Mayors tell NEJC State of the Cities attendees that Topeka politics are threatening Johnson County’s reputation, local control
Two northeast Johnson County mayors used their appearance at the annual NEJC Chamber State of the Cities luncheon to argue for local governments to retain more of their autonomy, saying that actions by the state legislature in recent years have threatened the concept of home rule authority and injected partisan rancor into local issues.
David Dickey, who was sworn in as mayor of Mission Hills earlier this month, reiterated the core of the message he delivered at the luncheon last year, when he was president of the city council, saying that the city’s “biggest challenge is the machinations that go on in Topeka.”
Dickey said that the legislature’s continued failure to address the protracted school funding litigation was harming the area’s reputation.
“We are served by a tremendous public school system,” Dickey said. “No matter what side of that argument you are on at the moment — right, left, court, not-court — the fact [is] that when people who want to come to our communities, outside Kansas City, look up Kansas public schools in a Google search…they see ‘court judgement, underfunded,’ and that’s the first message.'”
Dickey also said that the legislature’s recent trajectory shows a disregard for the concept of home rule authority.
“Topeka continues to chip away at that in spirit and in actuality,” he said. “Liberal and Prairie Village need different things. Topeka shouldn’t dictate that. Colby and Mission Hills need different things.”
Dickey’s sentiments were echoed by Westwood Hills Mayor Paula Schwach, who said she had been dismayed by a number of proposals in the state capitol that threatened the city’s ability to manage its own affairs — among them the tax lid bill and the concept of making local elections partisan.
“[The state] wants to insert itself and its extreme partisanship into local elections,” Schwach said. “I believe that over time partisan local elections would destroy the comity, the cooperation and the sensibility with which the mayors and the elected officials now operate.”
Schwach said she was concerned that the ideas favored by some elected officials at the state level would leave NEJC cities “increasingly dysfunctional,” and encouraged attendees to contact their legislators and ask them to support local control.
“Please respect home rule,” she said. “Restore local control over city budgets. Retain non-partisan elections.”
You can find video of the full NEJC Chamber State of the Cities program, which featured updates from the leaders of nine area cities, embedded below:
NEJC Chamber State of the Cities
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