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Observer Corps Report

Eileen Marshall | Published on 11/2/2020

Johnson County Board of County Commissioners

Meeting dates: September 17 through October 8 (most recent appears first)

Observers: Lenore Rowe, Kathleen Morrow, Joan Gilson, Karen Wiederaenders

These observations were conducted online through the Johnson County, KS On Base program and through FaceBook Live (the latter is usually closed captioned). 

For more information see

October 8, 2020


Commissioner Klika was absent. 


There were comments from five speakers.


One item was added to the agenda and passed, to approve a grant from the Center of Technology and Civic Life for election operations in the amount of $856,000, to be used to make voting safer and more efficient. Election Commissioner Connie Schmidt explained that the grant will allow for the purchase of new equipment to process the 140,000 plus mail-in ballots, and for three additional ballot drop boxes (for a total of 10) and necessary staff to empty those boxes three times a day. Commissioner Schmidt also noted that the Election office is referring to voters’ most recent signatures on file and has an extensive “cure process” of phone calls and emails to contact voters and correct any questionable signatures. An additional daily stipend of $25 was approved in order to retain election workers. 


PPE Weekly Update—the County has slipped into the yellow zone and is behind on obtaining personal protective equipment, part of a nation-wide trend. Dr. Areola and Elizabeth Holzschuh reported on COVID-19, explaining the changed percentage positivity calculations and the new county dashboard. Cases are now calculated per 100,000. The trend is down, but still too high and still in the orange zone. The goal is to keep schools open; masks are working. 

Commissioner Hanzlick commented that the Kansas Health Department is working with wastewater plants to detect COVID, a practice which has begun in Johnson County by sampling locations among the 58,000 manholes to get infection data. 


Commissioner Fast stated that the temporary moratorium on COVID-19-related evictions and foreclosures has been extended, along with the Governor’s executive order, for another month by the State Finance Council. 

October 1, 2020


There were comments from six residents.


Several resolutions were approved. These include a conditional use permit application for Toynbee House of Horrors at 35753 W. 146 th St; an increase in the Stormwatch System Maintenance project ($115,000) to increase flood warning monitoring; and funding for $500,000 for expanded, mobile COVID-19  testing for underserved and vulnerable populations, (especially for Hispanic residents, who are often essential workers, and who represent 7.9% of the population but 20% of COVID cases). 


A training session for Commissioners and others for Crisis Leadership during an Active Threat [Terrorist] Event is scheduled for October. 

 Mental Health reports indicate a 21% increase in adult encounters since the beginning of the pandemic. 

 Construction for the Tomahawk Creek Wastewater Plant is on schedule and on budget. 

The Audit Report for the Juvenile Detention Center indicates a number of areas for correction, including the need for improved procedures for juveniles to report abuse, injury and other incidents. The recommendations are currently being implemented, with an initial progress report to be presented in October. 

To date from the beginning of the pandemic, COVID-19 expenses amount to about $10.5 million. Entities including public school districts, cities, Water District #1 and Johnson County Parks and Recreation have been reimbursed for personal protective equipment and other public health related measures. Dr. Areola and Epidemiologist Elizabeth Holzschuh reported that new gating criteria are being developed and that the county is working with public school districts daily to open schools. Differences between positivity percentages on the state and county dashboards were briefly explained: the state reports antigen test results, but the county only reports positively confirmed cases. The message was repeated: “Masks work!” 


Commissioner Hanzlick noted that the MARC Economic Seminar reports the economic recovery for the metropolitan region is proceeding more quickly than from the 2008 recession. Commissioner Fast commented that the youth suicide rate appears to have declined because of access to online counseling, and she requested more information. Commissioner Klika extended condolences to the Morse Elementary School community on the untimely death of their principal, Steve Vandemark, last weekend. 

September 24, 2020


Twelve residents commented.


All items on the action agenda were approved, including item 7, to approve the Annual PHA (Public Housing Agency) Plan for submission to the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). This report details how housing choice vouchers are distributed in the county. The majority of this housing is provided by private, for-profit landlords and is occupied by disabled heads of households at a rate of 53%. Johnson County has 33,000 residents living below the poverty level, and this program only accounts for 9% of that. The remaining residents attempt to make do by a variety of means: living with family, living in their cars, couch surfing, often eventually entering a cycle of evictions. Commissioner Hanzlick urged the board to keep affordable housing as a priority in light of this severe need. 


ELECTION UPDATE--Election Commissioner Connie Schmidt reported on preparations for the November election, noting the following deadlines: October 13 for close of voter registration, October 14 mailing ballots to voters, October 17 Saturday advance voting to begin in person, and October 27 last day to request a mail-in ballot.  All ballots must be received in the election office by the Friday after Election Day in order to be counted. The polls will open at 6 AM on Election Day. We have 176 polling places, 1,700 new poll workers, and early voting is strongly encouraged if you want to avoid a line on Election Day. News as of this morning: seven new walk-up drop boxes will be available at public libraries. Commissioner Schmidt projects a strong turnout. 

