The Johnson County Board of County Commissioners’ move to boot popular County Manager Hannes Zacharias late last year has the editors of Governing magazine, a national publication that covers management and policy at the state and local government level, scratching their heads.
In this month’s issue of the magazine, reporter Alan Greenblatt delves into the circumstances surrounding the ouster of Zacharias, noting that “Even the commissioners who decided it was time for him to go had nothing but good things to say about him.”
“So why fire him?,” Greenblatt wrote. “The answer is that [Commissioner] Michael Ashcraft and his colleagues wanted more control. They wanted to have more say over agencies and budgets, rather than just signing off on options the county manager offered them. They also wanted to lower the county’s tax rates and limit regulation — something they felt couldn’t easily be done with Zacharias at the helm. ‘I do not believe the philosophy going forward should be that we can only do less with less,’ Ashcraft says. ‘We should be able to do more with less. That should be what we’re continually striving for.’”
Greenblatt also spoke to Tom Robinett, the vice president of government affairs for the Overland Park Chamber of Commerce, who noted that the group’s members had widely protested the removal of Zacharias.
The author noted that ideological differences between the northern part of the county and the southern part appear to have come into play:
Johnson County is split politically between a more liberal northern half and a more conservative southern half. It was the commissioners from the south that wanted Zacharias gone. Despite the county’s wealth, it will face increased budget pressures due to a fast-growing population of senior citizens and clusters of homeless people. A majority of the commissioners would like to rein in future costs in a county whose budget recently topped $1 billion.