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Observer Corps Report

Eileen Marshall | Published on 3/1/2022

Johnson County Board of Commissioners

Meeting dates: Jan. 13, 2022 through Feb.10, 2022 (most recent appears first)

Observers: Lenore Rowe, Joan Gilson, Jerry Gilson, Kathleen Morrow, Rebecca James


Go to Meetings are also available at


Feb. 10, 2022


Both virtual and in-person public comments were made. Planning Commission members Dave Johns, Randy Hutchins and James R. Neese were reappointed.


The Board held a public hearing and voted to fund the construction phase of the Metcalf and 103rd Interceptor Relocation and Capacity Improvements Project, not to exceed $8,551,400. This is a wastewater project: upgrading our wastewater system means that we won't be putting polluted water into the river. Currently Kansas City, MO treats our water, adding to County costs. This project is funded through rates, not taxes.


The Board voted to authorize several Wastewater projects, including monitoring services, construction and improvements for Turkey Creek.


The Board held a public hearing during which two people commented, one to object to solar energy installations. The Board voted to dissolve the Sunflower Community Redevelopment Authority, originally instituted in 2005, and approve an amendment to the Predevelopment Agreement between Johnson County and Sunflower Redevelopment LLC for the Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant property. This amendment acknowledges the annexation of this acreage by De Soto and protects the County, assuring construction of necessary infrastructure, fire protection, etc. 


The Legislative Update indicated that after several years of record high housing prices and low inventory, several bills are now in the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee, including the following:


SB 369—Allows a tax credit for qualifying low-income housing projects, to be heard Feb. 9.


SB 375—Provides tax credits for investment in residential housing projects in underserved rural and urban communities to accommodate new employees, to be heard Feb. 9.


SB 376—Generally expands current Kansas housing programs, such as the Kansas Rural Housing Incentive District, to allow use of bond proceeds for construction of residential homes to include the city of Topeka, and to expand loans and grants to rural communities to include manufactured or modular housing. The hearing is set for Feb. 7.


The COVID-19 Update indicated improving numbers, although the positivity rate of 17.8% is still high. Vaccination rate is at 67% with two shots. Hospitalization rates are still high, and residents are encouraged to get vaccinated and to wear masks.


Feb. 8, 2022 – Special Meeting


The purpose of the meeting was to vote on the Board returning to hybrid in-person/virtual meetings. The Board voted unanimously to return to that status after reports from Dr. Areola and County Manager Postoak Ferguson.


Dr. Areola reported that infection numbers, although still higher than before the Omicron surge, are trending down. Both Dr. Areola and County Manager Postoak Ferguson thanked the Board for taking speedy action to move to virtual operations and maintain continuity of government during the recent surge, when the rate of staff and employee absences soared by 3,000 times. 


Most recently, however, numbers have declined, with 54 employees testing positive on Feb. 4th.  Dr. Areola stated that meetings can safely return to hybrid virtual/in-person meetings with social distancing, limited numbers of people in the room, and other mitigation measures. Public comments can be made both virtually and in person.


Feb. 3, 2022


In response to abusive comments threatening County staff by the public on the Board Facebook page, the Commissioners took legal advice and voted to move virtual meetings from the Facebook platform over to YouTube.


Some individuals made public comments, which the Chair noted were the personal opinions of those people. 


The Board approved the reappointments of  Heather Rubesch – First District representative to the Park and Recreation Commission through Jan. 31, 2025; Robert J Carlson – Fourth District representative to the Park and Recreation Commission through Jan. 31, 2025;  Leslee Rivarola – Fifth District representative to the Park and Recreation Commission through Jan. 31, 2025;  Keith Johnson- Sixth District Representative of the Fire District No.1 Governing Board through July 1, 2024; and of Walt McDaniel- Sixth District Representative of the Northwest Consolidated Fire District through Dec. 31, 2024.


The City of De Soto conducted a public hearing and passed Ordinance No. 2527, establishing the redevelopment district for the former Sunflower Ammunition Plant. Chairperson Eilert noted that this area has been blighted for many years. Even though the US Army has cleaned up part of it, more clean-up is necessary, and the development is welcome. Commissioner Ashcraft noted that the proposed TIF covers 6,000 acres, but the entire project is 9,000 acres. Eilert explained that the remaining 3,000 acres is part of the County, not De Soto. The Army continues to be active there. Light industry, retail and apartments are part of the proposed project.