CERI REPORT—The unemployment rate in Johnson County for July was 6.6%. 

CRF (Community Reinvestment Fund)-- $35,324,000 has been disbursed for Work Force, Aging, and Digital Expansion projects, among other items,  in order to comply with the December 30, 2020 expiration date. 

September 17, 2020


A number of residents commented during this time. Although Chairperson Eilert requested that those comments be made at the appropriate time during the Action Agenda, he did not enforce that request. 


All items in the action agenda were approved, including, after more public testimony, a motion for the county to reaffirm the Governor’s Executive Order 20-52 requiring masks or face coverings in public. A number of residents offered testimony against masks based on misinformation, but all of the local school superintendents, the heads of Advent Health Systems and KU Medical System, along with Drs. LeMaster and Areola, requested approval of the executive order. 


Because of the four-and-a-half hour delay resulting from the extensive public comment period, management reports were reviewed in writing. 


Chairperson Eilert noted that Commissioner Brown’s social media posting the previous weekend alluding to the need for residents to arm themselves and prepare for “a coming war” has created a “firestorm” of response and that it is the Commission’s responsibility to create community, not division.    

Commissioner Allen made a motion stating that the Board does not agree with or approve either the tone or content of Brown’s post and that the Board supported the safety of public safety employees, all persons of color and all residents of the county. Commissioner Hanzlick seconded the motion, and it passed with a vote of four to three. Chairperson Eilert stated that it is important for Commissioners to be careful about social media postings, that words make a difference and “What we say matters.”

Johnson County Library Board

Submitted by Karen Wulfkuhle

The Library meeting was not streamed due to technical difficulties

Central Resource will be closing at the end of the year for renovations.Updates will include some new meeting rooms, relocations/updates to Kids and Teen areas, re-organization and updates to staff spaces, and plumbing & heating/cooling replacement. As a result, the Central Bookstore closed October 10 and the Genealogy Information desk will close November 10.   The renovations are expected to be completed by the end of 2021.

Curbside pick-up of holds is now available at the Cedar Roe, Gardner, and Leawood Pioneer branches. 

The Library publishes an email newsletter.  Sign up here

Johnson County Mental Health Center (MHC) Advisory Board

September 28, 2020 via Zoom.

Submitted by: Harry and Mary Bognich

MHC is trying to reactivate JoCo Suicide Prevention, following all the disruptions caused by COVID-19. The startup of the school year has been stressful for many: young, old, teachers, students, parents.

Reminder that MHC also helps children with autism, since stress is hard for these children in particular.

MHC is using Virtual Mental Health First Aid (QRP) to do virtual suicide training prevention.

MHC offers Free Gun Locks to people who request them.

Director’s report by Tim DeWeese:

  1. MHC has received COVID-19 funds from various areas (Reach, Cares Act, grants) in the last 9 months and this has really helped meet many extra expenses. There is still worry about the growing increase both in people needing services and in the array of services needed, since both are going to grow hotter and harder to handle.

  2. Recently reopened nurses’ clinics (Olathe and Shawnee) for medication refills and other services.

  3. Working on how MHC could provide smartphones or similar devices to people who normally could not afford them, so that they can be contacted by (or keep in touch with) MHC. Also looking at WIFI hotspots.

  4. Have been sending out “Mental Health Moments” a weekly email which has a current distribution of more than 2,000 county residents.

  5. Also support a “Mental Health Postcard” mailing with a distribution of more than 4,000 people.

Next meeting November 23, 2020.

Olathe School Board

October 1, 2020

Submitted by Cindy Hicks

The Olathe School Board met on October 1, 2020 for a regularly scheduled meeting. The first half of the 5-hour meeting was for public comments. A number of students, parents, and teachers participated.

During the second half of the meeting, the district’s administration provided an update on the current school year, including the new tools provided: 1) parent training on the Synergy software system for on-line learning; 2) help desk services for learning and technology questions available to both parents and students; and 3) Open Zoom for educators to be able to discuss with others questions and/or solutions to issues. 

The board discussed the pros and cons of the various gating options regarding which learning options will be offered at the various risk levels. The gating criteria considered were: 1) the JCDHE as revised on October 1; 2) KDHE as issued on August 11; 3) the MARC as issued on August 12; and 4) the CDC issued on September 11. The board approved the use of the revised JCDHE criteria plus adding one additional measurement, absenteeism, to the matrix. Each item will be weighted equally. The board also decided not to make any changes to the high risk extra-curricular activities requirements that had been approved the prior month.

