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A 2022 election guide to the candidates for Johnson County Commission

Top row, from left: Johnson County Commission 1st District candidates Becky Fast and Audra McMahon. Bottom row, from left: 4th District candidates Janeé Hanzlick and Maria Holiday, and 5th District candidate Stephanie Suzanne Berland.
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The Kansas City Beacon
More than half of the seats on the Johnson County Commission is up for election this year. Top row, from left: Johnson County Commission 1st District candidates Becky Fast and Audra McMahon. Bottom row, from left: 4th District candidates Janeé Hanzlick and Maria Holiday, and 5th District candidate Stephanie Suzanne Berland.

The Johnson County Commission governs the county budget, public health and dozens of county departments. More than half of the commissioners are up for election this year.

When voters arrive at polling places on Nov. 8 for the general election, Johnson County ballots will include choices for four out of seven members of the county commission. This includes the race for commission chair, who is chosen by all voters in the Johnson County election, as well as three district representatives.

The Johnson County Commission serves as the primary governing body in Johnson County, where more than a fifth of Kansas’ total population resides. It oversees a budget of $1.45 billion and makes decisions regarding public health, emergency services and public transit.

This year, the three commissioners who represent the 1st District, 4th District and 5th District are up in the Johnson County election. All three races are nonpartisan and feature an incumbent running against a challenger.

The 1st District covers northeastern Johnson County, including Prairie Village, Merriam, Mission and most of Leawood. The 4th District covers most areas of Overland Park that are north of 135th Street and south of 75th Street. The 5th District covers central Johnson County, including eastern Olathe and southeastern Lenexa.

Audra McMahon is challenging incumbent Becky Fast in the 1st District. McMahon is a loan officer from Leawood, and Fast is a former teacher from Roeland Park.

In the 4th District, Janeé Hanzlick is an incumbent commissioner facing a challenge from Maria Holiday. Hanzlick is a former CEO of a domestic violence agency, and Holiday is a real estate agent and former teacher. Both live in Overland Park.

To the west, Stephanie Suzanne Berland is challenging incumbent Michael L. Ashcraft in the 5th District. Berland is an accountant, and Ashcraft runs a management consulting company. Both candidates live in Olathe.

The Beacon reached out to all six candidates in the Johnson County election with a questionnaire about what they hope to accomplish as a Johnson County commissioner. Ashcraft declined to participate.

Responses have been edited for clarity and length.

What new perspectives and ideas will you bring to the Johnson County Commission?

Fast, 1st District: I have 30 years of experience in the public and nonprofit sectors in elected, appointed and volunteer roles to draw upon. My educational background with a master’s in public administration and social work ensures results are delivered and all residents, even the most vulnerable, benefit. Two critical initiatives: first, specialized crisis mental health teams that bring together our 911 staff, paramedics, mental health and aging staff, and nurses to work in partnership with our first responders. Second, a one stop shop or eco-park for recycling that is an easy drop-off for items not picked up at curbside.

McMahon, 1st District: The newest perspective I’d bring to the JoCo Commission is the oldest in the book: Listening! I promise to listen to our Johnson County residents and stand to take action that they wish to see. Additionally, I have ideas of grandeur to issue tax abatements for educators, first responders and those on fixed incomes with restrictions and caps.

Hanzlick, 4th District: As CEO of the Safehome domestic violence agency, I invested my career in caring for Johnson County. As county commissioner, I introduced new ways to address the county’s growing mental health and aging needs, as well as homelessness and housing challenges. I look forward to serving as the Kansas co-chair for the regional housing partnership and continuing to serve on the county’s housing subcommittee. In addition, I supported new ways to lower property taxes, including reducing the mill levy three years in a row, advocating for new economic development opportunities like solar facilities, and supporting energy and sustainability initiatives.

Holiday, 4th District: I’d like to investigate a program similar to Ohio Checkbook that makes a full look at the county budget accessible and transparent to the taxpayers that fund it. It should be easy for any taxpayer to understand how much money is being spent in individual departments and programs — specifically what it is being spent on, as well as how they are being funded. I have had to request information through the Kansas Open Records Act because it is not readily available. This type of transparency encourages fiscally responsible decisions, continued measurement and analysis of effectiveness and discovery of inefficiencies.

