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Observer Corps Report

Eileen Marshall | Published on 6/28/2022

Johnson County Board of Commissioners

May 12 through June 9, 2022 (latest meeting listed first)

Observers: Rebecca James, Lenore Rowe, Joan Gilson

Meetings are also available at and Please use the following link for solar information

June 9, 2022

Public Comments: One citizen thanked the Board for the positive decision on the West Gardner Solar project. Representatives of the Good Faith Network urgently requested a crisis stabilization center and a “Housing First” plan to alleviate homelessness. Another person offered false information about COVID vaccines.

The Elections Office will need approximately 1,300 election workers for the August 2 primary election and approximately 1,800 for the November 8 election. For more information or to apply visit the Elections website:
Election Workers | Johnson County Election Office or call the office at 913-715-6836. 

The Stormwater Management Program has partnered with the company NEER to pilot a machine learning modeling project to predict home and street flooding up to 24 hours in advance of a storm event. Using information from the National Weather Service, the project is located in Northeast Johnson County and includes the Turkey and Brush Creek watersheds.

Legislative Update: Frederico Durst has reported on 483 bills this year. 

Johnson County remains intact in the Third District, and redrawn legislative maps picked up two additional state house seats for us. The delay in approval of the maps resulted in a delayed filing deadline of June 10. Fifteen legislators announced retirements, two in the County (Megan Lynn, Ron Ryckman). All the other county incumbents have already filed.

A significant loss of leadership has occurred for both parties, resulting in an entirely new House leadership team, including Transportation, Education, Water, and other committees. Johnson County will have a total of 27 members in the House, compared to 24 for Sedgwick County. Chairperson Eilert noted that our own legislators need to work together for the benefit of the county. 

Tax Relief: Eligibility of the Homestead Act and SAFESR was expanded, providing Kansas property tax relief for low income seniors, tying current program limits to federal poverty guidelines. The “Golden Years” bill has been tucked into this.

Election Legislation: County officials must work with the Secretary of State to develop a process to require any person who handles a ballot to sign an affidavit detailing spoiled, blank, and advance ballots, among other items. No electronic voting machines may ever be connected to the Internet. If the ballot is postmarked on election day and arrives by the Friday after election day, it will still be counted.

Other Reports - COVID-19: Dr. Areola reported rates of 21.5% positivity and 69.4% vaccinated. Moderna and Pfizer will be offering vaccines for infants and children 6 months to 4 and 5 years old. Cases are up, and older people are urged to mask and avoid crowds. Moderna is working on a vaccine for Omicron. Commissioner Fast asked about educating people about annual COVID-19 boosters. Dr. Areola responded that we have no specific recommendation right now, but the vaccine does wane over time, so will probably require boosters. The second booster is recommended for the immunocompromised, also people 50-plus, four months after the first booster.

Commissioner Hanzlick noted the recent tornado, commenting that it is important to have multiple sources of emergency information. County sirens were all turned on immediately after notification by the National Weather Service. The sirens are owned and maintained by their respective cities. Notify JoCo is a good source of information. Call 913-826-5555 to sign up or go online. NOAA weather radios are also helpful. She thanked our County Emergency Services, Evergy and many neighbors for their response to this emergency. 

SOLAR Special Meeting BOCC, June 6, 2022

Utility Scale Solar Facility

A brisk explanation and discussion of the Utility Scale Solar Project proposed by NextEra for Johnson County was presented. The Board discussed and voted to adopt zoning rules with requirements for timely repair, developer-funded fire equipment, a 2,000-acre size, a 25-year CUP (conditional use permit), and a 1.5-mile buffer.

This vote was reached after about 40 public comments, including individual property owners, representatives of solar developer NextEra, Black and Veatch, Bridging the Gap, the Carpenters’ Union and Kansas Interfaith Action (all of whom testified for the project as originally presented, without “onerous regulations”) and about a dozen people advocating for much smaller development.