Olathe School Board

October 14, 2020

Cindy Hicks

The Olathe School Board held a special meeting on October 14, 2020. The JCDHE has updated their gating requirements to no longer include extra-curricular activities (including high risk activities) in these criteria. As such, the board, consistent with their stance to follow JCDHE gating criteria (with the added absenteeism criteria) adopted the same position to not include such extra-curricular activities as a criteria regarding learning options (in-person, on-line, hybrid). As a result, students participating in extra-curricular activities will have the same learning options as the other students. 

To read more, click here.

Shawnee Mission School Board

September 29, 2020

Submitted by Lisa Bonds

The meeting began with a sizable number of public comments. 

Superintendent Fulton stated that all children living in the district may continue to pick up both lunches and breakfasts until the end of December. He also laid out the plan to open elementary schools by the end of October, starting with a hybrid plan and moving into the all-in-person plan by the end of the month. Fulton pointed out that secondary schools are more difficult because cohort groups cannot be maintained. More COVID-19 testing is coming to the district, but it will not meet the amount needed for safe reopening, according to Fulton. 

The board did discuss the possibility of using the Kansas Department of Health numbers instead of Johnson County’s data for gating criteria. These two agencies’ numbers for Johnson County’s positive tests results do not match; Johnson County reports a 12.3% positive rate while the state’s number is 6%. [Ed. Note: the difference is due to a difference in how the calculations treat multiple tests by an individual, and JoCo has since changed its method to correspond to KSDHE.]  The discussion was tabled for later. However, two other decisions were passed. The first was a language change in the board’s child abuse policy, and the second approved the continuation of the district’s insurance with Blue Cross and Blue Shield. The cost of the insurance will increase 8.2%, which will be less than $5 a month for employees. 

To read more, click here.

Overland Park City Council 

September 21, 2020

Submitted by Janet Milkovich

The Council met in chambers with nine people present and one joining virtually. There were two excused absences.

One citizen spoke during the Open Public Comment period. 

The city was awarded $6 million in CARES Act Funding to be used for COVID-19 response. All programs must be executed by December 31, 2020. The City Manager said that 27 projects have currently been identified. These grants are funded through the Coronavirus Relief Fund of the federal CARES Act. 

To read more, click here.

Overland Park City Council 

October 5, 2020

Submitted by Janet Milkovich

The City Council met at the OP Convention Center with 11 of the 12 members present.

Prior to the City Council Meeting, council members participated in a 90-minute workshop to address the issue of systemic racism in city politics. The mayor announced that the training was not in response to the recent protests in Overland Park but instead it was an outgrowth of Forward OP and had been planned in June. 

Prior to the workshop, and at the past two city council meetings, the Finance and Administration committee discussed changes to the newly created Public Comments time launched at the September 14 City Council Meeting. Some council members asked city staff to draft additional limitations to the 30-minute Public Comments Period including:  

1. moving the comments period to the end of the meeting instead of the beginning

2. removing the comments from livestream broadcast

3. removing the comments from the council minutes 

It was noted that, during the pandemic, many citizens participate in the city council meeting via livestream. If the new regulations are passed, they will not get to hear Public Comments. The council president expressed concerns that residents may want to use the comments period to push a political agenda. The president also said this was not an attempt to stifle public engagement. During the October 5 meeting, two residents spoke during the Public Comments period.  


Two Overland Park Planning Commissioners were approved for another three years. Planning Commissioners are selected by, and serve at the pleasure of, the mayor.

Mr. Jermel Stevenson was introduced as the new Director of Parks and Recreation. He will oversee management of OP’s 83 parks, the soccer complex, the Farmstead, Arboretum and the Arts & Recreation Foundation. 

Prairie Village City Council

September 21, 2020

Submitted by Eileen Marshall 

Notable items:

  1. The mayor reported that the new Diversity Task Force has its first meeting on September 22. The task force has a broad remit to recommend steps to attract more diverse residents to PV. Council will have to approve any actions based on the recommendations, which are expected by early 2021.

  2. Council approved special pricing from specific vendors who provide commercial composting and residential curbside glass recycling. These services are NOT provided by the city but will be available to individual residents and businesses at their own expense.

  3. Council approved a non-binding resolution in support of the Paris Climate Accord and the Climate Mayors Network and also the purchase of carbon emissions tracking software.

Prairie Village City Council

October 5, 2020

Submitted by Nancy Kalikow Maxwell

The Prairie Village City Council met virtually via Facebook. Councilwoman Inga Selders reported on the first meeting of the Diversity Task Force that was held on September 22. This body is considering the following ideas: 

  • Partnering with the library to promote diversity literature

  • Holding a forum on criminal justice issues

  • Holding a cultural festival

  • Identifying and removing restrictions on housing that were instituted by J.C. Nichols

  • Investigating decriminalizing marijuana

  • Encouraging affordable housing initiatives

The Task Force plans to continue discussing these issues and bring recommendations to the Council by the end of the year or beginning of next year.

Following an extensive discussion, the Council defeated a motion to install plexiglass dividers in Council Chambers, which would have been paid for with County CARES funds.

To read more, click here.