A motion would be needed at this meeting if the project should be vetoed. Commissioner O’Hara objected to the project, arguing that public money would be diverted to private projects. She made a motion to direct chief counsel to prepare a resolution to deny the City of De Soto’s creation of a TIF district. The motion died for lack of a second.


Commissioner Allenbrand noted that the project is in her district and that this is a property where a TIF district is badly needed. Mike Brungardt, De Soto city administrator, requested that the BOCC support the project as an “enormous opportunity for job creation” and economic success.  He noted that the city has been preparing for this project for years. Three private dollars are required to be spent for every public dollar captured by the TIF. 


Commissioner Allenbrand made a motion to direct staff to prepare a resolution supporting the creation of the De Soto TIF district. Commissioner Fast seconded the motion. Commissioners O’Hara and Ashcraft requested delay and further discussion to seek more information before approval, but it was noted that De Soto and the County have worked for many years to find an appropriate use for this land. After more discussion by Commissioner O’Hara, the motion passed 5-2, with O’Hara and Ashcraft casting "No" votes. De Soto has been transparent in this process, providing an information packet and public hearings. The Kansas Department of Health also has a website providing information on the project:, and De Soto has information packets available .


Legislative Update--The Senate Local Government Committee held hearings this week on SB325, which pertains to zoning requirements and the recording of easements and leases for wind and solar energy projects. After July 1, 2022, this bill would require that before project developers could secure a building or special use permit, the property must be zoned industrial, eliminating the use of the numerous acres of prairie and agricultural property that would be appropriate for wind and solar installations.


HB 2543, which the County worked hard on, is circulating in the legislature now. Short Title: Expanding eligibility for Kansas senior care act services to include Kansas residents younger than 60 years of age with younger-onset Alzheimer's disease.


COVID-19 Update—Federal rental assistance pass-through grants of approximately $38,000,000 have been received. County positivity rate is 24.1%. The rate of fully vaccinated individuals with booster is 39.5%, and fewer than 30% of eligible children are vaccinated. The majority of hospital, and ICU patients are unvaccinated. Numbers of hospitalizations have improved slightly but remain at 863 cases a day, higher than any previous spike.


Commissioner O’Hara made a motion to move meetings back to in-person on Feb. 10th, which failed. The Board voted to have a special meeting via Zoom next Tuesday, Feb. 8th to evaluate COVID-19 infection rates and decide whether to meet in person.


Jan. 27, 2022


Go to, to see meetings online. Board meetings are virtual because of the Pandemic. Information on the pandemic is available at


Some individuals made public comments, which the Chair noted were the personal opinions of those people.


The County Manager presented the CERI report; The unemployment rate for November, 2021 is 2%, compared to 3.6% in November of 2020. The average unemployment rate for November the previous 5 years is 2.9%. The number of single-family homes sold in November 2021 was 925, compared to 1,007 in November 2020, an 8% decrease.


Program Spotlight:  Paul Davis, Director of Emergency Services, and Dan Robeson provided updates on PPE acquisition and distribution. Goals of the program are to stabilize supplies, execute distribution, and develop a reserve, which has been accomplished from 2020 until today. PPE have been delivered to more than 1800 organizations. Last week 150,000 KN95 masks were distributed to cities and schools.


Emergency Communications is experiencing staffing challenges with 20% COVID-19 absences, but remaining staff are pitching in. Fire and EMS calls are answered and dispatched at 87%, with a goal of 90%. Staffing contingency plans are in place. MED-ACT has a 10% staffing challenge. Nine new EMTs have been hired plus 7 paramedics. The contingency plan can manage disasters and crises. Ninety-two percent of Emergency Services employees are vaccinated.


Maury Thompson provided the Legislative Update: To track bills, go to  Testing sites are now open seven days a week. The Office of Emergency Management is working on getting K-95 masks to public and private schools. The shipments should come in soon. In response to Commissioner O’Hara’s comment, Dr. Areola explained that the Pandemic will not reach endemic levels with the current levels of infection, and that the advice to take Zinc to combat COVID-19 is misinformation. Currently hospitals and emergency services face overwhelming caseloads.  


