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Here are the races (and partisan battles) to watch in Johnson County elections

Even in the most contentious races, candidates can agree on one thing: This Johnson County election season has been an odd one.

Often overlooked races have attracted large fields of candidates and drawn interest from both the Johnson County Republican and Democratic parties. And that doesn’t set well with many.

Voters have been speculating that local elections — which are supposed to be free from party influence — have become increasingly partisan. Many Republicans argue that the Democrats have packed local races with candidates hoping to unseat longtime incumbents and push more liberal agendas.

Yet both parties have been sending out fliers and messages sharing their candidate preferences, even for obscure races like the Johnson County water board. Party lines also were drawn in the August primary for the Johnson County Community College Board of Trustees, where 11 candidates ran for three seats. Six candidates will be on the ballot on Tuesday.

“I don’t want this to be a partisan race. I don’t think it’s good to have political parties involved in this,” said incumbent Greg Musil, a member of that board since 2011. “I wish both parties would say they’re staying out of these races, they’re not going to recruit candidates and that they’re not going to give them money. That would be my goal for the next election.”

Still, Musil has benefited from mailings and yard signs promoting his candidacy along with the other two Republicans in the race.

Johnson County Community College

The community college race has shaped up to be one of the most interesting.

The candidate field grew unusually crowded this summer after the announcement that JCCC President Joe Sopcich is stepping down. The college also has been facing criticism from some residents arguing the college needs to improve transparency, especially after a recent survey showed many staff and faculty lack trust in leadership.

“There is a pattern of affected parties not feeling like they have had an adequate opportunity to voice concerns, in some cases even discovering termination of programs only after the decision has been made,” said candidate Colleen Cunningham, pointing to the elimination of the track and cross country programs and the Brown and Gold Club for seniors.

Most candidates said the top priority will be finding the right fit for the college’s next president.

“I believe the board has an opportunity to begin building bridges with the faculty,” candidate Lori Bell said. “I believe the next president will need to restore relations between faculty and administration. We can do so by respecting their time and work, allowing them to be a part of the process, and listen to the members of the faculty when they try to talk to us.”

Newcomer Laura Smith-Everett emphasized finding a president with an academic background and track record of building relationships across organizations. She also wants the college to develop policies and programs to better support students from diverse backgrounds.

Nancy Ingram, an incumbent, is campaigning on the need for more mental health services for students. Newcomer Jameia Haines wants to improve workforce training with better career and technical education programs. And Musil emphasized the need for a sustainable budget and affordable tuition rates.

Johnson County voters will cast ballots for three of the six candidates.

Water board

The Johnson County water board, overseeing the area’s water supply, also has been one of the most contested races.

The race is usually overlooked, but on Tuesday, nine candidates are competing for four seats on the seven-member panel. Some longtime incumbents have attributed the large number of candidates to Democratic recruitment efforts. But many first-time candidates have said they were inspired to run because of concerns about climate change, the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, plus critical infrastructure problems with Wichita’s water system.

Residents will vote for all four at-large seats on the WaterOne board:

Board member 1: Incumbent Terrance Frederick and newcomer Melanie Kraft.

Board member 2: Incumbent Robert Olson and opponent Greg Mitchell.

Board member 6: Newcomers Ullyses Wright, Whitney Wilson and Dave Vander Veen.

Board member 7: Incumbent Mark Parkins and opponent Chris Stelzer.

Overland Park

The Overland Park City Council race is also one to keep an eye on, as each seat is contested.

Main talking points among candidates this election have been the use of tax breaks for development projects, plus whether the city should implement a public comment period during meetings.

Twelve candidates are running for six seats.

Ward 1: Incumbent Terry Happer Scheier and newcomer Holly Grummert.

Ward 2: Incumbent Paul Lyons and challenger Roger Tarbutton.

Ward 3: Newcomers Tom Carignan and Stephan Glentzer.

Ward 4: Incumbent Fred Spears and opponent Dan Osman.

Ward 5: Incumbent Faris Farassati and newcomer Phil Bressler.

Ward 6: Incumbent Rick Collins and challenger Scott Hamblin.

Shawnee Mission school board

Improving transparency, building trust with the community and working to attain equity among students are among the top issues for Shawnee Mission school board candidates.

The school district has been criticized for not engaging the community during planning for facility and policy changes. Board members are tasked with overseeing a potential $177 million bond issue next year to fund new schools and facility improvements. The board also is working to implement a new district-wide strategic plan, which in part aims to improve educational equity as the district grows.

Challengers have called on the district to examine its policies for school resource officers, after a 13-year-old was handcuffed and arrested for pointing a finger gun at classmates. Incumbents did not comment on the issue.

Voters will cast ballots for three seats on the board. Incumbent Brad Stratton is running unopposed.

Member 1: Incumbent Sara Goodburn and newcomers Brian Koon and Lisa Feingold.

Member 3: Newcomers Brian Brown and Jessica Hembree.

Member 5: Newcomers Devin Wilson and Jamie Borgman.

Olathe

The top issue on many voters’ minds in Olathe has been whether the city will finally adopt protections for the LGBTQ community.

Olathe is the only one of Johnson County’s “big five” cities that has not adopted a nondiscrimination ordinance, aiming to protect the LGBTQ community from being denied housing, employment or services from businesses because of sexual orientation or gender identity. Gay rights advocates have criticized the Council for putting off the decision until after the election.

Johnson County voters will cast ballots for three City Council members. Mayor Michael Copeland is running unopposed.

At-Large: Incumbent John Bacon and newcomer Alan Marston.

Ward 1: Incumbent Larry Campbell and challenger Colby White.

Ward 2: Incumbent Jim Randall and opponent Adam Mickelson.

Other races

Shawnee mayor and City Council: Mayor: Incumbent Michelle Distler and Stephanie Meyer. Ward 1: Incumbent Jim Neighbor and Tammy Thomas. Ward 2: Incumbent Eric Jenkins and Andy Rondon. Ward 3: Kurt Knappen and Dawn Rattan. Ward 3 (two-year unexpired term): Incumbent Lisa Larson-Bunnel and Kevin Straub. Ward 4: Jill Chalfie and Kris Durbin.

Lenexa City Council: Ward 1: Chris Poss and Courtney Eiterich. Ward 4: Linda Leeper and Julie Sayers.

Prairie Village City Council: Ward 2: Incumbent Serena Schermoly and Inga Selders. Ward 3: Bonnie Limbird and Lauren Wolf. Ward 5: Incumbent Courtney McFadden and David Scott Morrison.

Merriam City Council: Ward 1: Jason Silvers and John Canterbury. Ward 2: Dan Leap and Whitney Yadrich. Ward 3: Amy Carey and Bruce Kaldahl. Ward 4: Incumbent Bob Pape and Staci Chivetta.

Blue Valley school board: At-large: Incumbent Tom Mitchell and Ashish Patel. Member 2: Incumbent Patrick Hurley and Renee Bartholome. Member 3: Jodie Dietz and Stephanie James.

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Sarah Ritter covers Johnson County for The Kansas City Star. Formerly a reporter for the Quad-City Times, Sarah is a graduate of Augustana College.
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