If you wanted to do a national search for the best Johnson County chairman in the land, here’s what the posting might say, and here is how Ed Eilert — my pick for the commission chair on Nov. 4 — would measure up:
The candidate must be willing to work for $75,000 per year and to reduce salary when necessary.
When Eilert joined the county commission before becoming chairman, he made the motion, which passed, to reduce commissioners’ salaries by 5 percent in the 2009 budget.
Upon becoming chairman, during a time when county government was downsizing and employees were being asked to do more with less, Eilert — a man of modest means — voluntarily reduced his salary by an additional 10 percent, bringing it down to $75,000, from a peak of $86,945. The current salary is back to where it was in 2003, when the position of county chairman was created.
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The candidate must be prudent with taxpayers’ dollars.
Eilert wins the platinum award for his achievements in keeping taxes low, while still providing excellent services. As Johnson County chairman, Eilert presides over a county with the lowest mill levy of any in the state, while the county has maintained its cherished triple-A bond rating. During the Great Recession, when revenues plummeted, Eilert guided the county through rough times, working within reduced budgets. Under Eilert, 192 positions were eliminated through attrition and voluntary retirements.
The candidate must have an outstanding track record as a publicly elected official.
Eilert served for 24 years as Overland Park mayor, Johnson County’s largest city, during which time the city’s population doubled from 82,000 to 165,000. Under Eilert, the city was named one of the best places to live in the United States. He served four years as a Johnson County commissioner and the last four years as chairman.
The candidate must have character and integrity.
Eilert gives “politician” a good name. He has never gained from his influential positions. On the contrary, he sacrificed income as a stock broker, while serving as mayor for $24,000 a year. As county chairman, Eilert continues to be regarded, first and foremost, as a man of great integrity.
The candidate must get along with his elected colleagues.
As county chairman, Eilert has never abused his position. He has proven he can get along with fellow commissioners, even when there are strong disagreements. He shows them respect and has never been accused of being heavy-handed.
The candidate must have demonstrated vision.
Eilert’s fingerprints are everywhere, because of his vision. The Overland Park Convention Center and Overland Park’s arboretum probably would not exist were it not for Eilert’s leadership.
Eilert supported the nationally recognized “Research Triangle” tax, approved by voters. He now serves as chairman of the committee overseeing the expenditures from that tax, which provides vital funding for the University of Kansas Edwards Campus, Kansas State University in Olathe, and the University of Kansas Medical Center.
The candidate must be “pro growth.”
As chairman, Eilert has taken a special interest in boosting economic development through the Enterprise Institute of Johnson County, which brings public and private dollars together to create new businesses.
Inasmuch as the county commission also serves as the board overseeing sewers throughout the county, Eilert has made certain that sewers keep up with the needs of development, which brings jobs to the county.
The candidate must be willing and able to speak for the county.
Topeka is no stranger to Eilert, who has testified numerous times on legislation that he believed would be harmful or of benefit to Johnson County.
While Eilert did not oppose the first bistate tax effort — to restore Union Station in the late 1990s — he was the most vocal critic of Bistate II. Among other reasons, the Missouri statutes did not allow a Johnson County representative on the commission that oversees the sports stadiums.
Most important, when Eilert speaks, people do listen. He has earned the respect of the entire metropolitan community by his words and deeds.
Reach Steve Rose, a longtime Johnson County columnist, at email@example.com.