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Observer Corps Reports

Eileen Marshall  | Published on 12/1/2020

Johnson County Board of County Commissioners

Meeting dates: Oct. 15 through Nov. 13 (most recent appears first)

Observers: Lenore Rowe, Kathleen Morrow, Joan Gilson, Karen Wiederaenders

 

These observations were conducted online through the Johnson County, KS On Base program and through FaceBook Live (closed captioned.)  For more information see https://boccmeetings.jocogov.org/onbaseagendaonline

  

Nov. 13, 2020


Meeting as the Board of Public Health, the Johnson County Board of Commissioners heard reports from area hospitals and schools, which are at the point of overload. After several hours of public comments against any restrictions, the Board passed an emergency order reducing public mass gatherings to 50 people, limiting certain business capacities, and mandating that bars and restaurants close for in-seat service at 12 a.m., a compromise from the requested 10 p.m. This order went into effect Monday, November 16, 2020. 
You can read the order here: 
https://boccpublichealthorder

  

Nov. 12, 2020


Commissioner Mike Brown attended via Zoom. 

  

PUBLIC COMMENTS

Six people commented. 

ACTION AGENDA

The Board approved a number of items, including an agreement with the Mid-America Regional Council and the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment for $400,000 for access to hospital capacity information and the deployment of COVID-19 testing teams. 

REPORTS AND COMMUNICATIONS 

Management Reports—the city of De Soto will hold a public hearing on tax abatement. 

COVID-19 Funding and Expense Reports—There was an increased allocation of $1,700,000 to Blue Valley School District, Gardner Edgerton School District, Johnson County Fire District #1 and other entities. 

COVID-19 Update—Dr. Areola reported 238 deaths this week. The positivity rate of 14.5% is a sharp upward trend, indicating an exponential increase. Hospitalizations and new cases continue to climb, with 91% of the cases in ages 69 or younger, and COVID-19 is clearly affecting younger people. Specific sources of infections are weddings, private businesses, basketball games, gymnastics, restaurants, and bars. One local private school was forced to close for two weeks because of too many positive cases. Three day care centers have shut down. 

  

Nov. 5, 2020


Vice Chairperson Mike Brown called the meeting to order. Chairperson Ed Eilert attended via Zoom. 

  

PUBLIC COMMENTS

Four people commented. 

ACTION AGENDA

All items were approved, including a maintenance contract with Innio for service to two biogas-powered generators in a wastewater treatment plant; and a contract for $5,000,000 for COVID-19 test kits and processing. 

The Board voted to continue the resolution concerning the adoption of the 2021 Johnson County Legislative Platform until Dec. 3, 2020. 

REPORTS AND COMMUNICATIONS

A highlight of the financial report is the Triple A Bond rating for this fall. Thirty-five employees were furloughed during the pandemic. 

Dr. Areola reported an exponential increase in COVID-19 numbers, largely among 20 to 59 year olds, as a result of gatherings at weddings, football watch parties and church events

COMMENTS 

Commissioner Fast commended the Election Commissioner for their efficient, speedy work last Tuesday, publishing results by 8:15 p.m. 

Commissioner Hanzlick announced that the election canvass will be held on Nov. 11 at 9 a.m. and Thursday Nov. 12 at 4 p.m., to be live streamed on the County website and Facebook. 

            
Oct. 29, 2020

 

Election Commissioner Connie Schmidt reported on the election, acknowledging an outstanding performance by both full time and temporary employees, who have created a safe experience for voters in a big presidential election and in a pandemic. Ballots are being returned quickly: the county reports 164,486 mailed ballots, with 122, 027 returned to the Election Office so far. Seventy-eight percent of ballots left in drop boxes have been collected, 1,500 ballots sent overseas (Afghanistan, Iceland and more) with 960 returned. 

Voter registration has increased 24% with current voter turnout at 80%. So far, a total of 215,362 people have voted. On Election Day next week 76 locations will open, and Commissioner Schmidt commented that “Every election is a nation-wide celebration of democracy!” After the polls close on election night, the order of reporting will be (1) advanced ballots by mail, (2) in-person early votes, and (3) election day votes. They will continue to count eligible votes received by Friday, Nov. 11, 2020. The count will be audited and live-streamed on Nov. 11, 9 a.m., and certified on Nov. 12. The deadline for the recount is Nov.13, 2020. Chairperson Eilert commended Commissioner Schmidt and her team.  

PUBLIC COMMENTS

Six people commented, one person in support of public health and masking measures, and five who objected to all public health measures.

