A divided Johnson County Board of Commissioners declined to renew the contract of county manager Hannes Zacharias last week. Contract discussions occurred behind closed doors in executive session, but now some commissioners are detailing the reasons behind their votes.
Chair Ed Eilert opposed the decision, a fact he made known prior to voting. Others remained largely silent in the immediate aftermath. A split Johnson County commission, 4-3, declined to renew Zacharias’ contract on Nov. 30. Zacharias’ contract expires on Dec. 31.
Commissioner Jim Allen told the Shawnee Mission Post he believes the four who voted to find a new county manger want the Johnson County commission to get more involved in the day-to-day operations of Kansas’ most populated county.
“They say they want to see a different strategy and direction for the county. Well, that’s set by the majority of the county commission. We have a lot of means out there to affect the county’s direction,” Allen told the publication.
Commissioner Jason Osterhaus released a statement on his Facebook page a few days after the Nov. 30 vote. He said the way the county treats citizens informed his vote not to renew the contract. Specifically, Osterhaus mentioned the county’s use of eminent domain to secure property to build a parking lot in conjunction with a new courthouse project. Voters authorized a 10-year sales tax initiative to fund the project, but the plans didn’t include acquiring and bulldozing 14 homes to make way for a parking lot.
“I have always supported personal property rights when it involves taking someone’s home. So when it was proposed to use eminent domain to obtain property for the new court house parking lot earlier this year, I was one of the votes against using it,” Osterhaus said.
Osterhaus and Commissioner Michael Ashcraft were the only commissioners to vote against the use of eminent domain to acquire those properties. They also both cast votes not to renew Zacharias’ contract. The other commissioners who voted not to renew his contract–Commissioners Steve Klika and Mike Brown–voted to use eminent domain.
When he cast his vote in favor of eminent domain, Brown said he understands the concerns of citizens who didn’t want to give up their homes.
“At the same time, I understand that we have an obligation as a county and a mandate from the voters of the entire county that we build a courthouse,” he said.
Klika didn’t comment on his vote to use eminent domain. However, prior to voting to replace the county manager, Klika called Zacharias very decent and ethical.
“I just feel it’s time for a redirection in leadership–to push it up a notch,” Klika said.
Osterhaus, in his statement, said he had talked to county employees who are also eager to move in a new direction.
“From our executive team to those on the front lines, many of them feel comfortable sharing with me their thoughts on the county. Some of them expressed a desire for a different direction moving forward,” he said. “The opinions of the county staff are of great value to me in understanding how management decisions help or hinder the great work that they do daily for the citizens of Johnson County.”