Berland, 5th District: I can bring unique and fresh perspectives to the commission, first being the need for internal financial audits. These are a must in a county with this much money. Secondly, it would be beneficial to have meetings in the evenings. Public participation is needed for excellent services and governance. Speaking times have decreased and opinions are being silenced. This trend needs to be reversed.

What will be the most important factors for you when making budget decisions?

Fast, 1st District: I will ensure the county’s budget is managed with fiscal accountability, long-range planning with resident input guiding spending decisions. Tax dollars must be managed with service efficiency. The commission must ensure the county keeps a AAA bond credit rating, which results in low interest rates and reduces the tax burden of residents. Johnson County is one of 42 counties in the nation with the AAA bond rating. As your commissioner, I will be a prudent steward of your tax dollars, balancing fiscal accountability with excellent community services to attract business, high-paying jobs and quality public education.

McMahon, 1st District: I fully intend to monitor the budget and only approve requests after reviewing the existing budget, ensuring it fits in the currently approved section for funds to be spent and is either desired by the community or is mandatory for the health and safety of our Johnson County residents. Health and safety is our number one priority.

Hanzlick, 4th District: I support a prudent county budget that provides the resources needed to maintain critical county services, invest in priorities identified by our community and maintain sufficient reserves to continue our AAA bond rating, while also keeping property taxes as low and as equitable as possible. Increases in assessed valuations must be balanced with reductions in the county mill levy to ensure that property owners aren’t unfairly penalized for the growth in their home’s value. I am proud to have supported mill levy reductions for the past three years.

Holiday, 4th District: As a business owner, I am always looking for return on investment when making budget decisions. I evaluate sustainability and make projections based on past and current performance, while taking future trends into consideration. All financial decisions must be measurable, or they can’t be managed. This is why it’s important to have measurable outcomes on programs and initiatives. Every business has implemented something that has not performed to expectation. That’s when we pivot. We don’t continue to throw money at problems. We solve them, replace them or remove them. Government should be no different.

Berland, 5th District: My goal is to reduce the county’s budget. I have not been quiet on wanting to cut upper administrative salaries. I would also study the spending trends for the last three to five years and focus on the areas that have increased significantly and figure out why. I would use internal financial audits to determine where there is waste and abuse and cut those expenses immediately. I am also in favor of zero-based budgeting, meaning all expenses must be justified. Some people won’t like that items will be cut, but it needs to be done.

What are your views on bistate collaboration?

Fast, 1st District: The future of Johnson County is linked with the Kansas City metro area. When all governments, both big and small, work together this will ensure a stronger economy for the region. I serve on the Mid-America Regional Council board of directors, which is the designated agency for bistate planning. Johnson County shares many community-spanning programs and services with our bordering counties on the Missouri side. Several of the collaborative initiatives including transit, roads, public safety, flood control and air quality management. Together we are stronger and can then attract national events like the World Cup 2026.

McMahon, 1st District: Our bistate collaboration has room for improvement. There are current actions in motion that are not beneficial to the majority. I do not have all of the details and line items for actions and motivations behind those actions to fully support or refute the collaboration. I have lived on both sides of the state line and consider myself a Kansas Citian, albeit resident of Johnson County.

Hanzlick, 4th District: The interdependence of Johnson County and the Kansas City metro area was especially evident during the pandemic, when regional cooperation among health care, governments and businesses was critical to addressing and recovering from a pandemic. Bistate collaboration is essential to economic development (e.g., attracting the World Cup); access to federal funds for roads and infrastructure; public safety (911 systems); and homeland security. In my role as commissioner, I have advanced regional collaboration through service on the Mid-America Regional Council, Kansas City Area Transportation Authority, Climate Action KC and the Johnson County Transportation Council.

Holiday, 4th District: We are a bistate community and I look forward to collaboration. However, Johnson County is its own unique community. We should not surrender our governance or our tax dollars to other jurisdictions. Johnson County dollars need to work for Johnson County. I do not believe our commissioners should hold positions that don’t put Johnson County residents first.

Berland, 5th District: If you are referring to the Mid-America Regional Council, I am not for it. The policies of the Mid-America Regional Council have become overreaching, and I don’t believe in large government. I am particularly against the Climate Action Plan. One of my first priorities is to remove us from the plan. However, if you are talking about discussions and some joint projects on a case by case basis, I am not against collaboration.