Jan. 13, 2022


This meeting took place virtually only, not in person. County Manager Penny Postoak Ferguson explained that because COVID-19 absences now threaten Continuity of Government, county personnel are encouraged to work from home.


 Chairperson Eilert issued a proclamation honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day on Jan. 17th. County offices will close on that day.


All public comments were virtual, limited to two minutes.


Chairperson Eilert will sign a contract amendment with Election Systems & Software for annual license, maintenance, and support fees for the Election Office’s voting equipment.


After a national search, the Board voted to appoint Harry Heflin, CPA and an internal candidate, to the position of County Auditor effective immediately. Commissioner O’Hara commented, advocating annual financial audits in light of the apparent embezzlement announced in today’s news. Chairperson Eilert explained that this is a District Court matter, and all actions must come from there.


The Board approved a resolution, adopting the use of virtual meetings until Feb.17 (unless numbers indicate otherwise) for Johnson County Government during the rapid rise of COVID-19 cases in the County. The current meeting is by executive order, but further meetings require action by the full Commission. The time period is flexible. The Chairperson would like for a pending item (solar activities) from the Planning Commission to be heard in a public meeting. Also, an action concerning The Sunflower Plant will best be handled in a public meeting.  Commissioner O’Hara objected to future virtual meetings, given vaccines and masking. Commissioner Ashcraft requested hybrid meetings in the chamber.


Johnson County 2021 Charter Commission

Meeting date: Jan. 26, 2022, 4:00 p.m.

Submitted by Alleen VanBebber and Eileen Marshall

Meeting was held on Zoom, pursuant to current county rules regarding COVID-19, and was viewable by the public via Facebook Live.


Votes on five proposed recommendations were taken at this meeting, and all were defeated. There will be no amendments or recommendations forwarded to the BOCC in the final report. Any member, however, is free to submit a minority report containing his or her opinions.

Details (underlining indicates exact wording of proposal):

Proposed recommendation regarding county boards and councils

The BOCC shall review the 32 Johnson County Boards, Commissions, and Councils.

This was a restatement by Randy Hutchins of a recommendation he made at the last meeting. This version was more specific about the boards and councils included and the purpose, which was to standardize, streamline, and “increase accountability to the voters.” It was defeated, 21-1. In general, the members thought it was unnecessary to recommend this to the BOCC, because reviewing county boards and commissions is already under its purview.

Proposed recommendation regarding rural fire districts

Continued effort to move forward on consolidation of rural fire districts in Johnson County.

This was brought by Karin Brownlee with the purpose of achieving “standardization of service” for residents. It was defeated 16-5, because most members think it is already being done to the extent feasible.

Proposed recommendation regarding the Sheriff’s Office

The dialogue with the Charter Commission and the public comments received made apparent a lack of public understanding of the balance of authority between the BOCC and the Sheriff’s office. On one hand, the Sheriff is an elected position with some independent statutory authority. On the other hand, this authority is statutorily circumscribed by the general power of the BOCC to establish personnel policies and procedures and pay plans for county employees and the power to review and approve the budget for the operation of the Sheriff’s office.

The Charter Commission recommends that the BOCC budgetary process include and result in:

  1. A clear statement of the statutory duties of the Sheriff’s office;

  2. A line-item budget which identifies funds required to meet those statutory duties;

  3. A line-item budget which identifies funds for discretionary programs and projects;

  4. A budget total which combines the two and which may not be exceeded without additional approval of the BOCC.

This was proposed by Paula Schwach and had been fully discussed at the last meeting. It was defeated 15-7. 

Proposed recommendation regarding capital improvements in the unincorporated areas

Requesting that the BOCC, with advice from the Township Trustees, spend certain monies from the general fund, reserves, and public works funds of Johnson County on the maintenance and upkeep of roads, bridges, culverts, and overall capital improvements in the unincorporated areas of Johnson County.

This was the latest version of a proposal by Randy Hutchins to increase funding for the unincorporated areas, and was spelled out in lengthy detail. (To see the details, click here.) Discussion centered around the high cost and tradeoffs that would be required for a proposed $50 million expenditure the first year and also the fact that the BOCC already has a process by which funds are allocated. After lengthy discussion, the proposal was defeated 15-7.

