The group whose campaigning efforts have been largely credited with sweeping a wave of moderate Republicans into seats that had been held by conservatives in southern Johnson County has come out strongly against an official it endorsed in last year’s county commission races.
Stand Up Blue Valley on Friday issued a statement on its Facebook page saying that 3rd District County Commissioner Steve Klika had fallen far short of adequately explaining his vote to oust County Manager Hannes Zacharias.
“In the case of Steve Klika, District 3 County Commissioner, we are retracting our endorsement and noting our opposition to his vote in the strongest possible terms,” read the statement.
The group endorsed Klika last summer in his reelection bid, where he faced former state legislator and JCCC board of trustees member Ben Hodge, an outspoken proponent of conservative policies. Klika won the race 57-43.
Nearly a full week after the vote to oust Zacharias, which shocked county employees and residents, Klika became the seventh and final member of the commission to offer comment on the rationale behind his vote. But his explanation, which says that he was concerned the county had been “reactive and not proactive; more organizationally focused than citizen focused” did not include specifics. Nor, apparently, did he offer concrete examples in a discussion with Stand Up Blue Valley leaders.
“We contacted Mr. Klika and spoke with him at length about our concerns with his vote,” Stand Up Blue Valley’s statement said. “Mr. Klika’s answers to us, and in his (delayed) public statement, are concerningly vague.”
Last week, the Johnson County Commission voted 4 to 3 to terminate the contract of our county manager, Hannes Zacharias. Mr. Zacharias is an award-winning, highly-regarded county manager who has served Johnson County in that role since 2009, after having served as assistant county manager since 2001. The termination of Mr. Zacharias’ contract was immediately denounced by multiple civic leaders, area business owners, county employees, and Johnson County residents alike.
Many of our members may recall that in 2016, Stand Up Blue Valley endorsed Steve Klika for reelection as District 3 County Commissioner. Mr. Klika had asked for our endorsement, and based on his record as a former Blue Valley Board of Education member and discussions with him, we gave it. Additionally, his opponent was an extremist – and extremism does not reflect the views and values of Johnson County.
We were therefore very surprised last week, when Mr. Klika joined the three ultraconservative members of the Johnson County Commission to oust County Manager Zacharias. We contacted Mr. Klika and spoke with him at length about our concerns with his vote. Mr. Klika’s answers to us, and in his (delayed) public statement, are concerningly vague. We’ve talked to many fellow moderates over the past week, all of whom uniformly oppose Mr. Klika’s vote. Under the leadership of County Manager Zacharias, Johnson County has continued to grow as a quality community where people move to live and raise their families. As District 1 Commissioner Ron Shaffer said, “They’re getting rid of a man who has been one of the best county managers in the United States.”
Many members of the public spoke at yesterday’s County Commission meeting in support of Mr. Zacharias. Stand Up Blue Valley gave a statement at that meeting, which is posted here for our members to read. After over an hour of impassioned public comment from speakers who identified Commissioners Klika, Osterhaus, Ashcraft, and Brown as their elected officials, it was clear that a broad section of Johnson County opposes the termination of the County Manager’s contract. Commission Chair Ed Eilert gave the Board a final opportunity to reconsider its vote to terminate Zacharias. Once again, Commissioners Klika, Osterhaus, Ashcraft, and Brown all voted No, despite calls from multiple speakers to retain Mr. Zacharias as County Manager.
We want to make it clear that when we have endorsed an elected official who subsequently votes against our schools and/or significant community interests, we will notify our members and provide as much information as possible, as quickly as possible. We will always give our endorsed elected officials the opportunity to explain questionable votes, we will collect information independently, and if we ultimately determine that we have endorsed someone who has made a critical vote in opposition to SUBV’s core mission, we will retract our endorsement and inform our members of that decision. In the case of Steve Klika, District 3 County Commissioner, we are retracting our endorsement and noting our opposition to his vote in the strongest possible terms.
Finally, we wish to thank Hannes Zacharias for his many years of dedicated service to Johnson County. The loss of his expertise will negatively impact our community and it is unfortunate for all of us that his tenure as County Manager has come to an end.