and this metropolitan area recently has had problems matching its high-flying reputation. Job and wage growth haven’t been stellar.
The Aug. 5 nonpartisan primaries will reduce the County Commission races to two candidates each in the November elections. The Star’s recommendations:
County chairman: Current 1st District commissioner Ed Peterson is trying to oust incumbent chairman Ed Eilert; former state Rep. Patricia Lightner is also in the race.
Peterson and Eilert deserve to advance to the general election. Both have significant and worthwhile political experience on the commission and as mayors of cities in Johnson County (Peterson in Fairway and Eilert in Overland Park). Both have extensive knowledge of the challenges facing the county in properly funding public services.
Peterson has been more outspoken about the need to be a leader, shake off the aftereffects of the recession and determine whether Johnson Countians would be willing to embrace more ambitious steps to bolster the county’s future.
Eilert has helped keep the lid on spending during some tough budget years, and that experience has put the county in a situation where it could more vigorously attack problems.
In a general election, Peterson and Eilert would have to provide details on what they would do to boost the county’s fortunes.
1st District: Five persons are vying to replace Peterson.
Both Laura McConwell and Ron Shaffer have been longtime mayors of Johnson County cities (McConwell in Mission and Shaffer in Prairie Village).
Such political experience is valuable on the commission. McConwell and Shaffer have had to deal with budget, development and neighborhood challenges. Both have had some successes in keeping their cities viable as more growth spreads to other parts of the county.
McConwell pledges to encourage active discussion by residents before the county makes major decisions. Shaffer says infrastructure, transit and public safety are basic services that need even more attention from the commission.
Mark Nauser, chairman of an insurance company, appears to have a good grasp of the county’s concerns, making him an attractive newcomer. As he aptly notes, the county can only reduce expenses so much before that tactic damages its ability to be a great place to live.
The other candidates are V. Alex DiCarlo and Rachel Sciolaro.
4th District: It’s encouraging to see veteran Overland Park City Council member Curt Skoog in this race, trying to unseat incumbent Jason Osterhaus. The other candidate is Mayre Macey Hoffman.
Skoog has been a fiscally responsible leader in pursuing positive projects in Overland Park, such as the ambitious Vision Metcalf plan that’s bringing more transit, trails and infill development to older parts of the city. Skoog understands the importance of regional cooperation, which would help the commission deal with issues — such as wastewater treatment — that cross the state line.
Skoog also appears ready to deal with adverse Kansas policies, such as the recent phase-out of mortgage registration fees that could cost the county $50 million over five years.
While Osterhaus during his term hasn’t appeared ready to move the county forward in a cooperative and positive manner, Skoog wants to pursue needed strategic plans for infrastructure and redevelopment.
Those are some of the key needs of a county that can’t afford to rest on its laurels.