The Post’s most read stories of 2020 — news that defined JoCo’s unprecedented year

It was a year unlike any other in Johnson County. National stories dominated our collective attention and rightfully so: a global pandemic, an economic recession, a presidential campaign, political demonstrations.

It was a year unlike any other in Johnson County.

National stories dominated our collective attention and rightfully so: a global pandemic, an economic recession, a presidential campaign, political demonstrations.

All these stories touched Johnson County, deeply affecting our lives and communities.

But stories with more local importance and impact — the kind the Post has long prided itself on covering — also resonated with readers: myriad challenges in the Shawnee Mission School District, high profile development projects, the death in the line of duty of Overland Park Police Officer Mike Mosher.

(In addition, despite the economic troubles caused by COVID-19, it was an active year for new restaurant openings in Johnson County. We’ll have a separate story on those later on Thursday, so look out for that.)

But now, here is our look back at an unprecedented news year in Johnson County, with some of the Post’s most read stories of 2020.

The COVID-19 pandemic

The story that will define not only this year but will likely continue to impact our lives in Johnson County for years to come.

The pandemic arrived in the Kansas City region in mid-March, upending life as we knew it. As of this week, Johnson County health officials have recorded 435 deaths from the disease and more than 33,000 infections.

Some of the Post’s most-read stories on COVID-19 this year: 

Metro area counties issue 30-day stay-at-home order effective Tuesday (3/21)

Prairie Village police chief raises concerns about proposed ordinance that would require face masks in public (5/15)

As neighbors issue mandates, Johnson County says it will rely on ‘shared sense of responsibility’ on face masks (6/29)

Shawnee police remove out-of-state team from youth baseball tournament over suspected quarantine violation (7/13)

Key metric plummets after JoCo health department changes COVID-19 dashboard — here’s why (10/6)

Johnson County will be under new pandemic restrictions, starting Monday, Nov. 16 (11/13)

Most NEJC cities have now opted into enforcing JoCo pandemic order with county, Shawnee remains outlier (12/17)

The economy

Mask orders have been in place in Johnson County since the summer, requiring patrons to wear masks inside in most situations. File photo.

The pandemic and the stay-at-home orders and shutdowns it prompted had a dire impact on Johnson County businesses.

Many workers were laid off or had their hours drastically reduced. Some businesses shut down operations temporarily to try to weather the storm.

In some cases, owners made the painful decision to close for good.

Some of the Post’s most-read stories on the economy this year: 

Claiming it’s operating as an ‘essential business,’ Overland Park Hobby Lobby remains open during pandemic (4/2)

Downtown Overland Park businesses pivot efforts during COVID-19 shutdown (4/14)

Facing difficult financial situation with COVID-19 shutdown, Fairway’s Rainy Day Books makes a pitch for donations (4/15)

Corinth Square’s Urban Table closes its doors for good, citing COVID-19 (9/8)

JoCo finalizes $35 million COVID-19 aid package that includes help for small businesses, renters (10/7)

Following tense debate, JoCo Commission votes to put enforcement teeth to county COVID-19 order (11/19)

Politics and the election

One of the secure drop boxes the Johnson County Election Office used to collect mail-in ballots during the 2020 general election. File photo.

The Nov. 3 general election in Johnson County saw near-record turnout of 77%, with more than 350,000 ballots cast overall. Most voters cast early ballots amid anxiety and uncertainty about going to the polls in person during the pandemic.

Deep partisan divisions seen at the national level were reflected in politics and campaigning in Johnson County. In the end, both major parties were able to claim a measure of victory in local elections.

Some of the Post’s most-read stories about politics and the election this year: 

Concerns raised after Johnson County Commissioner Mike Brown’s Facebook post urges followers to arm themselves for ‘coming war’ (9/14)

Thousands join JoCo Trump truck parade, as county DA and sheriff speak at ‘Back the Blue’ rally (10/12)

First weekend of in-person early voting in JoCo sees crowds, long lines at polling places (10/19)

‘Ready for social unrest’ — JoCo Sheriff and DA explain comments about election security, protests (10/27)

Johnson County DA Steve Howe wins reelection, fending off challenge from Zach Thomas (11/4)

5 takeaways from Election Day 2020 in Johnson County (11/5)

Both parties take stock after Election Night in JoCo yields mixed results (11/9)

A reckoning with race

Many Johnson Countians this year grappled with their community’s history of discrimination and exclusion, embodied in the racist deed restrictions and housing covenants that helped the Kansas City suburbs blossom more than a century ago.