BUSINESS SESSION

The Board voted to approve contracts with several health care organizations for home health care services, allowing residents to access care at lower costs and avoid institutional care. Commissioners Hanzlick and Klika requested that the county elevate this issue, addressing prevention and safety, especially in light of the increased risk of exposure to COVID-19 for the elderly in long term care facilities. 

The Board also approved the submission of plans to the HUD Advisory Committee for Community Development Block grant and Home Investment Partnerships. Commissioner Hanzlick asked about using a portion of these funds to address the problem of homelessness, but a 15% cap on public service for these funds is a factor here. The county is currently involved in talks for a shelter here. 


REPORTS AND COMMUNICATION

COVID-19 Funding Report—Chairperson Eilert thanked the assistant county manager for correcting the issue related to the grant for video cameras to Scheels Soccer Complex.  A grant for $16,000 was made to Roeland Park United Methodist Church for a food pantry. The county will use this excellent program as a template to inform other churches about similar possible projects. 

Dr. Areola reported that COVID-19 numbers are trending up to new highs and that the Health Department is working with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment about reporting issues. Last week’s error had no impact on numbers of cases reported, and there are very few errors in light of the massive amount of data being reported. The recent study by the University of Kansas supports the effectiveness of mask mandates in suppressing the spread of disease. 

Upward trends can be attributed to more young people mingling in crowds in a mistaken effort to build up herd immunity, a false theory. The County is working with schools to limit secondary transmission, and Dr. Areola has notified school superintendents that numbers are increasing exponentially and expected to continue to do so. He has informed schools that indoor sports are high risk and not recommended, and that school districts must be aware of that risk. The goal is to continue masking and safe activities only, in order to keep schools open. 

Johnson County is now in the Red category. Dr. Areola stated that schools are doing an excellent job of mitigating transmission at this point. 

Elizabeth Holzschuh, county epidemiologist, reported that community transmission, not schools, is driving the increase in cases. We still have much to learn about the serious long-term effects of “Long Covid,” persistent pulmonary and cardiac damage, even in children. 

There are current challenges to data collection on hospital beds. Hospitals are experiencing some staffing shortages, and bed numbers are difficult to assess otherwise; also, neonatal and cardiac ICU’s cannot be substituted for COVID-19 beds. 

On another note, influenza rates are not reportable, by Kansas statute, and the county must rely on voluntary reporting by school districts and hospitals.

COMMENTS 

Commissioner Hanzlick reported that free flu shots are available to the uninsured through the Mercy and Truth Medical Mission, which will hold a clinic on Saturday, Oct. 31 at Trailridge Middle School. One doctor in the county has already had a patient with both flu and COVID-19. 

The Board agreed to Commissioner Brown’s request to continue the discussion of the county legislative priorities until he’s had time to read these. 

  

Oct. 22, 2020

 

The United Way Campaign was introduced. 

  

PUBLIC COMMENTS

Six people made public comments, two comments against masking and other public health measures; one comment expressing disapproval of the county granting CARES money to Overland Park for video equipment for the soccer complex, and one individual calling for safer polling places with respect to armed individuals and the risk of violence by white supremacist groups. 

ACTION AGENDA

A public hearing was held and a motion approved to issue $278,415,690 of industrial revenue bonds for the New Century AirCenter business park. This project will allow Johnson County to participate in the coming boom in supply chain development resulting from the pandemic. Charlotte O’Hara, candidate for the BOCC, commented against increasing taxes. The Board also approved $12,893,000 in CARS Funding for County/City road projects.  Because the fund has decreased by $1.2 million as a result of a decrease in gas tax receipts, only 15 priority projects were approved. 


Oct. 15, 2020

 

PUBLIC COMMENTS 

Because of the large number of people present to make public comments, Chairperson Eilert changed the agenda order to allow half the commenters to begin speaking immediately. Ten people commented, objecting to public health safety measures, including one promoting the discredited Great Barrington Declaration advocating public exposure to disease to build up herd immunity. 

ACTION AGENDA 

All items were approved, including the issuance of Refunding Bonds. The meeting was adjourned and re-convened for the Public Building Commission meeting. 

PBC AGENDA 

The Board approved motions to fund improvements to the Central Resource Library (partly to improve the security of the children’s area), and $350,000 to renovate the facility at 9011 Roe for use by Med Act. 

PUBLIC COMMENTS (continued) 

Nine more individuals made public comments objecting to masks. One individual wearing an Allenbrand for Commission T-shirt concluded the comments with a plea for more wide-spread mask use and safety measures.

REPORTS AND COMMUNICATIONS 

The Motor Vehicle Division continues to improve services for both hybrid and virtual services for title drop off. An instructional video for county residents is available on the County website. 