The Planning Commission had previously asked for amendments to proposed zoning regulations of Utility Scale Solar farms that would stipulate timely repairs, performance standards related to battery storage facilities, and a requirement for the developer to fund specialized firefighting equipment for the solar facility. Other requests included a 20-year conditional use permit as opposed to 25 years, 1,000 acres versus 2,000, and a two-mile buffer versus a 1.5-mile buffer, as recommended by county staff.

Chairperson Eilert thanked the Planning Commission for all of their hard work on this issue. It was noted that project financing would be difficult to obtain for a 20-year CUP. It was also noted that the average size of Utility Scale Solar Farms across the nation is 2,000 acres. 

June 2, 2022

Commissioner Shirley Allenbrand presided today in the absence of Ed Eilert. 

Leanna Barkley, Chairperson, Johnson County Moms Demand Action, Gun Sense in America, called for an end to the gun crisis, noting that National Gun Violence Awareness Day is on Friday, June 3, 2022, and stating that people are wearing orange to demand action in the honor of the children killed by gun violence, now the number one cause of death for children. Senator Cindy Holscher was also present. 

Public Comments: Individuals commented concerning The Good Faith Network and Project 10-20, noting the county obligation to keep track of the number of persons without housing, about 190 individuals per night. Other individuals objected to Utility Scale Solar Facilities, accused the county of violating state statutes and also objected to gun safety measures. Another person made inaccurate statements concerning COVID-19 funds and vaccines. 

The Board approved a request from Allenbrand-Drews and Associates, Inc. and Edwin and Judy Colson, landowners, to rezone about 5,512.2 square feet of property to Planned Residential Urban Single-Family 1B zoning for one residential lot to be known as Colson Place, at 15645 Lake Road 4 Street. Commissioner Allenbrand no longer holds interest in this company. 

The Board authorized funds for Johnson County Wastewater infrastructure improvement projects for $4,099,000 as requested by Susan D. Pekarek, General Manager. Items included in this project are wastewater facility construction projects, nine asset renewal projects, roof replacements, manhole cover replacements, and the Backup Prevention Program, which assists homeowners experiencing stormwater backup issues, among other items. 

As required by the Home Rule Charter, the Board held a public hearing and approved the reorganization of the transportation division and transfer of responsibilities from the Department of Planning, Housing and Community Development into the Public Works Department. The fiscal note for this item is zero. No one from the public commented. 

The Board authorized an exception to competition to purchase fifteen 2022 Ford E450 Glaval Cutaway vehicles from Master’s Transportation Inc, using $826,242 of State Operating Funds, $646,806 of Federal Highway Administration Surface Transportation Program grant funds, and a local match of $258,702, for a total cost of about $1,800,000. Inflation increases of 30-40% and manufacturing delays have impacted this purchase, which is necessary to replace vehicles in need of significant, costly repairs. County paratransit riders depend on the vehicles to be purchased, which are immediately available. 

Susan Pekarek acknowledged the work of Patrick Denning, Asst. Chief Engineer for the Nelson Project, and provided a preview of requests to be presented to the Board in the coming weeks for the Nelson WasteWater project. Supply chain difficulties and inflation will impact the project, so construction risk managers have been hired to mitigate these challenges. We have a “Buy American” requirement for iron and steel.

Project updates were given on the Antioch Library replacement, the Med-Act Lenexa Facility, and Mid-America Sports Complex Improvements, among others. 

The City of Olathe will conduct a public hearing on June 7 to consider approving a 50% property tax abatement for 10 years for a project by Scannell Properties at the northwest corner of 159
th Street and Old Highway 56 in the I-35 Logistics Park: The proposed project will be financed with $48,850,000 in industrial revenue bonds. 

Commissioner O’Hara made a motion to bar truck traffic on all county secondary roads unless designated as a truck route. Commissioner Ashcraft seconded the motion. The motion was tabled by a vote of four to two pending further information from county Staff. It was supported only by O’Hara and Ashcraft. The remaining commissioners agreed that the motion was vague and incomplete.

Commissioner Hanzlick noted that June is LGBTQ+ Pride month, stating that she is proud to live in a community where all people are welcome. 