Sparked by the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis, Johnson Countians marched and demonstrated in several cities this summer, demanding a broader reckoning with racism and more accountability and transparency for law enforcement.

Some of the Post’s most-read stories about race this year: 

Hundreds march through Prairie Village in support of Black Lives Matter movement (6/11)

Reckoning with racism in Johnson County: A history of exclusion (8/18)

Black Lives Matter protesters rally outside Overland Park mayor’s home in support of demonstrator charged during July 24 protest (8/24)

‘We will not be quiet’ — Family of 11-year-old Black girl who was the victim of allegedly racist attack in Shawnee seeks justice and healing (9/4)

Jessica Krug, white college professor who pretended to be Black for years, grew up in Johnson County (9/4)

Panel of Black men agrees racism is prevalent in Johnson County (9/9)

Black officers in JoCo ‘get it from both sides’ amid national debate over race and policing (10/30)

‘A sign of progress’ — Prairie Village names Maj. Byron Roberson as city’s first Black police chief (12/9)

Challenges in SMSD

Teachers and supporters packed the SMSD board room in January amid tense contract negotiations. File photo.

The year in Shawnee Mission Schools began with drawn-out negotiations over a new teacher contract. Then, this spring, schools were forced to go virtual because of the pandemic.

Over the summer and into the fall, district leaders, teachers and families debated (sometimes vehemently) over how fully schools should reopen, ultimately deciding on a more conservative approach than other Johnson County districts.

Then, after all that, Superintendent Mike Fulton announced his retirement, effective next summer.

Some of the Post’s most read stories about SMSD this year:

Shawnee Mission students stage walkouts to protest board of education’s passage of unilateral teachers contract (1/31)

Anger, disbelief after Shawnee Mission school board pushes through with 3-year unilateral teachers contract (1/31)

Indian Woods teacher publicly tenders resignation, telling school board ‘you just aren’t listening’ (2/11)

Shawnee Mission pushes back first day of school to train teachers on new systems amid COVID-19 uncertainty (6/23)

Five high school girls golfers — including four from Shawnee Mission East — sue SMSD and Blue Valley over decisions to suspend fall sports (9/2)

‘Let us take the risk’ — Some parents urge in-person learning in Shawnee Mission, while others praise district for decision to start remotely (9/25)

SM North Indians and other Native American mascots in SMSD would be retired with new policy (12/4)

Shawnee Mission Superintendent Mike Fulton to retire in July 2021 (12/16)

The death of OP Police Officer Mike Mosher

In early May, Overland Park Police Officer Mike Mosher was shot and killed during a confrontation with a hit-and-run suspect. Both Mosher and the suspect were killed when they exchanged gunfire with each other.

Mosher had not been on duty at the time but had been on his way into work when he heard the dispatch call and pursued the suspect’s vehicle.

“Mike was a hero and he died doing what he loved. He died defending his community,” Overland Park Police Chief Frank Donchez said later.

In October, Overland Park renamed a stretch of 123rd Street between Metcalf Avenue and Blue Valley Parkway — near where the incident occurred — after Mosher.

Some of the Post’s coverage of Mike Mosher: 

Overland Park Police Officer Mike Mosher killed in altercation Sunday that left hit-and-run suspect dead as well (5/4)

Hundreds line Overland Park streets to honor fallen police officer Mike Mosher in ‘Salute to Blue’ procession (5/11)

Overland Park considers possible memorials for fallen police officer Mike Mosher (9/10)

Other local stories of note

In December, Shawnee Mayor Michelle Distler was arrested on one count of felony perjury. It later emerged she was alleged to have filed a Kansas open meetings complaint under someone else’s name. She faces a January court date.

Here are some other local headlines that caught readers’ attention this year:  

Prairie Village Macy’s to shut down, ending decades of having department store at Village Shops (1/7)

After nearly 4 decades in operation, Johnny’s Bar-B-Q Mission location will close Jan. 31 (1/9)

Fairway halts tree removal along Rock Creek after residents say they weren’t notified of flood mitigation plan (4/20)

‘Hoping for answers’: Prairie Village native continues search for mom following mysterious disappearance (7/30)

‘It’s time to move on’ — Hartman Hardware closing permanently in downtown Shawnee as owners retire and make way for developer’s revitalization of streetscape (9/11)

‘Like living next to a rock quarry’ — Shawnee residents frustrated with excavation near Woodland and SM Pkwy that could last 10 years (11/16)

Shawnee Mayor Michelle Distler arrested on charge of perjury, released from JoCo jail (12/2)