Proposed recommendation regarding pay increase for the BOCC

Each Commissioner and the Chair shall be offered an annual salary set at the 2021 salary amount, adjusted annually at the lesser rate of (a) two percent (2%); (b) the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W) for the trailing 12 months; or (c) the average budgeted increase percentage for all county employees. The first adjustment shall occur in Jan. 2023 for the 2023 year. We would recommend that the first adjustment occur in January 2023 for the 2023 calendar year.

This idea had been discussed and defeated as an amendment. Kyle Russell brought it forward as a recommendation. It was defeated 11-10 (one member had left the meeting by the time this vote occurred).

Final Report

The charter-imposed deadline for the Charter Commission to submit its final report is March 1, 2022. The chair stated that a draft report would be circulated to all members and discussed at the next meeting, Feb. 14. The report to the BOCC will show the process followed by the Charter Commission and the timeline and will state that there are no proposed amendments to the charter or recommendations to the BOCC. Any minority reports that a member cares to include with the final report to the BOCC must be submitted to the clerk by close of business, Monday, Feb. 7. 

The meeting was adjourned shortly after 6:00 p.m.

Next meeting: Monday, Feb. 14, 4:00 p.m. – either by Zoom or at the KU Edwards Campus BEST Conference Center (depending on county rules on in-person meetings.)


Johnson County 2021 Charter Commission FINAL MEETING

Meeting date: Feb. 14, 2022, 4:00 p.m.

Submitted by Alleen VanBebber and Eileen Marshall

Meeting was held on Zoom and in-person and was viewable by the public via Facebook Live.

After approving the agenda and the minutes of the previous meeting, the group turned its attention to the final report. According to its own rules, a 10-day period was intended to elapse between the final report being available to all members and a final vote to approve the report. However, this report is simply a factual statement of the process followed by the Charter Commission, and no amendments or recommendations are included. The only requested changes to the draft report as circulated to the group were grammatical in nature. Therefore, it was suggested that the 10-day rule could be suspended, which would allow a final vote on the report at this meeting. Both the vote to suspend the 10-day rule and the vote to approve the report were unanimous. 

Two minority reports have been submitted and will accompany the final report to the BOCC. Charter Commission members have until Friday, Feb. 18 at 5:00 p.m. to add their name to either or both of the minority reports if they choose.

The draft final commission report and the minority reports were available on the Charter Commission website prior to the meeting, under Meetings/Feb 14/Agenda packet.

The meeting was adjourned at 4:45 p.m.

Find the Charter Commission website here.

Johnson County Library Board

Feb. 10, 2022

Submitted by Karen Wulfkuhle

The Johnson County Library Board met virtually on Feb. 10, 2022.  County Librarian Sean Casserly announced his retirement effective July 1, 2022.  The board is reviewing the succession plan and developing a plan to hire a new Librarian.


Unaudited 2021 year-end financials for all funds show revenue of $41,137,805 and expenditures of $39,079,348.  Year-end usage reports are lower than the 2019 peak, due to the impact of COVID-19.  Door count in 2021 was 1.3M, physical circulation 3.4M and digital circulation 1.1M.  Active users (users within 3 years) totaled 167,000.


Central Library, which has undergone a major renovation, will re-open Feb. 22.  Along with the renovation, a new security system has been installed.  The Antioch replacement project is in the design development phase.  Expected closure of the current building is the end of 2023.  De Soto, Spring Hill, Edgerton renewal study will hold a virtual community engagement session on March 3 at 5:30 p.m.


At the January meeting, the board approved a Memorandum of Understanding with the Johnson County Election Office to provide space and cameras for voting drop boxes and early voting locations in 2022.


Find the Library Board website here.


Johnson County Mental Health Advisory Board

Jan. 24, 2022

Submitted by Eileen Marshall

I attended as a substitute for the regular Observers, Mary and Harry Bognich. The meeting was held via Zoom due to the prevalence of COVID-19 in the county.

Director Tim DeWeese noted that there were more than 30 employees out sick today, plus over 30 open positions. This is actually an improvement over the past two weeks.

Harry Heflin from the County Auditor’s Office gave an update on a performance audit just begun regarding workforce recruitment and retention. It is too early for results, and no completion date was given.

