Saying Ashcraft has served as a ‘roadblock,’ Olathe School Board member LeEtta Felter announces bid for Johnson County Commission

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LeEtta Felter had been giving careful consideration to the idea of running for the Johnson County Board of County Commissioners for the better part of a year before officially filing her paperwork Nov. 29.

LeEtta Felter is running for the County Commission seat held by Michael Ashcraft.
LeEtta Felter is running for the County Commission seat held by Michael Ashcraft.

On Nov. 30, she was sure she’d made the right decision.

5th District Commissioner Michael Ashcraft’s vote to oust County Manager Hannes Zacharias that day was exactly the kind of move that had convinced her the district, which runs from 87th Street in Lenexa south to 175th Street, needed new representation.

“I don’t support that decision at all,” Felter said of the vote on Zacharias. “I’m passionate about good governance, and the non-partisan nature of the board. We don’t need Topeka politics at the county level, and I think some of the current commissioners are entrenched in partisan politics.”

Felter is currently in her second term on the Olathe School District Board of Education. With her own children aging out of Olathe schools — her son is set to graduate next school year — she felt it was time to open her board seat up to another parent and consider other options for public service.

“I think a great board is comprised of a mix of people, some with knowledge of the history of the institution, and some fresh faces,” she said. “When I ran for school board, I ran as a parent. Since I won’t be a district parent anymore, it felt like it was appropriate to give up my seat after this term.”

As she looked into the issues facing the county as well as the views of the current commissioners, Felter said she determined her background would make her well suited to the role as a next step. She and her husband of 28 years Jib started a truck and equipment dealership that grew to have 260 employees and a presence in seven states before they recently sold it. As such, Felter said she’s acutely aware of how regulations affect businesses, and how city and county governments can help or hinder business growth.

“With a presence in several states, we got a perspective on what great governance looks like — that’s here in Johnson County — and what bad governance can look like,” she said. “We encountered some bad policies in New Mexico and in St. Louis.”

But she says her main focus on the commission would be ensuring the county is able to provide needed services for its residents.

“My priority is people,” she said. “I will put people first in my service to Johnson County, focusing on key services, public safety, mental health, health care, foster care, aging, disabled, children’s programming, anti-poverty initiatives and more.”

She is critical of Ashcraft’s approach, saying that he is overly focused on the day-to-day operations of the county, and not on the broad policy objectives that are the county commission’s charge. His habit of voting “no” on county budgets and other items suggests he is not effective in his role, she said.

“He ‘wears’ his no vote as if it were a badge of honor or courage,” she said. “I see it more of a red flag attesting to his inability to impact county governance in order to achieve his priorities. Michael Ashcraft’s leadership style in this role is hawkish and he serves as a roadblock to innovation or progress. Minutia seems to be the trademark of his service on the BOCC and he tends to get stuck in the weeds of things, continually processing and rarely implementing.”

Moreoever, Felter feels it is time for a population that’s nearly 53 percent female to have a county commission that better reflects its demographics.

“I am a highly qualified, effective candidate that will bring much needed diversity to the BOCC. The currently county commission that is made up of seven white males is not reflective of our community,” she said.

Felter was appointed to Gov. Sam Brownback’s Children’s Cabinet in 2014. She hosted a campaign event for Brownback during his reelection bid that year that was attended by former Sen. Rick Santorum.

Ashcraft’s current term, his second, expires in January 2019. The District 5 race will be on the November 2018 ballot.