NPR in Kansas City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
Politics, Elections and Government

Voter’s Guide To The Clay County Commission

20191212_ClayCountyBudget_00010.jpg
Julie Denesha
A statue outside the Clay County Commission meeting room.

With two of the three Clay County Commission seats up for grabs this election cycle, voters will get new leadership and a chance to influence the direction of a commission that many citizens have lost trust in.

Neither Western Commissioner Gene Owen nor Eastern Commissioner Luann Ridgeway are running for re-election. Owen and Ridgeway typically voted in lockstep, underfunding jail contracts for health care and food, approving a controversial $52 million bond project and suing the state auditor in 2019 to limit the scope of an audit requested by thousands of citizens.

The two commissioners also opposed Presiding Commissioner Jerry Nolte’s proposals to decrease spending on lobbyists and put a public comment period back on the agenda.

Whoever wins will likely mean changes for Clay County citizens. Most candidates want to roll back spending on the bond project and support the state audit. Some candidates have deep experience navigating county government while others have been involved in state government or business.

KCUR offered candidates a chance to respond to a four-question survey. These are the responses we received; some were edited for brevity. Candidates are listed alphabetically by last name.

WESTERN COMMISSIONER - DEMOCRATIC PRIMARY

Western District_Democrat_Jon Carpenter.jpg
Jon Carpenter

JON CARPENTER
Age: 32
Experience: 4 terms - Missouri House of Representatives
City of residence: Kansas City
Campaign Website: www.carpenterformissouri.com

If elected, what will you focus on?

We need to regain confidence and trust from the people. Improving transparency, adhering to the sunshine law, listening to voters, spending taxpayer dollars wisely, always putting the people's interest first, and making Clay County a place where businesses want to invest and people want to live and raise their families. We need leaders who are more interested in solving problems rather than creating them. I look forward to putting the bickering behind us and getting back to the important work of improving infrastructure, ensuring we have safe, thriving neighborhoods, and protecting social services for our most vulnerable citizens.

How do you see the county commission’s role in responding to the coronavirus pandemic?

I believe coronavirus pandemic is an incredibly serious challenge to the health and economic well-being of the entire world, and Clay County is no exception. It needs the full attention of our leaders, and that means working with the Clay County Health Department, metro cities, the state, the federal government, and issue-area health experts to make sure the county is contributing in every way possible to addressing the crisis.

How would you manage the bond project passed by the previous commission?

I think it’s extremely unwise to borrow tens of millions of dollars for unnecessary projects during a time of unprecedented economic challenge. Revenues to local governments are down, and balancing the budget will already be difficult enough. A public vote should be required before the county takes on significant debt. Any money that has not already been spent should be put toward improving basic county services, social services for vulnerable citizens, or paying down the debt.

Did you sign the petition to audit the Clay County government? What do you see as the path forward after all audit reports are released?

Yes – I signed the audit petition and strongly believe an outside, neutral audit is critical for our county. It’s the best way to get factual information that can help guide us into the future. I trust auditor Galloway’s team and oppose the lawsuits that have delayed this process at significant cost to all of us as taxpayers. I look forward to studying the results when they're released, implementing the changes recommended, make sure we're using best practices, and restoring the trust of the people that decisions are being made in their interest.

CATHY RINEHART
Age: 67 years old
Experience: 23 years working in Clay County government environment.
City of residence: Kansas City
Campaign Website: n/a

If elected, what will you focus on?

I will focus on giving the citizens back their voice during commissioners meetings, as well as reducing the debt for Clay County.

How do you see the county commission’s role in responding to the coronavirus pandemic?

Our current commission has abdicated all responsibility of the county to Clay County staff. I believe it is the role of the commission to keep as many people safe, with social distancing, and providing masks, when social distancing cannot be accomplished. It is the commission’s responsibility to constantly clean and sanitize the public building instead of leaving it up to officeholders to sanitize common areas.

How would you manage the bond project passed by the previous commission?

I will first find out exactly what has been spent and where the spending has occurred. Then I will analyze exactly what is needed to sustain the functioning of Clay County government. After closely going over the numbers I will submit a plan to my fellow commissioners for a further course of action.

Did you sign the petition to audit the Clay County government? What do you see as the path forward after all audit reports are released?

