Laura McConwell and Ron Shaffer both have long tenures as mayors in northeast Johnson County. They both point to their extensive experience in civic life and their records in Mission and Prairie Village, respectively, as reasons they should move into the county commission seat for District 1. With all of that in common, some differences in priorities showed through during their candidate forum Thursday in Leawood.
Asked for their top three priorities for Johnson County, Shaffer listed a strong education system, public safety and amenities such as the libraries. On public safety, Shaffer said, he had told the Prairie Village police chief to “do anything you need to do” to make the streets safe. McConwell said long-range planning was a priority, noting that the county is aging and poverty is increasing. She also said the county could work with cities on economic development and make investments in infrastructure. If infrastructure is not maintained, she said, the county will “dig (itself) a deep financial hole.”
Asked about economic development, McConwell also cited support for schools and public safety and working with cities on storm water and road projects. Shaffer said it was in the best interest to promote businesses that bring employment and taxes.
Shaffer said the county had to be careful not to grow too fast and look for more revenue sources as the county comes out of recession and state and federal dollars are shrinking. McConwell pointed out the county provides services to seniors, low income residents, the developmental disability community and health services. People rely on those services, she said, and efficient delivery will be important.
Both candidates agreed that the county courthouse needs to be addressed with a long-term solution because the building is in disrepair and is too small for current needs. They also agreed that the county-owned King Louie building on Metcalf makes sense as a place to house the county museum and consolidate other services.
On developing unincorporated areas McConwell said the county needs to take care of what it already has developed first. “(There is) no need to pave over our entire county. Shaffer said a “happy medium” in cooperation between the two areas needs to be reached while maintaining infrastructure.
In her closing, McConwell said Mission is seeing both seniors and families move back in. In her tenure, she said, she was able to bring diverse opinions together to meet challenges in the community. The county, she said, is facing more urban-style issues. The county is increasing its density and will be able to support transportation systems as the density increases, she said.
Shaffer said he promised not to run for mayor again and was holding himself to the promises that he had made. “(I think) most citizens agree with how I handle business,” he said.