Conservative majority on county commission holds firm, rejects attempt to reverse ouster of Hannes Zacharias

Several speakers made pointed criticisms of 3rd District Commissioner Steve Klika, saying he had misrepresented himself to voters and that he appeared uninterested in the speakers' comments. Klika again voted against a motion to extend Hannes Zacharias's contract.
Several speakers made pointed criticisms of 3rd District Commissioner Steve Klika, saying he had misrepresented himself to voters and that he appeared uninterested in the speakers’ comments. Klika again voted against a motion to extend Hannes Zacharias’s contract.

For more than an hour, a steady stream of Johnson County residents and employees approached the podium.

Commissioners Mike Brown (left) and Jason Osterhaus.
Commissioners Mike Brown (left) and Jason Osterhaus. Brown was elected last year. Osterhaus is up for reelection in 2018.

Under County Manager Hannes Zacharias’s leadership, they argued, Johnson County has been the envy of communities across the country. The tax rates are low. Quality of life is exceedingly high. County government is considered a great place to work. Ousting Zacharias — an administrator who has consistently met and exceeded expectations — sets a terrible precedent for the county that will make it difficult to attract workers, some said. Wouldn’t the board reconsider?

Commissioner Michael Ashcraft, who is up for reelection in 2018.
Commissioner Michael Ashcraft, who is up for reelection in 2018.

No, thanks, said the four commissioners who initially voted to terminate Zacharias’s contract last week.

Following the public comment session that saw impassioned pleas from a diverse mix of Johnson Countians, 2nd District Commissioner Jim Allen on Thursday morning introduced a motion to issue Zacharias a new contract, saying that the popular county manager was a powerful force for the advancement of the county.

“I’m asking for one of the commissioners to reconsider,” Allen said as he made his motion, which was seconded by 1st District Commissioner Ron Shaffer and emphatically supported by board chair Ed Eilert. “To have the courage to do what’s best…for the future of this county.”

But the four commissioners who sent shockwaves through Johnson County last week by voting to oust Zacharias — Mike Brown, Jason Osterhaus, Michael Ashcraft and Steve Klika — held firm, essentially ending any hope that their vote from the previous week might be reversed.

Klika served as the focal point for a good deal of the criticism that came from residents and county employees.

Patty Logan, the emergency room physician who is among the leaders of Stand Up Blue Valley, the group of southern Johnson County parents who are credited with getting a set of moderate Republicans elected to seats held by conservatives in last year’s election, said she was shocked by Klika’s vote to remove Zacharias.

“We especially take issue with the vote of Mr. Klika, who was endorsed in 2016 by Stand Up Blue Valley after he claimed to be a fellow moderate,” she said. “We find laughable Mr. Klika’s assertion that he did not allow politics to enter into his decision….Be reminded that voters are more engaged and informed than ever before. We will not tolerate elected representatives who do not actually represent us.”

Another resident chastised Klika for keeping his eyes fixed on his desk, apparently uninterested in what the speakers were saying.

County employees made up a good portion of the speakers who addressed the commission, but the concerns about the exit of Zacharias were far from limited to those who collect their paychecks from the county. Tom Robinett, the vice president of governmental affairs for the Overland Park Chamber of Commerce, said the organization had been flooded with calls from members after the commission’s vote last week. Robinett said the chamber’s board decided they must speak out about Zacharias’s ouster. The commissioners’ explanations for their decision “lack detail and substance,” Robinett noted.

“The overwhelming question [from chamber members] is why?” said Robinett. “Why move in a new direction and embrace a new vision from the one that has put Johnson County at the top of all counties both statewide and nationally?”

Only one speaker explicitly spoke in support of removing Zacharias from office. Neil Melton, the conservative Prairie Village man who has mounted two unsuccessful bids for the statehouse, said that voters have their chance to exercise their views on election day, and that Johnson County residents should respect the decision of the board.

“The county is bigger than one individual,” Melton said. “We were a great place to live prior to Mr. Zacharias’s tenure. And I have no doubt that we will be a great place to live once he has moved on.”

Full video of the meeting is below:

The Johnson County residents and employees who had packed the commission's hearing room erupted in a standing applause when Hannes Zacharias entered the chamber.
The Johnson County residents and employees who had packed the commission’s hearing room erupted in a standing applause when Hannes Zacharias entered the chamber.