No, I did not sign the audit petition. I’ve experienced this commissioner’s staff up close and personal. I predicted the fight that would come from the commissioner’s staff with lawsuits to stop, stall, and delay this audit. This is exactly what has happened. It would be one thing if the state auditor could press charges or had teeth to do something but the state auditor does not have that power.

I believe the staff and commissioners that have brought the wrath of the Clay County citizens will leave office or resign before anything can happen. I would be more than willing to pursue any retribution due Clay County caused by staff or others if criminal wrong doing is proven by the state audit.

WESTERN DISTRICT - REPUBLICAN PRIMARY


JOSIAH BECHTHOLD
Age: 39
Experience: I am not a politician. I have never been elected to office before.
City of residence: Kansas City
Campaign website: www.votejosiah.com

If elected, what will you focus on?

Fighting corruption and ensuring that government functions cleanly is the most important.

How do you see the county commission’s role in responding to the coronavirus pandemic?

The role of the Clay County Commission is to take all necessary measures to combat the COVID virus. I do support a mandatory mask mandate. However lockdowns are ill-advised, this can not be done at the expense of shutting down the economy and stripping people of religious freedoms by shutting down churches. Idle industries across Missouri have thrown workers into low wages, human misery and personal indignity. Those who pay taxes are denied a fair return for their labor, their success penalized, and full productivity hindered. Local businesses have been stripped from this community, and its infrastructure has collapsed while taxes keep getting raised and government spends on frivolous things like $600 coffee makers. I will firmly stand against this injustice.

How would you manage the bond project passed by the previous commission?

I do not support these new spending measures. There is a looming recession due to the COVID-19 pandemic and there will be a decline in the tax base. The county can not afford it.

Did you sign the petition to audit the Clay County government? What do you see as the path forward after all audit reports are released?

Yes I do support the audit. Recent scandals concerning the current occupant of the office, Gene Owen, who I am running to replace, show that an audit is needed.

Western District_Republican_Barry McCullough.jpg
Barry McCullough

BARRY McCULLOUGH
Age: 53
Experience: 27 years of business ownership - Jenkins & James Insurance Agency. Employer's Trustee for Missouri LAGERS, Local Government Employee Retirement System. Served as Councilman & Mayor, City of Gladstone. Years of civic leadership; serving as Chairman or President for Gladstone Area Chamber of Commerce, Rotary Club of Gladstone (Rotary International), Westgate Division of Missouri Municipal League and the North Kansas City Education Foundation.
City of residence: Oakwood
Campaign website: www.barryforclaycounty.com

If elected, what will you focus on?

First, we must comply with the audit and establish trust by having open lines of communication with Clay County residents - make meetings more widely accessible through online streaming and evening meetings. Depending on audit findings, set priorities for mitigating hidden problems. Properly funding the Sheriff's office, public safety will stay a priority. Economic development, Clay County has the opportunity to lead the metro area into the future through population and job growth. Maximize our resources to catch up deferred maintenance or make improvements to county infrastructure.

How do you see the county commission’s role in responding to the coronavirus pandemic?

Ongoing communication with Gary Zaborac, Director of Public Health, and supporting the decisions made for the well-being of Clay County residents. Responsibly manage obligations related to CARES/CARES 2 funding distribution.

How would you manage the $50 million bond project passed by the previous commission?

We must determine a baseline of obligations that may be found when the audit is completed. We don't have to spend more than has already been spent - again, mitigate our losses. We should sell the land at 152/Brighton for the unnecessary New Annex, we may have contracts to renegotiate or cancel depending on how far it can get before January 2021.

Did you sign the petition to audit the Clay County government? What do you see as the path forward after all audit reports are released?

Yes, I signed and collected signatures for the audit petition. As previously stated, response will depend on information found and severity of the issues. Ultimately, we should establish an annual outside audit so we don't repeat this problem.

Western District_Republican_Lydia McEvoy.jpg
Rebecca Sharp

LYDIA McEVOY
Age: 45
Experience: MO licensed attorney, worked for Kansas City Economic Development Corporation, previously held real estate broker's license, elected Collector of Revenue for Clay County since 2011
City of residence: Kansas City
Campaign website: www.lydiamcevoy.com

If elected, what will you focus on?

