More than 20 city councilmembers from area cities lobby JoCo board to make Ad Astra reopening plan ‘enforceable policy’

The city councilmembers are asking County Chair Ed Eilert and other members of the Board of County Commissioners to put some teeth behind the recommendations of the Ad Astra plan. File photo.

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A group of city-level elected officials are asking the Johnson County Board of County Commissioners to put some teeth behind the provisions of Gov. Laura Kelly’s Ad Astra reopening plan.

In a letter addressed to Chairman Ed Eilert and the other members of the commission, 25 city councilmembers from across northern Johnson County said that, following the moves over the weekend that essentially leave COVID-19 public health policy to the counties, Johnson County should make the provisions of the state plan “enforceable policy.”

Following Gov. Laura Kelly’s veto of a bill that would have stripped many of her emergency powers to address the pandemic, ultimately leaving enforcement action to the counties, Johnson County’s top health officials said they had no plans to enact new official restrictions, but that they “strongly recommended” businesses and individuals adhere to Kelly’s Ad Astra framework.

Saying that “elected officials have no more sacred of a duty than to the health and safety of their community,” individual councilmembers from Lenexa, Mission, Shawnee, Overland Park, Prairie Village, Westwood Hills, Merriam, Fairway and Roeland Park implored the county commission to take action.

“Our counties are uniquely positioned to provide data-driven, tailored interventions to help our community, and we desperately need that assistance,” said Shawnee City Councilmember Lisa Larson-Bunnell, who helped organize the effort. “A significant amount of taxpayer money is spent on the county’s public health initiatives.  The cities simply do not have the resources or expertise to develop or implement sound public health policies.” File photo.

Shawnee City Councilmember Lisa Larson-Bunnell, who was one of the organizers of the effort, said that with cases in Johnson County continuing to rise and hospitals still working to find effective therapies, it was imperative to take steps to reduce the risk of widespread infection.

I understand the intent behind the Governor’s action,” Larson-Bunnell said. “The needs of a sparsely-populated county in western Kansas are not the same as those of Johnson County. Each county must now assess the best course of action for its residents. Allowing a full and complete reopening, with nothing more than unenforceable guidelines in place, puts all Johnson County residents at risk.”

What’s more, she said, cities aren’t in a position to enact effective public health policy.

Our counties are uniquely positioned to provide data-driven, tailored interventions to help our community, and we desperately need that assistance,” she said. “A significant amount of taxpayer money is spent on the county’s public health initiatives.  The cities simply do not have the resources or expertise to develop or implement sound public health policies.”

The officials’ letter is copied below:

As you know, yesterday, Kansas Governor Laura Kelly vetoed House Bill 2054 passed by the Kansas legislature that would have weakened the executive branch’s emergency power during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The state had been in Phase 2 of the Governor’s plan to reopen, but Governor Kelly said going forward, she’ll offer her Ad Astra plan only as guidance to county health officials, who can impose health, business and mass gathering limits.

It’s our understanding that the Johnson County Government does not currently plan to impose additional limits. Johnson County Local Health Officer Dr. Joseph LeMaster and Johnson County Department of Health and Environment director Dr. Sanmi Areola both strongly recommend that Johnson County residents and businesses continue to adhere to the phases and guidance in the state’s Ad Astra plan.

For the health and safety of the community we all represent and are sworn to protect, we strongly urge the Johnson County Board of County Commissioners to adopt the recommendations set forth in Governor Kelly’s Ad Astra plan as enforceable policy as soon as possible.

We believe elected officials have no more sacred of a duty than to the health and safety of their community. This is a time for unity. We need your thoughtful and sustained support for our public health officials and their guidance.

We are still urgently in the midst of this health crisis and will be for some time. The road to recovery will take years of good stewardship, but its foundation is being constructed by your decisions today. Please lead by example and show our community well-reasoned courage in face of this local and global health pandemic.

The signatories were:

  • Councilmember Jenna Brofsky, Fairway
  • Councilmember Lisa Harrison, Leawood
  • Councilmember Julie Sayers, Lenexa
  • Councilmember Courtney Eiterich, Lenexa
  • Councilmember Whitney Yadrich, Merriam
  • Councilmember Jason Silver, Merriam
  • Councilmember Sollie Flora, Mission
  • Councilmember Hillary Parker Thomas, Mission
  • Councilmember Trent Boultinghouse, Mission
  • Councilmember Lisa Larson-Bunnell, Shawnee
  • Councilmember Jill Chalfie, Shawnee
  • Councilmember Logan Heley, Overland Park
  • Councilmember Paul Lyons, Overland Park
  • Councilmember Holly Grummert, Overland Park
  • Councilmember Bonnie Limbird, Prairie Village
  • Councilmember Jori Nelson, Prairie Village
  • Councilmember Tucker Poling, Prairie Village
  • Councilmember Ian Graves, Prairie Village
  • Councilmember Chad Andrew Herring, Prairie Village
  • Councilmember Ron Nelson, Prairie Village
  • Councilmember Inga Selders, Prairie Village
  • Council President Jen Hill, Roeland Park
  • Councilmember Jan Faidley, Roeland Park
  • Councilmember Michael Rebne, Roeland Park
  • Councilmember Ed Gogol, Westwood Hills

Correction: Upon initial publication, this story listed the 18 officials who had signed the letter as of Wednesday night. As of Thursday morning, 25 city councilmembers have signed the letter. The story has been updated to reflect the additional signatories.