May 26, 2022

Public Comments: A full audience was present for public comments. These remarks included complaints about a county audit and refunds, the county Internet, the Utility Scale Solar Facility project, COVID-19 vaccines, property taxes, and safety issues on the roads around the Intermodal Facility in Gardner-Edgerton. In addition, Jim Schmidt of the Good Faith Network commented on the comprehensive plan for homelessness. David Dreher commented on the Mental Health Crisis Stabilization Center and noted that all county services are overwhelmed in this area. 

Low Income Housing Tax Credit (Hedge Lane): The Board authorized a $1,000,000 investment, structured as a non-interest-bearing deferred mortgage lien with a 15-year term and affordability period, in Hedge Lane Apartments, Shawnee. These funds come from Community Assistance funds made available because of the pandemic and which require extensive project reviews. Rent would run $980 to $1200 a month for a one-bedroom apartment. Yes Votes: Eilert, Allenbrand, Meyers, Fast and Hanzlick. No Votes: O’Hara and Ashcraft.

This project was zoned by the city of Shawnee, which voted unanimously to issue industrial revenue bonds to finance the project. This will provide 144 affordable housing units. Commissioner O’Hara objected at length to a “government giveaway”; however, the property will pay about $3,000,000 in property taxes. The County Housing Study indicates a significant need for this facility. 

The housing tax credits in this project come from the KS Housing Resource Corp, and are allocated by the federal government in order to support low-income, family and workforce housing. This is a low-risk loan that provides no risk to county taxpayers. The property has been zoned for apartments since 1999.

Public Comments Hedge Lane: Brian Hogan of the Good Faith Network and others urged county support for addressing homelessness. A fourth commenter requested playgrounds and safer elementary schools. Other commenters objected to the project, citing false information about Shawnee processes for approval, water run-off, concerns about “the type of people living in the housing,” and asserting that their neighborhoods are “very vanilla.” Johnson County Wastewater has addressed run-off concerns. 

Reports and Communications: Management Reports, Penny Postoak-Ferguson

Nelson Wastewater Treatment Facility Improvements:  This facility was constructed in phases from 1947 to 1972 to serve the northeastern areas of Johnson County. Critical processes are old and need to be replaced. The project team has developed a project delivery plan which includes multiple Guaranteed Maximum Price (GMP) contracts to get work. 

Johnson County Mental Health Center partners with the Olathe Police Department to form the Advanced Crisis-Intervention Team (ACT). This specialized unit provides intervention for those in a mental health crisis in order to divert citizens with mental health issues from jail and help them access appropriate care and services. In 2022, the Olathe program will grow to four co-responders and six officers.

County Economic Research Institute (CERI) Indicators – May 2022: The unemployment rate for March, 2022 is 2.5%, compared to 2.9% in March, 2021. The number of single-family homes sold in March 2022 was 786, compared to 779 in March, 2021. Additionally, CERI reports total retail sales for Johnson County were $2.7 billion year-to-date through February, 2022, compared to $2.4 billion through the same period year-to-date February, 2021, a 10% increase. 

The Treasury, Taxation and Vehicles department administers the State’s process for refunding motor vehicle taxes. The performance audit indicates that the county follows a process that provides reasonable assurance of accurate refunds and reduces the risks of errors or fraud. Contrary to inaccurate public comment, the county process complies with state statute. Credit is applied upon registration of the new automobile, and an informative link to the Motor Vehicle Department is available on the county web page.
The customer needs to ask for the refund, which is calculated by the state. 

Legislative Update

  • For the Sine Die session, the legislature overrode the Governor’s veto of HB 2252, a bill prohibiting the Governor, the Secretary of State, and any other officer in the executive branch from enforcing election law or the alteration of any election procedure without specific approval by the legislature. 

  • The Suicide Prevention hotline 988 fund passed by large majorities in both chambers and will be implemented.

  • A property tax freeze for qualifying seniors and disabled veterans was passed. 

  • House Speaker Ron Ryckman (R-Olathe) and House Speaker Pro Tem Blaine Finch (R-Ottawa) announced their retirements. 

