To the editor:
This letter is in response to recent letters by Greg Beck and Bryon Maduska opposing the Give Me 5 (GM5) proposal to increase the Leavenworth Commission to five members rather than the current three-member commission. First, readers have to understand that Beck and Maduska are longtime Leavenworth conservatives who oppose everything and anything.
Both Beck and Maduska contend that a Oct. 28 forum on the GM5 proposal had to be cancelled because the GM5 group could not/would not provide a speaker at the forum. Unfortunately, this date/forum was a last-minute event which did not work for GM5 members who were part of their marketing team.
According to Beck, the GM5 proposal is a special interest group-generated referendum that wants to use their “bloody hand” signs and generalized talking points to sway the voters. Bloody hand? Generalized talking points? That is not a bloody hand on our signs, it’s a give me five hand. It is printed in red because red on white is the most legible color combination. GM5 purchased 100 signs to place across the whole county. Believe me, that was not enough signs to cover the county. To compare, count the huge numbers of signs posted by candidates on every street corner.
The GM5 produced trifold pamphlets and cards outlining their talking points. The signs, pamphlets and cards were purchased with funds contributed by concerned citizens, not by a political party. The pamphlets and cards were used in discussions with interested voters at the Leavenworth Farmers Market, City Market, Leavenworth County Fair, several GM5-sponsored forums (where Greg Beck was the invited opposing speaker), and handed to citizens as GM5 workers walked through neighborhoods collecting more than 3,000 signatures on a petition to force the County Commission to put the proposal on the ballot.
An increase of the County Commission has been cussed and discussed for 20 to 25 years. A petition was the only way to get the issue in front of the voters. Why? Because the commissions refused to put the proposal on the ballot. Commissioners were protecting their position and their high salaries.
The Give Me 5 is a group of citizens concerned with the long-standing inefficient, ineffective and fumbling County Commission. GM5 backers believe that Leavenworth County government can be improved by increasing the County Commission from three districts and three commissioners to five districts and five commissioners. GM5 is supported by the Leavenworth League of Women Voters and many independent volunteers. Janette Labbee-Holdeman is the spark plug and leader of the GM5 campaign.
Fourteen of 105 Kansas counties have adopted five-member commissions. Ninety-one counties have the state minimum of three commissioners. Almost all of these smaller counties have small to very small populations (10,000 population down to the smallest county with 1,300 people). Yes, there is no crisis and no surge in population in these small counties requiring more commissioners. In fact, many of the small counties are losing population.
A critical point in the GM5 proposal is that with a three-member commission only two commissioners are required for a quorum. If one commissioner is absent, two commissioners can motion, second, vote and approve county business. A weak, dangerous situation. With five commissioners it will require the presence of three commissioners to have a quorum and a vote.
Leavenworth is the sixth most populated county in Kansas with 80,000 people and is the sixth smallest in acreage. County Commissions are based solely on population – area is not in the equation. Per Beck, it is taking 15-17 years for the county to add 10,000 people. OK. In 2000, the population was 68,691 (up 6.9 percent), in 2010, the population was 76,227 (up 11 percent), the 2016 U.S. Census Bureau estimated population is 80,204 (up 5.2 percent). And while the 2020 population has not yet been estimated, it could be around 83,000 to 85,000 based on previous population growth.
What is especially pertinent is the explosive population growth and residential development in the southern half of the county. This part of the county needs better representation on the County Commission. The GM5 proposal provides that. The current 3rd District will be split into two districts with two commissioners. The northern part of the county will be increased to three districts. Currently, each commissioner represents about 27000 people. With five commissioners, each commissioner will represent 16,000 to 17,000 people. A much better representation ratio. Commissioners will live closer to and know their constituents. Constituents will know their commissioner. Commissioners will better know the issue(s) the constituents want carried to the County Commission.
Yes, Leavenworth commissioners are generously paid $42,000 per year, plus about $21,000 each in benefits. GM5 believes our county commissioners are over paid. GM5 advocates that the current total salary for three commissioners ($126,000) should be divided by five and new commissioners should be paid around $25,000 to $26,000. This salary would be comparable to the average salaries paid to commissioners in the five counties that are similar to Leavenworth. At a GM5 forum six weeks ago, three of the four candidates running for the commission agreed to hold their salaries to the $25K to $26K levels. The fourth candidate agreed to take the salary voted by the commission.
The $21,000 in benefits to each commissioner seems exorbitant and possibly could be reduced.
Leavenworth County pays a county administrator $138,000 per year. Sounds like and is a lot. But if you had observed commission meetings in the years before the administrator was hired you would have been highly concerned with how those (and today’s) commissions fumbled through the county meetings and business. It is easy to see that the administrator has brought organization and efficiency to the commission.
Mr. Beck stated there are no guarantees if the proposal passes that the number of commissioners will be increased to five. What? The voters will have spoken. Also, according to Beck there is no plan, no detail on how the increase will be effected. What? The county clerk briefed the commission and a GM5 forum on the Kansas statutory procedures following a vote to increase the commission. Basically, Leavenworth County political parties (Democratic and Republican) will identify candidates for each vacancy in the respective districts. A special election will be held in the first quarter of 2019 to elect the new commissioners, who will be sworn in some time not later than March 1. Mr. Beck and Mr. Maduska should read Kansas Statutes 19-202, 203, 203a, 204 and 204a.
Leavenworth is a growing county.
GM5 believes that a five-district commission is the better organization for county government for a growing future.
Vote yes for five county commissioners Nov. 6.