Commissioners discuss change to elected positions

John Richmeier
The Leavenworth Times

When they met this week, Leavenworth County commissioners discussed the possibility of changing some of the elected positions in the county government to appointed positions.

Such a change ultimately would require approval from voters in the county. But there did not seem to be strong support among the commissioners Tuesday for moving forward with the idea of making positions such as the county clerk, county treasurer and register of deeds appointed positions.

“I can definitely see both sides,” Commissioner Mike Stieben said.

Stieben said his default position is to keep the current system of having voters elect people to these positions.

Commissioner Chad Schimke suggested exploring the idea of changing several elected positions in the county government to appointed ones late last year. And commissioners discussed the idea Tuesday during a work session.

Schimke said the county government has leaders who are doing a great job. But he expressed concern that someone could be elected to lead a county department without having a background in that position and no leadership experience.

Schimke also said the county can have great policies in place, but those policies may not always be followed when an elected person is running a department.

County Clerk Janet Klasinski, who attended the work session, said the issue can only be placed before voters during the years of gubernatorial elections.

The next gubernatorial election will be in 2022.

While some elected positions could change to appointed positions, Senior County Counselor David Van Parys said the law requires that the sheriff and county attorney remain elected positions.

Klasinski expressed opposition to changing her position and other elected positions in the county to appointed ones.

She said such a change would give county commissioners the power to terminate these department leaders.

“I think you’re giving too much power to the Board of County Commissioners,” she said.

She said commissioners do not know what a future board may do.

Klasinski said only two counties – Johnson and Wyandotte – of the state’s 105 counties have changed the elected positions to appointed positions. She said Wyandotte County is unique in that it operates a unified government with Kansas City, Kansas.

Stieben asked why commissioners should attempt to fix something that is not broken.

“It could get broken by one election,” Schimke said.

He acknowledged things also could be broken by one bad appointment.

Schimke said he also wants the county to be sued less. He later expressed concern about the termination of employees by elected officials resulting in lawsuits.

“You don’t know what you’re going to get when you appoint someone,” Klasinski said.

County Administrator Mark Loughry said a bad appointment can be more easily fixed than a problem with someone who is elected.

Loughry said he could bring in people from counties that have changed from elected positions to appointed ones. But Loughry said he did not want to bring in people to meet with commissioners if there is no intention of moving forward with the issue.

Stieben said he is not opposed to listening to someone’s opinion, but he does not consider the issue to be a high priority.

Commissioner Vicky Kaaz said she agreed with Stieben.

Stieben said it would take a lot of persuasion for him to support making a change.

Kaaz said she does not want to bring in someone to speak with commissioners about the issue if there is not a strong feeling in favor of moving forward with the matter.

Commissioner Jeff Culbertson suggested commissioners can meet with the people from other counties individually.

Schimke asked Loughry to share the names of people commissioners can speak to about the issue.

Culbertson said he did not want to make the change unless it was supported by the people who hold the elected positions.

“I don’t want to do it if you guys don’t want to do it,” he said.

Commission Chairman Doug Smith was absent Tuesday.

Kaaz suggested speaking with Commissioner-elect Mike Smith about his feelings on the issue.

In January, Smith will begin representing the County Commission’s 4th District which is currently represented by Schimke.

It was suggested during Tuesday’s work session that there may be support among commissioners for making the election of county officials non-partisan. But Klasinski said she does not know if this can be achieved through a local ballot question. She said this may require a change in state law.

Twitter: @LVTNewsJohnR

In other business

Leavenworth County Commissioners:

• Approved a resolution to update the county’s Gravel Road Dust Control Policy.

• Met behind closed doors in a series of executive sessions for about 80 minutes. Commissioners conducted the executive sessions for the purpose of consulting with legal counsel.

After the third and final executive session, commissioners voted to authorize the county administrator to engage outside legal counsel as needed.