Requests for items to be included in the budget for 2023 were briefly discussed.

Director DeWeese noted that this is the 60th year since the opening of the Mental Health Center, AND that it was the happy outcome of a 1959 study of community health by the Johnson County LEAGUE OF WOMEN VOTERS!

To learn more, click here.

Water One Board

Feb. 10, 2022

Submitted by Annette Becker 

The phrase of the day was Key Performance Indicator. Staff will begin doing a deep dive into a few of their key performance indicators at each board meeting for the next year. The main one discussed was Affordability Ratio, meaning the percent of a household’s income spent on water after other basic needs are met. Staff recommends a target of less than 5% of this amount and Water One is currently around 2.6%. It is also the least expensive water in the area. Huzzah. 

The Water One representative for legislative affairs also spoke about work that the House Water Committee in Topeka is doing. It sounds like there is a good bipartisan group on this committee and they spent some time recently with Water One staff looking at facilities and learning more about the process. They have recently introduced a new bill that deals with improving the protection and management of water in Kansas. Check the Friends of the Kaw website for an excellent article by Dawn Buehler for more info on this. ( 

Following is a link to a brief article in the Kansas Reflector regarding refunding of the state water plan and includes a recommendation from Mike Armstrong (the general manager of Water One). e-water-funding/

Stay hydrated!

Olathe School Board

Jan. 13, 2022

Submitted by Cindy Hicks

The Olathe School Board held their regular monthly meeting on Jan. 13, 2022. The following items were discussed:

  1. The three new board members were sworn in.

  2. A reminder that the ballots for the Bond Issue will be mailed in February and must be returned by noon on March 1, 2022.

  3. The 3 main categories for the 2021-2022 legislative priorities are:

    1. Setting high expectations for Olathe students,

    2. Supporting the well-being of Olathe students, and

    3. Providing the resources necessary to provide all students the opportunity to succeed.

Olathe School Board

Feb. 3, 2022

Submitted by Cindy Hicks

The Olathe School Board held their regular monthly meeting on Feb. 3, 2022. The following items were discussed:

  1. Olathe’s Mayor, John Bacon, presented that the Olathe Mayor’s Child Fund raised $150,000.

  2. A reminder that mail-in ballots for the Bond Issue should be received by voters around Feb. 8 or 9, and must be returned to the election office, by mail or drop off, before noon March 1, 2022.

  3. The Board approved that effective Feb. 18, 2022 Olathe schools will implement a masking-optional policy if the absentee rate is below 7%, on a school-by-school basis.

  4. Olathe school district is temporarily changing the requirements for an individual to be a substitute teacher. To be considered, individuals need to be 21 years or older with a high school diploma, recommended by a school administrator, participate in a phone interview and pass a required background check.

To learn more, click here.

Shawnee Mission School Board

Jan. 10, 2022 [Workshop]

Submitted by Lisa Bonds

The meeting opened with April Boyd-Noronha as a new member, and the board elected Dr. Mary Sinclair as the new board president. The board heard from its legislative lobbyist, who warned the board of some trends in the legislature including bills against teaching ‘critical race theory’ and a saving plan that would take public money from school districts for private schools. The board then approved the second semester COVID-19 plan [this was discussed at the special meeting on Jan. 3rd]. The plan includes (1) the district will stop contact tracing; (2) the district will provide testing but there is a two to three day wait for the test; and (3) masking will be required in schools that have over 3% infections or quarantining. 

Jan. 24, 2022

Submitted by Lisa Bonds 

The board members heard a report on the Priority One Health Center which is operated by Marathon Health. The center provides health care for the district’s employees and their families. The cost for the district's health care costs have gone down from $390 to $280 monthly for each employee. [This does not count staff with serious health concerns who receive care in the community and not at the center.]

The board discussed and approved how the district will use $23,743,000 of Care Money [federal money to make up for losses from the pandemic]. The district is allocating half of the money for the next school year and saving the rest of it for the 2023-2024 school year. The money will be spent on improving air quality, more substitute teachers, and more social workers and counselors. 

Finally, the district asked the board to change the mask policy to continue to mask until Feb. 15th. This was necessary because the district lacks the data on which students are quarantining. The board approved this new masking policy. 