Restoring a spirit of service to the Clay County Commission. I intend to be a full-time Commissioner that is responsive to my constituents. I will restore the proper hierarchy of county government with major decisions being made by open vote of elected officials. I will save costs by restoring the office of county counsel (rather than using multiple outside law firms), and bringing staff salaries in line with salaries paid in the elected offices. I will re-prioritize county government, making public safety and law enforcement our first priority, and ensuring that elected offices with statutory responsibilities have the budget and support to perform those duties. Finally, I hope to reconsider the plans for the new Annex to see if we can use existing County resources to address the very real concerns about Annex infrastructure.

How do you see the county commission’s role in responding to the coronavirus pandemic?

Major decisions should always be made by open vote of elected commissioners. Closure of county buildings, distribution of state and federal assistance, and facilitating cooperation between elected offices should all be led by policy guidance from the commission. While the commission does not oversee the public health department, the commission should spearhead a coordinated effort where health officials have a voice in the discussion about policy direction, and all facets of government move forward in a unified manner.

How would you manage the bond project passed by the previous commission?

Roll it back to the furthest extent possible, and ensure all future uses of funds that cannot be rolled back are approved in an open meeting by elected Commissioners with the opportunity for robust public input.

Did you sign the petition to audit the Clay County government? What do you see as the path forward after all audit reports are released?

Not only did I sign the petition, my husband and I collected over 800 signatures supporting the audit. It is anticipated that the office of collector, which I currently lead, will learn a lot from the audit process, and we look forward to any guidance the state auditor can give us. As collector, I have served under 3 different elected Auditors in my 9 1/2 years in office. Guidance on tricky questions has not always been consistent. I believe most of the elected offices are doing their jobs well. But feedback, especially in government, is always a good thing. Each office should review the recommendations of the audit, and take them under advisement, implementing recommendations wherever possible. The audit of administrative staff and the Commission might have a very different result, and it will be up to the new Commission to decide how to proceed when those results emerge.

Western District_Republican_RodneyPhillips.jpg

RODNEY PHILLIPS
Age: 58
Experience: Over 30 years of public service as a law enforcement officer, from 1983-2015. I also served as the director of operations for a corporation, from 2012-2020.
City of residence: Kansas City
Campaign website: www.rodneyphillips2020.com

If elected, what will you focus on?

I will focus on the safety and security of the citizens, and I will focus on the wasteful spending that has been running rampant in Clay County.

How do you see the county commission’s role in responding to the coronavirus pandemic?

I believe the commission should follow the advice and the recommendations set for by our county and state Health Departments.

How would you manage the $50 million bond project passed by the previous commission?

I plan to revisit this issue, and if legally possible, let the citizens vote on this. I believe the citizens should have a voice in any large financial commitment to the County.

Did you sign the petition to audit the Clay County government? What do you see as the path forward after all audit reports are released?

Yes, I fully support the state audit, and it will proceed without interference from the commission. After all of the reports are released, anyone involved in wrong doing will be referred to the prosecutor for investigations, charges, and prosecutions.

EASTERN DISTRICT - REPUBLICAN PRIMARY


DOUG ERVIN
Age: 53
Experience: 22 years professional experience with a Fortune 500 Kansas City company, Clay County Economic Development Council Executive Board and past board member of Tri-County Mental Health Services.
City of residence: Kearney
Campaign website: www.ervinforclaycounty.com/

If elected, what will you focus on?

Editor’s note: We’ve condensed Ervin’s answer to this question do to its length. If you want to learn more about Ervin’s platform you can read page 2 of this voter’s guide compiled by Jason Withington.

I am the only candidate in this race that has a written, published agenda to get Clay County out of the morass that we find ourselves and move us forward to achieve our potential.

Ethics reform:

  • Create procurement reforms that promote transparency in county procurement by requiring bidders to reveal financial relationships/interest, employment relationships, boards and commissions relationships, familial relationships with county officeholders and disclose campaign contributions to county officeholders and lobbying activity related to the procurement.
  • Close the loophole in county political campaigns by establishing campaign contribution limits.
  • Close the loophole allowing unlimited lobbyist gifts for county officeholders
  • Remove the shroud of secrecy and require all county offices to follow the Missouri Sunshine Law.
  • I pledge to restore open public discourse in commission hearings by returning the public comment section back to the agenda – accessibility.
  • Restore the statutory duties of officeholders that have been taken away by the Commission – rule of law and checks and balances.
  • Propose livestreaming and archiving video and/or audio of commission meetings – transparency and accountability.
  • Stop the frivolous lawsuits against fellow county office holders, reduce wasteful spending in our budget, and return sound business practices to the budget process.

