Johnson County Charter Commissioners are likely to debate whether to make the sheriff an appointed role rather than an elected one. It’s a move the current Johnson County Sheriff, Calvin Hayden, opposes.
“We (sheriffs) work directly for the citizens of the county. The sheriff is a unique position. You don’t actually work for the commissioners,” Hayden said.
He’d like to keep it that way, but at least one county commissioner strongly urged members of the charter commission to consider other models of selecting the county sheriff and the district attorney.
County commissioner Janae Hanzlick said some people don’t feel well represented by Hayden and by the district attorney, Steve Howe.
“I hear from constituents that are very concerned about the hyper-partisanship they see in those positions,” she told the charter commission during an Aug. 25 charter commission meeting.
Next commission meeting seeks public input
Charter Commission member Wendy Bingesser says she’s receiving a lot of emails about the sheriff’s position. Most of the emails disagree with Hanzlick’s position.
“The emails are mostly against changing it,” she said.
However, Hanzlick told the commission that other communities found success using sheriff-appointment models. For instance, she listed King County in Washington state as an example.
“Just last November, their voters by an overwhelming majority, approved a charter amendment to go to an appointed sheriff model using an advisory committee to oversee national recruitment for the very best appointment they can hire,” she said.
Seattle is the county seat of King County, and voters adopted police reforms last November, following a summer of anti-police riots and an officer-involved shooting in which the department paid a $5 million settlement to the family of an unarmed 20-year-old.
Sheriffs have a lot of power, according to Hayden. That’s one reason he believes the sheriff should be directly accountable to the people — not to commissioners or other politicians.
“Our job is to keep the peace. That’s it. We preserve life,” he said.
Kansas Policy Institute CEO Dave Trabert finds a great deal of irony in Hanzlick’s proposal.
“Commissioner Hanzlick is known as hyper-partisan, always voting for more government and less freedom. The progressives control the county commission and Hanzlick wants to put the progressive stamp on the sheriff’s office. That won’t happen under Sheriff Hayden, so she wants to change the rules.”
Kansas Policy Institute owns the Sentinel.
The charter commission will hold a public hearing at 5:30 p.m. on Sept. 13 at the KU Edwards BEST Conference Center. Those interested in providing input to the commission can register to speak at the next meeting. It will be broadcast on the Johnson County Government’s Facebook page.
Commission convenes every 10 years
A new charter commission convenes every 10 years to examine the county’s home rule charter.
Similar to a constitution, the Johnson County Home Rule Charter established the county’s government structure and outlines who has the authority to take action. Residents narrowly adopted the charter 20 years ago.
The charter commission’s 25 members are appointed by a variety of groups and individuals. For instance, the House and Senate legislators from Johnson County appoint six members. The Johnson County Republican and Democratic parties each appoint two members, while three members are appointed by the Johnson and Wyandotte Counties Council of Mayors. Elected county and state officials are prohibited from serving on the commission, but each district county commissioner appoints one member. Ed Eilert, county commissioner chair, appointed two members.
In 2011, the charter commission wrapped up its review without proposing any changes. The 2021 commission started meeting in February. They’ll conclude their work next February. If they recommend changes, the county commission approves the recommendations. Then, voters weigh in via ballot questions during the November 2022 election.
Charter commissioners listed
Members of the 2021 Johnson County include:
- Wendy Bingesser, appointed by Kansas Senate
- Jane Dirks, appointed by Kansas Senate
- Karin Brownlee, appointed by Kansas Senate
- Dawn Rattan, appointed by Kansas House
- Zach Thomas, appointed by Kansas House
- Ed Peterson, appointed by Kansas House
- Jim Denning, appointed by the Johnson County Republican Central Committee
- Greg Smith, appointed by the Johnson County Republican Central Committee
- Joy Koesten, appointed by the Johnson County Democratic Central Committee
- Greg Shelton, appointed by the Johnson County Democratic Central Committee
- Kyle Russell, appointed by Commissioner Becky Fast
- Vicki Charlesworth, appointed by Commissioner Jeff Meyers
- Laura Klingensmith, appointed by Commissioner Charlotte O’Hara
- Brenda Sharpe, appointed by Commissioner Janae Hanzlick
- Jimmy Gaona, appointed by Commissioner Michael Ashcraft
- Brent McCune, appointed by Commissioner Shirley Allenbrand
- Eric Mickkelson, appointed by Commission Chair Ed Eilert
- Leslee Rivarola, appointed by Commission Chair Ed Eilert
- Tedrick A. Housh III, appointed by Chamber of Commerce
- Greg Musil, appointed by Chamber of Commerce
- Lenexa Mayor Mike Boehm, council of mayors
- Edgerton Mayor Don Roberts, council of mayors
- Westwood Hills Mayor Paula Schwach, council of mayors
- Randy Hutchins, appointed by Johnson County Planning Commission
- Chris Iliff, appointed by Johnson County Planning Commission