Feb. 14, 2022

Submitted by Lisa Bonds 

The district’s administration shared with the board the midyear performance data. The literacy numbers showed the students have not recovered to the pre-pandemic numbers in reaching benchmarks nor growth. In earlier meetings the data showed that losses in literacy were low over the past few years; however, the district saw large drops in the math numbers from the pre-pandemic results. The midyear report showed both faster growth and skill levels with most of the data reaching at or above the pre-pandemic levels in math. 

The board unanimously voted to make masks optional in all schools [since the county is likely to remove the mask requirement in elementary schools]. Mask mandates could return if any school has more than 6% illness absentee rate. Also, masks will be required after spring break until the district determines the county’s COVID-19 levels.

To learn more, click here.

Overland Park City Council

Jan. 24, 2022

Submitted by Nancy Allen

The OP City council met virtually Monday Jan. 24, 2022 

  1. The Public Safety Committee/Staff explained a pilot program for backyard chickens.

    1. The pilot would be 2-year endeavor

    2. Backyard chickens (not roosters) can be kept on lots > ¼ acre.

    3. HOAs can override, and not allow chickens in their HOA.

    4. Comments of support

      1. Saves council members time and Overland Park civic money, as this will work toward resolution

      2. Quarter acre is bigger than many think

      3. Will information on sanitary requirements be developed? 

    5. Comments of concern

      1. Current process requires neighbors’ notifications, but this process does not. No recourse if chickens are next door

      2. Doesn’t see it being reversed after the pilot since the cost of coops, chickens, etc. is expensive. A yea vote here means they are probably here to stay.

Overland Park City Council

Feb. 7, 2022

Submitted by Nancy Allen

The OP City council met at 7:30 p.m. I attended virtually.

  1. Approved a 2-year pilot for Bird Scooters and E-bikes. Scooters will shut down near city limits if the adjacent city does not have an agreement with Bird Scooters. OP scooters will work in Prairie Village, but not in Lenexa. Look for scooters as soon as April 15, 2022, sooner if the weather is nice. E-bikes will be available around July 1st.

  2. The Council narrowly approved a rewritten development plan for the Metcalf 108 project. The developer was not able to find tenants for the previously approved office building, so was back at the City Council to request changing the plan to apartments (220 units, with 22 apartments rented at lower than market rate). The developer would then go on to request tax increment financing to build a parking structure. There is not enough land for parking for 220 units, therefore a parking structure is required. What I learned is that spots in surface parking lots cost approximately seven thousand dollars each and spots in structured parking lots can cost triple that amount. 

    1. Bottom line, the Council will allow the developer to change the development plan, but TIF funds are not guaranteed.

To learn more, click here.

Prairie Village City Council

Jan. 18, 2022

Submitted by Nancy Kalikow Maxwell

The Prairie Village City Council met virtually on Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022. Johnson County Commissioner Becky Fast provided an update on County issues of special concern to Prairie Village, highlighting recent sustainability, mental health, and housing efforts. Dr. Samni Areola, County Director of Health and Environment, then provided an update on COVID-19 mitigation strategies, complimenting the Council on their recently-enacted mask mandate. To remedy recent supply shortages, the Council approved spending up to $25,000 to purchase items such as masks and test kits to fight COVID-19. In an attempt to remedy employee shortages, the Council approved an incentive package to recruit and retain City employees and approved hiring a consultant to conduct a comprehensive compensation and benefit study. 

Prairie Village City Council 

Feb. 7, 2022

Submitted by Eileen Marshall

The Council met via Zoom, with public viewing via Facebook.

Affordable Housing --- The City Clerk reported on the new tax rebate program, which provides a rebate of 100% of the City’s portion of property taxes on a residential owner-occupied property to applicants who qualify as “very low-income” households, as defined by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development. About half of the allocation of $20,000 has been used so far, with an average refund of $500.

Recycling --- Council unanimously approved a plan to pay for Sleepyhead Beds (a charitable organization that gives beds to those who need them, primarily children) to pick up residents’ used mattresses in conjunction with large-item trash pickup in the spring. If a mattress is not usable by the charity, it will be recycled instead of being taken to the landfill.

Mental health --- The police chief introduced the new mental health co-responder.

To learn more, click here.