Law Enforcement: I’ll work closely with the Sheriff’s office and support law enforcement by improving our budget investment in those who protect and serve our communities daily.

Economic Development: I will work with our cities and economic development organizations to create sound policies that attract new businesses, talent development, and jobs. We will no longer play political games with the business community and will work alongside all stakeholders to create the best environment for work, careers, and education.

I am the only candidate for Eastern Commissioner with experience in working in all three categories. I have a voting record against new taxes and encouraged our state to live within its means. I have a service record of working with and listening to the needs of law enforcement and I have served with Clay County economic development leaders to promote jobs in Clay County.

How do you see the county commission’s role in responding to the coronavirus pandemic?

The Clay County Public Health Department is the designated public health authority for Clay County. The commission is responsible for applying and disbursing state and federal dollars, e.g. CARES Act monies, available to fight the pandemic. The commission is also responsible for working with all county departments and county officeholders, e.g. the Sheriff’s office, to ensure that each department and elected office has the necessary resources to fight the pandemic and serve the public’s needs in these unusual times.

How would you manage the bond project passed by the previous commission?

I am opposed to the actions taken by this Commission to use the Certificate of Participation arrangement to put the county in debt and I am opposed to it taking place without a vote of the people. The voices of the Clay Countians were completely ignored on the annex. The entire process has been clouded with impropriety and the public steamrolled. I’ll review each project to determine its necessity and whether it can responsibility be abandoned. We are in debt over $10 million and we are obligated to pay that debt off. No new project that incurs new debt should move forward without public comment and a vote of the people.

Did you sign the petition to audit the Clay County government? What do you see as the path forward after all audit reports are released?

While I was not a signer of the audit petition, I applaud the citizens audit committee in making this audit possible – they did a great service to the county. The state audit must be completed. If the commission’s lawsuit challenging the state auditor is still in place when the new commission is sworn, I will work to drop that lawsuit and turn over all requested documents. I pledge a complete a thorough review of the audit findings by the commission, invite public testimony on the findings, create a detailed plan to address deficiencies, and will turn over any findings of questionable conduct to the appropriate authorities for prosecution, if not already done so by the state auditor. We must hold elected officials accountable for their actions.

Eastern District_Republican_Megan Thompson.jpg
JSi Photography

MEGAN THOMPSON
Age: 34
Experience: I have served our community as County Clerk for the last six years. During that time I stood up against government corruption by reporting record tampering to the Sheriff. I also fought wasteful spending by exposing the misuse of taxpayer money and voting against politician pay raises.
City of residence: Kansas City
Campaign website: meganforcommissioner.com

If elected, what will you focus on?

My number one priority is ending the corruption and wasteful spending of the current commission. This means ending the abuse of secret executive meetings that are not open to the public, not paying high priced lawyers to fight the state audit, and firing the Jefferson City lobbyists on whom the current commission wastes thousands of dollars a month.

How do you see the county commission’s role in responding to the coronavirus pandemic?

The role of a commissioner right now is to make sure the Clay County Public Health Center has the resources it needs to combat the spread of the coronavirus. It is also just as important that commissioners make all the most recent information easily available, so people can make informed choices about their health.

How would you manage the $50 million bond project passed by the previous commission?

Every taxpayer dollar wasted paying interest on this reckless loan is another dollar that can not be spent on things like law enforcement, roads and bridges. I will immediately return any unspent funds and take all necessary steps to eliminate the remaining debt as efficiently as possible.

Did you sign the petition to audit the Clay County government? What do you see as the path forward after all audit reports are released?

I proudly signed the petition and was humbled the Clerk’s Office received the second highest possible rating from the audit team. As the next Eastern Commissioner, I will immediately direct all commission lawsuits challenging the audit in court to be dismissed and will ensure all findings are made public. All evidence of corruption and misconduct will be referred to the proper authorities for possible prosecution.

DAN TROUTZ

Troutz did not respond to a KCUR request for comment.

EASTERN DISTRICT - DEMOCRATIC PRIMARY

KCUR could not reach Dustin Bell for comment, however you can read more about Bell here.

KCUR serves the Kansas City region with essential news and information.
Your donation today keeps local journalism strong.