Group of ‘shocked’ county employees question what was behind commissioners’ decision to oust county manager

Johnson County officials participate in a poverty simulation exercise put on by the United Way earlier this year. A group of county employees say County Manager Hannes Zacharias has a positive focus on ensuring the county was providing needed services to residents, and that they are shocked he has been dismissed.
Johnson County officials participate in a poverty simulation exercise put on by the United Way earlier this year. A group of county employees say County Manager Hannes Zacharias has a positive focus on ensuring the county was providing needed services to residents, and that they are shocked he has been dismissed.

A group of Johnson County government employees have penned a letter questioning the motivations of county commissioners Jason Osterhaus, Steve Klika, Mike Brown and Michael Ashcraft in voting to end County Manager Hannes Zacharias’s tenure.

The group, whose members’ identities have been confirmed by the Shawnee Mission Post, asked to have its members’ names kept confidential for fear of the possibility of losing their jobs. The letter is below:

We write to the voters as employees of Johnson County Government to share that we are shocked and utterly discouraged by the decision of Michael Ashcraft, Steve Klika, Mike Brown and Jason Osterhaus to end the tenure of our County Manager Hannes Zacharias. Unable to find fault with any aspect of his performance, they cite the need for a change in vision.

For our part, Hannes’s vision for county government is one of fairness, safety, good stewardship, progress, communication and participation. He has inspired and motivated us by celebrating our diversity. He has made us feel respected, valued, and regarding those of us who are female, he has made us feel safe with his principled leadership and unfailingly professional conduct — a trait that appears to be in short supply in many organizations and governmental structures these days. Why does the board want to change that vision?

For many of us, Hannes introduced the idea of parallel structure, in which the ideas of the “front line” employee are just as important as those of the CMO and he lead that way and required others to do the same. Recently, Hannes championed an initiative to convene a group of county employees of diverse professional and personal backgrounds to open a dialogue about race, gender and broader themes of equity as pertains to our community and the county government’s role in it. He believes that regardless of social identity every citizen of Johnson County should be safe, welcome, respectful. He believes every public servant in Johnson County should be safe, respected, heard, valued. Why does the board want to change that vision?

Hannes is the type of leader we need to embrace locally and nationally in these divisive and uncertain times. His leadership was comforting to us and we are all deeply shaken that we will have to continue without him.

We would ask that the voters of Johnson County consider us when they make their choices at the voting booth, and especially when they choose not to choose. We are here in our offices wanting to make sure babies don’t die in unsafe daycares, keeping diarrhea out of your public pools, warning you when your dog could die from drinking out of Indian Creek, making sure that children are not coming to school with empty bellies, keeping teens from sleeping on the street, literally preventing raw sewage from running down Metcalf, providing a venue for your marriages and adoptions, free mediation for your divorces, counseling for your kids, home visits for your elderly parents, safety in your community and security in your jail. It was Hannes’s vision to continue those things and he did them while reducing costs by $47 million. What do Ashcraft, Klika, Brown and Osterhaus really want to change?

As county employees, we are ready to hear the answer. We write anonymously because we share Hannes’s vision, as outlined above, a vision we now understand the board does not share. Please ask them why.