The COVID-19 Relief Fund Reimbursement report included approximately $1,000,000 to Blue Valley School District for PPE and distance learning costs. The Phase Three section also includes reimbursements to the Kansas City Foundation for Pulmonary Fibrosis (a category of high-risk patients especially impacted by COVID-19) for pulse oximeters and spirometers, and to the Mercy and Truth Medical Mission, which provides healthcare to the uninsured. 

Drs Areola and LeMaster and Epidemiologist Elizabeth Holzschuh reported on COVID-19 numbers. The percentage of deaths under age 60 is creeping up. Major transmission now is through school sports and house parties. Dr. LeMaster explained the logical fallacy of reverse causation to Commissioner Brown in answer to Brown’s confusion about mask wearing causing an increase in COVID-19 cases. 

COMMISSION COMMENTS 

Commissioner Hanzlick issued a plea for masks and social distancing by individuals who make public comments in order to protect the free speech rights of those who would like to comment in favor of public health measures but fear exposure to disease. Commissioner Hanzlick also mentioned that COVID-19 Phase Three funds are available to the community through Johnson County Community College for workforce training.  


Olathe School Board

Nov. 5, 2020

Submitted by Cindy Hicks


The Olathe School Board met on November 5, 2020 for its regular monthly meeting. The following items were discussed:

  1. American Education Week will be Nov. 16 through Nov. 20 this year. This will be the 99th year. 

  2. The Superintendent reviewed the COVID-19 gating criteria and provided the stats for the Olathe School District. At this point in time, the district will stay in the hybrid model for the middle and high schools. Elementary will stay with the in-person model.

  3. The district is planning on following up with both teachers and students in the near future, to obtain their input regarding the hybrid model.

To read more click here.


Shawnee Mission School Board

Oct. 12, 2020

Submitted by Lisa Bonds


The special workshop meeting started with public comments; the comments all covered the district’s response to the COVID-19 crisis. The majority of the meeting discussed the bond issue and the continued reopening of schools under the Johnson County gating requirements. 


The district plans a mail-out ballot election in January, and the board heard information on the three plans to help them decide which plan to put before the voters. The purpose of the bond is to employ more secondary teachers in order to reduce the workload on teachers, so the district has the capacity to create more individual learning opportunities. Should the bond pass, custodians can be paid out of the capital fund, freeing up money in operations to hire more teachers. The bond would then cover capital to upgrade 4-6 buildings, depending on the plan. There are three options: (a) no tax increase and fewest improvements; (b) largest tax increase most improvements; and (c) smaller tax hike and ‘middle of the road’ improvements. No decision was reached at this meeting.


A representative from the Johnson County Health Department explained the new method the county is using to determine the school gating criteria. The changes mostly surrounded who is counted as being tested. Instead of each test being counted, the people who are tested multiple times are only counted once. Superintendent Fulton reported on the current reopening situation. Elementary school students are back in class while the secondary students are still remote.  


Shawnee Mission School Board

Oct. 26, 2020

Submitted by Lisa Bonds


The meeting opened with Superintendent Fulton’s report. Highlights included a new district level COVID-19 dashboard and the district is working with the Shawnee Mission Foundation to provide seniors with more college scholarships. The board also approved the purchase of MacBooks for para-professionals working in math classrooms. The MacBooks will provide paras with more support than the current IPads. CARES Act money will be used to make the purchase. CARES Act money will also be used to employ five school nurses to replace nurses who are busy contact tracing during this school year.  


The rest of the meeting was dedicated to the bond issue. The board unanimously approved Plan C (as outlined in the previous meeting), accepted a mail out ballot in January and hired the architecture and contract firms. Plan C includes a tax increase of $8 annually per $100,000 home value [8.142 mill increase]. The tax rate will increase to 10.232 mills in 2026-2027 and to 11.208 in 2032-2033. The bond is for 18 years. 


Shawnee Mission School Board

Nov. 10, 2020

Submitted by Lisa Bonds

Special Meeting on Covid response 


The meeting started with a statement from the Johnson County Health Department. The Health Department stated that although the COVID-19 cases are increasing at a tremendous rate, they do not support the closing of schools, but do recommend winter sports be postponed. The district also reported its findings on the pandemic. The district’s dashboard shows 53 staff cases with 10 from the community and 42 unknown and 315 students with 43 from the community and 269 unknown. The district is concerned because they are finding it difficult to fill substitute positions, and if they are unable to staff the schools the district or individual schools may be forced back into remote learning without a two week warning. 