If elected, what are two or three specific things you plan to recommend to improve the county government?

Fast, 1st District: The important initiatives that I will focus on when I am reelected include first, championing continual improvements to our mental health crisis service system, including the need for a youth crisis stabilization support center. Second, addressing housing affordability through expanding home repair, weatherization services and first-time homeownership resources. Third, furthering home-based support for our seniors to age in place. Fourth, strengthening the county’s environmental sustainability efforts and access to renewable energy to power our county buildings.

McMahon, 1st District: Listen to the people of the county and boldly act for what’s important to our residents. First, monitor the budget and stop spending just to spend. I’m looking to shift the mindset of “use it or lose it.” Second, adjust what is seen as affordable housing with my realistic experience in the housing market for almost two decades and bring awareness to the county from the everyday person’s perspective. The county commission does not understand the community’s concept of affordable housing.

Hanzlick, 4th District: First, Johnson County must position itself to better serve vulnerable residents, with improved services that will address the county’s growing mental health and aging needs. I will continue to advocate for the county’s role in economic development, especially to take advantage of the growing alternative energy industry, which will create good paying jobs in emerging industries. Finally, I will continue working to create more affordable housing options so our teachers and first responders can afford to live in the communities they serve.

Holiday, 4th District: Mental health is a national crisis. We need to assure that we have adequate resources available to support our county. Mental health issues are also directly linked to homelessness, substance abuse and crime. A mental health facility that partners with faith-based community groups and law enforcement is absolutely needed in Johnson County. To that end, it is imperative that law enforcement always be fully funded at a competitive pay rate and that we make time to collaborate with private entities to implement strategic collaborative solutions.

Berland, 5th District: If elected, I would do the following: first, fully fund the sheriff and do what we need to do to get the department completely staffed. Public safety is number one. Second, reduce spending by using internal financial audits – the rate of growth in spending is not sustainable, we are doing too much too fast and we cannot sustain all these programs. Third, increase public participation with meetings in the evenings, increased public speaking times and creating a sense of welcome. The county government works for the citizens and right now, the county leadership is not reflecting this fact.

Are there any areas where you believe Johnson County decisions have not represented the perspective of constituents?

Fast, 1st District: The county’s community survey reported 82% of residents were satisfied with the quality of services provided to them. The interests of my northeast 1st District near Kansas City can be vastly different from the rural unincorporated needs of the 6th District. The best policy is by nature a compromise of competing demands – when commissioners confer with their constituents and take their perspectives to the chamber to work through the policies to ensure as many residents as possible are satisfied.

McMahon, 1st District: I deeply believe the concept of affordable housing is being collapsed with the current availability of housing. It appears the county commission is missing the difference. Additionally, there is a missing perspective from those on fixed, lower incomes and how it is becoming increasingly difficult to remain at home with rising property taxes as well as costs of goods and services during this season of inflation.

Hanzlick, 4th District: Johnson County is a world class community. We are privileged to have great schools, safe neighborhoods, quality county services and beautiful parks and libraries. I do not believe that the toxicity and divisiveness that we have heard at county commission meetings over the past two years reflects the perspective of most county residents. In contrast, the 2022 citizen survey indicates that 98% of respondents are satisfied with the county. I will continue to listen to the voices of all constituents, even those that are quiet, in my decisions to keep Johnson County a great place to live.

Holiday, 4th District: “Hindsight is 20/20” is not the turn of phrase it was a few years ago, but 2020 and COVID did teach us some valuable lessons. Leaders don’t dig in when mistakes are identified. They shift when needed. The shutting down of schools and businesses was a travesty for our economy and our children. Our economy has not yet recovered and neither have our children. So many constituents were begging commissioners to adjust, to pivot so they could save their business, but it fell on deaf ears.

Berland, 5th District: The COVID-19 responses by the county, which included determining who is essential, lockdowns, masking students, remote learning … Half of the county was not represented during the pandemic, and this is a problem. Also, decisions tend to be made before public participation and it can be reflected in the increase of the Kansas Open Records Act requests. Most recently, lack of representation has been demonstrated with reduced public speaking times and muting citizens after two minutes. This is unacceptable, and I would move to change this restriction of freedom of speech.

This story was originally published on the Kansas City Beacon, a fellow member of the KC Media Collective.

Josh Merchant is The Kansas City Beacon's local government reporter.
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