Commission Comments: Commissioner O’Hara made a motion that all cities qualifying for CARS funds must comply with federal immigration laws. Second: Ashcraft. Chairperson Eilert objected, noting the need for cooperation with the cities. Commissioner Hanzlick also objected. Chairperson Eilert noted that “Every resident of the county pays taxes that support this program and do not deserve to be denied these funds.” No Votes: Eilert, Allenbrand, Meyers, Fast and Hanzlick. Yes Votes: O’Hara and Ashcraft. Motion failed.

Commissioner Meyers reported that he observed the Dark Store testimony from our county legal representation. 

May 19, 2022

Public Comments: Comments included remarks on utility scale solar facilities, the Planning Commission, the importance of citizen input, and false vaccine information. Speakers from a local synagogue and The Good Faith Network Mental Health Action Team spoke. The first speaker requested that the Board create a timeline for bringing county mental health crisis intervention services into compliance with current standards. The second speaker requested solutions for the housing needs of those currently struggling with chronic homelessness. 

The Board approved the Johnson County Developmental Supports reserve use plan, including the creation of 7.5 full time equivalent employees and the expenditure of fund balance (reserves) not to exceed $700,000 for the first year of the plan. Commissioner O’Hara, worried about a funding “time bomb,” noted concerns about continuing this funding after five years. Chairperson Eilert admonished the use of hyperbole. In addition, JCDS is monitoring the funding, and the County Manager stated that the county works from five-year forecasts in order to make appropriate adjustments. Commissioner Fast noted that more than 900 residents are already on the waiting list and that the need for services is urgent. Commissioners Allenbrand and Hanzlick expressed their support for the measure. Commissioner Hanzlick noted that in light of significant current need, the County should not keep available funds in reserve rather than provide services. Commissioner O’Hara reiterated that she wants to wait on more financial planning. Commissioner Ashcraft asked for clarification on a previous facility improvement funds request. The funding request is focused on positions, not buildings. The votes were Yes: Eilert, Fast, Hanzlick, Meyers, and Allenbrand; No: Ashcraft and O’Hara. 

Last year Juneteenth became a Federal holiday, and this year Johnson County will recognize it as an organizational holiday on Sunday, June 19th from 12:00pm to 1:30 pm in the County Square. 

The Teri Zenner Memorial Garden in Shawnee is scheduled for rededication May 20 at 2:00 p.m. Ms. Zenner, a Johnson County Mental Health Center staff member, was murdered several years ago while trying to deliver services to a person with mental illness. 

Commissioner Hanzlick commented on the sacrifice of Ms. Zenner and the impact on the community. She also expressed concerns about the baby formula shortage and related issues with the WIC program.

Commissioner O’Hara commented on the greater importance of vitamins and exercise rather than vaccines. She also stated that local cities that are not in compliance with immigration laws should not receive CARS funds for road improvements. 

May 12, 2022

Public Comments: Comments ranged from truck traffic brought on by the warehouses being built in Edgerton to proposals from the Good Faith Network to address homelessness and emergency mental health facilities to the usual mask/vaccination and election fraud claims.

The Commission authorized funds for the construction phase of the Douglas L. Smith Middle Basin WW Treatment Facility Solids Improvement Project in an amount not to exceed $6,048,400, increasing total project authorization to $6,898,400. Commissioner Hanzlick reminded the Commissioners that these costs are paid by ratepayers, NOT property taxes, and JCW has the second-lowest rate in the Metro. Authorization of a contract with MegaKC Corp. to construct the above Project (IMB1-Contract 34) in an amount not to exceed $4,632,900.