The meeting was called because winter sports were to start on Nov. 16, and since the county stated that sports should be postponed, Superintendent Fulton wanted guidance on the county’s recommendation on sports. The board gave Fulton the power “to be more or less restrictive on sports” but only more restrictive on academics. The vote was 4-3 with Ousley, Guy and Hambree opposing. [The district did start winter sports on Nov. 16.] 


Shawnee Mission School Board

Nov. 16, 2020

Submitted by Lisa Bonds


The meeting opened with a public comment period. The two subjects the community discussed were requesting the district change the mascot of Shawnee Mission North Indians and the district failing to follow the county’s health recommendations. 


The morning of Nov. 16, Superintendent Fulton announced that secondary schools would be back to remote learning on Nov. 30. He stated he hoped to keep elementary students in the classroom, but the spread of COVID-19 could force the district to close the elementary schools also. The district is concerned that they will not be able to fill the staffing needs as the pandemic continues to spread. 


The majority of the meeting discussed the district's equality and diversity plans and results. Training has been slowed because of the pandemic. The district plans on using the ACT results as one piece of evidence to evaluate the program. Also the board voted to allow the district to contract for custodial services. 


To read more click here.


Overland Park City Council 

Oct. 19, 2020

Submitted by Janet Milkovich


The City Council met at the Overland Park Convention Center with 11 members present and one member participating virtually. The meeting lasted nearly seven hours.


Two residents made public comments.

1. One stated that there is a crisis of confidence in the city government based on a lawsuit filed by the KC Star plus the FBI investigation. He requested transparency and listening by city leaders. He also objected to the arrest of protesters on July 24 and asked council members to provide services for the vulnerable.

2. The father of slain officer Michael Mosher thanked the city leaders and residents for honoring his son. Later in the meeting, Resolution 4657 was introduced to name a street Mike Mosher Blvd.


City Manager Bill Ebel asked the council to approve Cares Act funding for two projects. Cares Act funding is allocated to the county by the state. The Board of County Commissioners approved two of the multiple requests submitted by OP: 

1. Res. 4649 for video conferences services and hardware not to exceed $475,728. The request passed unanimously. 

2. Res. 4649 for construction of a video broadcast platform at Scheels OP Soccer Complex not to exceed $350,000. There was discussion about whether or not this was an appropriate use of Cares Act funds. The request passed by a vote of 10 to 2.


The majority of the meeting was devoted to citizen input.

1. Citizens appealed to the council to not act on the Community Development Committee’s recommendation to remove a fence at Westlink Golf Course. The council voted 11-1 to give citizens 120 days to meet with city staff and work on a compromise agreement. 

2. Citizens voiced objections to the height and density of the proposed apartment complex at Ranch Mart. The council voted to send the project back to the Planning Commission.

 

Overland Park City Council 

Nov. 2, 2020

Submitted by Janet Milkovich


All 12 members of the Council were present at the meeting which moved back to the chamber at City Hall. Mayor Gerlach participated remotely due to quarantine from exposure to COVID-19.


Public Comments

1. It was suggested that flags be flown on light posts in the OP business district.

2. The Commander of the American Legion Post expressed his appreciation for the work of the City Council. 

3. A member of the VFQ and the American Legion Post also thanked the City Council for their work.


Fred Spears, Council President, had no report but expressed thanks and appreciation for former City Council member Donna Owens, who asked for a Public Comments time to be added to the regular meeting some years ago. It should be noted that Mr. Spears has twice asked the FAED Committee to claw back the Public Comments time in the meeting. See previous observer reports.


Police Chief Donchez announced plans for a Dec. 18 Operation Rudolph. Thirty-two 6th grade students will be taken shopping to purchase non-essential Christmas gifts for their families. Essential items will be provided by the Fraternal Order of the Police. Children will also be provided lunch and supplies to wrap the gifts.


The Public Safety Committee announced that the Oct. 24 Drug Take Back netted 533 pounds of drugs from their 10 collection sites. Unused drugs can be deposited in the kiosk of any police station any time. Since the take back program was started in 2011, 1,992 pounds of drugs have been collected.

The Mental Health Task Force is moving into the recommendation phase and will be bringing their plan to the Committee of the Whole at some future date. 


No mention was made of the city’s decision to not move forward with using CARES Act funding to purchase a video platform for the Scheel’s Soccer Complex. 

 

Overland Park City Council 

Nov. 16, 2020

Submitted by Janet Milkovich


The Council met at the City Hall Council Chamber with 10 present and 2 participating remotely. Going forward, meetings will return to a virtual format due to the spike in COVID infections.


