The Board of County Commissioners declined to renew the contract of Johnson County Manager Hannes Zacharias on Thursday. The board for the state’s most populous county ousted Zacharias with a divided vote following a lengthy executive session.
County chair Ed Eilert vocally opposed the decision. Prior to the vote, he called it absolutely wrong.
“If you look at the accomplishments of this county, this action does not make sense,” Eilert said. The chair also issued a statement reiterating his dissent after the meeting.
Most of the discussion about whether to renew Zacharias’ contract occurred behind closed doors, but Eilert and the commissioners who voted against extending the contract said their votes did not reflect negatively on Zacharias’ moral, ethical or professional character.
Michael Ashcraft, Olathe, voted to oust the county manager, but said his decision was based on the need to move the county forward. Steve Klika, Overland Park, agreed.
“I just feel it’s time for a redirection in leadership,” he said before casting a vote not to renew Zacharias’ contract.
County officials hired Zacharias as an assistant county manager in 2001. He rose through the ranks, becoming deputy county manager in 2005. He was promoted to county manager in 2009 after the county contracted a nationwide search for a new manager.
Zacharias, in a statement, said his contract with the county was not extended because a majority of the commission “wants to take Johnson County in a more fiscally and socially conservative direction, impose more direct oversight by the commission over county operations, and adopt a more laissez-faire attitude toward regulation.”
None of the commissioners said anything like that during the public meeting. Two weeks ago, they adopted a legislative platform that includes positions that aren’t generally regarded as socially or fiscally conservative.
The county’s top five initiatives for state officials include:
- Repealing the property tax lid
- Expanding Medicaid
- Increasing state transportation funding
- Fully funding public-employee pensions
- Allowing county officials to have greater influence in budgeting for the county election office.
Commissioners Ashcraft, Klika, Mike Brown and Jason Osterhaus voted to allow Zacharias’ contract to expire. Eilert and commissioners Jim Allen and Ron Shaffer voted to continue using Zacharias’ services.