The Commission authorized the purchase of fifteen (2023 Ford E450 Diamond Coach Cutaway vehicles from Southern Bus & Mobility Inc., including the requisite ancillary equipment, with a cost not to exceed $1,298,205 from MoDOT. Commissioner Ashcraft questioned whether replacement or repair was more cost-effective. Josh Powers, Business Liaison, referred to the briefing sheet analysis of "Useful Life", as defined by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) as being five years or 150,000 miles (whichever comes first). The average age of the fleet is 9.4 years, with the oldest four being eleven years. The JOCO Transit Maintenance Program is nationally recognized. The vehicles are "Buy America" certified and the cost will be covered by a combination of State Operating Funds, Federal Highway Administration Surface Transportation grant funds, and a local match from JOCO Transit capital replacement set-asides.

The proposed "Bylaws of the JOCO Planning Commission" were approved. The Planning Commission has operated for many years without bylaws; these bylaws will formalize past procedures and incorporate County procedures & policies, generally, and specifically, include the adopted Code of Ethics. 

The afternoon session was a staff presentation of the FY 2023 Proposed Budget Review. For LWVJoCo members who are interested in particular budget areas, the FY 2023 Budget Calendar follows:

  • May 12  Proposed budget overview

  • May 19  HHS and Culture & Recreation

  • May  26  Records & Taxation and Support Services

  • June 2  Public Safety, Judicial & Emergency Services, and Outside Agencies

  • June 9  Infrastructure

  • June 16  BOCC budget deliberations

  • June 17  BOCC budget deliberations

  • June 23  BOCC set maximum expenditures for publication

  • August 22  Public Hearing / Revenue Neutral Rate Hearing

  • September 1  BOCC budget adoption

Johnson County Mental Health Center (MHC) Advisory Board Meeting

May 23, 2022, in-person at the Mission Office.

LWV Observer: Harry Bognich

Director Tim DeWeese reported that he participated in the LWVJoCo’s Program on Mental Health on May 7 and was very pleased with the questions and participation during that meeting.

In early April, the Mental Health Center completed its second “CARF” (Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities) review and received another 3-year accreditation (the maximum length). This not only recognizes the good work of the MHC, but also helps attract grants and other important gains.

The “9-8-8” National Suicide Hot Line is continuing to progress. Although there is still some work to do, the “988” is actually active now in Johnson County. Official start is in July.

Adding 3 new full-time employees:

  1. Nursing Supervisor

  2. Community Behavioral Health Team Clinician

  3. Quality Improvement Specialist

Ms. Trent from the legal department gave a presentation on “Code of Ethics”. She reported that the current code was written in the 1980’s and is somewhat dated, but revisions/updates are being worked on to bring it up to more modern times. She administered an “Oath of Office” for each member of the Mental Health Center Advisory Board if the person had not already taken that oath based on their current job and then that person had their signature notarized. This was because Kansas has decided even “Advisory Boards” were required to do so.

Next meeting will be in July.

To learn more, click here.

Prairie Village City Council

May 16, 2022

Submitted by Nancy Kalikow Maxwell

The Prairie Village City Council met in person, beginning with proclamations honoring the Mid-America Regional Council and declaring it Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.

Dr. Little, from Little Government Relations, provided an update on the legislative session and noted that the redistricting issue is still pending. One person from the public spoke in favor of a proposed community center, which was the topic of a recently-held town meeting attended by more than 200 people. Mayor Mikkelson announced that a meeting to discuss this effort will be held Thursday, May 19 at 4:00 p.m.

Among the staff and committee reports were: an update on the successful new mattress pickup program, description of the “safe internet exchange” area outside the police station where residents can exchange items purchased online, and arrival of the 93 walkie-talkies that had been requested from officials in Dolyna, Ukraine. 

Prairie Village City Council 

June 6, 2022

Submitted by Eileen Marshall

The Council met in person, with public viewing in person or via Facebook.

One member of the public commented to support traffic-calming measures on 69th Street.

Civic Center update: the Ad Hoc committee is working on recommendations to be made to the council in July and meanwhile is casting a wide net to determine if other entities wish to partner with the city on a possible Community Center. The pandemic has returned the project almost back to square one; discussions are exploratory at this time.

Attracting employees for open positions continues to be difficult. The Council heard a preliminary report on how the city’s compensation ranges compare to other governmental entities in the area. Discussion will continue.

To learn more, click here.