Public Comments

1. Regarding the traffic lights removal and traffic study in OP and observed impact on those who live in the area

2. One person asked for a fine to be assessed for people and businesses who do not comply with the mask order. 


Public Hearing for 2022-2026 Five-Year Financial Plan, Capital Improvements Program and Maintenance Program 


There were no in-person comments but the Environmental Action Committee (EAC) submitted written comments urging the use of solar energy for city buildings.


Special Recognition

OP resident Jennifer Parker was recognized for creating a Tiny Food Pantry in her front yard. She and her husband constructed and stocked the food pantry for three weeks and then used the NextDoor app to ask other neighbors to participate. A homeless person left a note in the pantry to thank her. In response, another neighbor provided camping gear for the homeless to use. People are also donating personal hygiene products and food. The response has been heartening. There is no city ordinance prohibiting the construction of Tiny Food Pantries.


Thompson Park received an Excellence in Construction Award from the Associated Builders and Contractors of America.


MARC

The Mid-America Regional Council (MARC) has been focusing on the coordination of the regional response to COVID-19. An update on the economic recovery indicated that the region is halfway back to pre-pandemic employment and economic activity.


To read more, click here.


Prairie Village City Council

Oct. 19, 2020

Submitted by Nancy Kalikow Maxwell


The Prairie Village City Council met virtually, and livestream was available on Facebook. As part of his Mayor’s Report, Eric Mikkelson reported that several meetings had taken place with developers exploring options for expanding affordable housing in the city and transforming the former Macy’s building into office and retail space. He hopes to bring more information to the Council on these projects in the future.


The Mayor also mentioned that COVID-19 infection rates in the County have increased among 20-29-year-olds, but older adults continue to make up the bulk of deaths from the disease. 


Chief of Police Tim Schwartzkopf reported that the city, along with federal and county officials, have plans in place to ensure polling places will be safe on Election Day. 


Following an extensive presentation about the historical trails that ran through Prairie Village, the Council voted unanimously to forward the idea of installing signage about these neighborhood historic trails to staff for further development. 


Prairie Village City Council

Nov. 2, 2020

Submitted by Eileen Marshall 


Notable items:

  1. The Mayor gave an update on Covid-19 in Prairie Village and encouraged everyone to continue wearing masks, washing hands, and physically distancing even though most of us are tired and want to get back to normal. Cases are increasing in Johnson County.

  2. Teen Council members for the current school year were introduced. These young people will “shadow” elected council members and learn about local government processes.

  3. The Diversity Task Force continues to meet and will provide recommendations to Council at a future meeting. The purpose of the group is to recommend steps likely to attract a more diverse population to the city.

Prairie Village City Council

Nov. 16, 2020

Submitted by Nancy Kalikow Maxwell


The Prairie Village City Council met virtually, with livestream available on Facebook. The meeting began with an upbeat report about the status of the Meadowbrook Park project. Jeff Stewart from the Johnson County Parks and Recreation Department reported that the Park, which opened in 2017, had been awarded the Capstone Award for 2020. Usage of the Park had broken all previous records, with more than 40,000 people using the trails in September and 33,000 in October. Future project plans being considered include adding a sculpture garden, public art, additional pickle ball courts, and more lighting. Justin Duff from Van Trust reported that the sales and occupancy of the development’s commercial and retail projects, including townhomes, single family homes, Kessler apartments, senior living facility, hotel, and restaurants, are all meeting expectations, which is remarkable given the pandemic. 


Following the Park report, Christina Ashie Guidry from United Community Services, reported that the non-profit organizations they support have effectively pivoted to provide services needed in light of the pandemic. The Council unanimously approved the 2021 continued contribution of funds to USC for grant distribution.


In his Mayor’s report, Mayor Mikkelson praised the police, elections workers and volunteers for the execution of a smooth and effective recent election. He announced that the Diversity Task Force had met and will be bringing recommendations to the Council in the coming months. 


To read more, click here.


Mission City Council

Nov. 18, 2020

Submitted by Jeannine Linnane


Council approved without opposition raising the expenditure cap for the Capital Improvement Fund by $288,682. The increase brought the fund’s total expenditure cap to $2.3 million; the excess was covered by money already in the fund. The extra expense was necessary in part because of a class action settlement for the city’s Transportation Utility Tax, also referred to as the “driveway tax.” The settlement was reached after the 2020 budget was adopted in 2019.

The council also adopted a new ordinance requiring owners to clear snow and ice from public walkways on their property within 48 hours of a storm. Owners will receive a warning at first and have 24 hours to clear the snow or ice before being assessed with a fine.