‘No. And hell no’: County commissioner Jim Allen says ouster of Hannes Zacharias is unconscionable

2nd District County Commissioner Jim Allen.
2nd District County Commissioner Jim Allen.

After 28 years as an elected official in Johnson County, starting with service on the Shawnee city council before becoming that city’s mayor in 1993, 2nd District County Commissioner Jim Allen has cast thousands of votes.

So it’s no small thing to hear Allen call the motion to end the employment of County Manager Hannes Zacharias last week “the worst vote I’ve ever heard taken.”

When the clerk came to Allen during the roll call Thursday, he couldn’t have been more emphatic in his repulsion.

“No, and hell no,” he said into his microphone before pushing himself back from the dais in disgust.

As Allen said before the vote, he simply sees no viable rationale for terminating the employment of an administrative leader who has been widely admired and honored in the state and beyond.

“It just shocks me,” he said. “It’s uncalled for. It’s unnecessary. This county is in outstanding shape under his leadership. Frankly, I don’t understand it.”

In Allen’s opinion, Johnson County’s government is not just excellent by state or regional standards. In an interview with the Shawnee Mission Post Monday, Allen said he believes it to be among the best run governmental operations in the country.

“The overall organization is in truly excellent shape,” he said. “For a large county like ours, with more than 500,000 people in it, we’re the number one county in America. That’s how much respect people have for it.”

Allen points to a stable of highly qualified department heads who have enacted meaningful reforms to county business under Zacharias’s leadership. The juvenile justice system in Johnson County, for example, has implemented a host of changes to reduce the number of youth who are unnecessarily detained and to provide effective rehabilitation services to those who are. The county has shifted its record keeping operations over to a new electronic system. And the park and recreation department just earned the National Gold Medal Award for Excellence in Park and Recreation Management from the National Park and Recreation Association, the top honor in the country.

He notes that Johnson County is often chosen to receive grants from national agencies in competitive application processes because it has a reputation for being a great steward of financial resources.

Allen said he fears the four commissioners who voted to remove Zacharias — Mike Brown, Michael Ashcraft, Jason Osterhaus and Steve Klika — want to see the commission get more involved in the day-to-day operations of the county instead of setting vision and policy, as is the commission’s charge under the county charter. He also questions why, if those commissioners had a different vision for the future of the county, they hadn’t introduced more policy ideas for the board to consider.

“They say they want to see a different strategy and direction for the county,” he said. “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.”

More than anything, though, Allen said he believes the move to vote Zacharias out at this particular time was wholly inappropriate.

“Hannes has been manager for nearly a decade, and he’s done an excellent job,” Allen said. “To treat a person who is nearing the end of his career like that, it’s disappointing. Blindsiding someone like that, it’s uncalled for.”