Archive for Thursday, August 22, 2002

Coming campaign vital to De Soto

August 22, 2002

The Aug. 6 primary left Johnson County voters with an unexpected and important decision in November. Given its population, De Soto will have little chance to determine the outcome of a race that could go a long way in determining its future.

In one of the primary's biggest upsets, Charlotte O'Hara finished second in the race for the new Johnson County Commission chair position, besting assumed frontrunner Kent Crippin and three other challengers. She will now face the primary's top vote-getter, County Commissioner Annabeth Surbaugh, in the November general election.

O'Hara surely benefited from her stature in Johnson County Kansans for Life and the $90,000 of her own money she spent on the primary campaign. But it would be foolish to discount her hard work and her message of smart some would say limited growth. O'Hara got in the race after the County Commission approved a sewer district for southern Olathe that will mean skyrocketing enrollments for the Spring Hill school district. O'Hara, a Spring Hill district resident who opposed the sewer district, points to parallels between that situation and the consequences of sewer-driven development in western Shawnee on De Soto.

Surbaugh has served on the County Commission for a decade but is probably best know countywide for her opposition to Oz Entertainment Co.'s redevelopment plan for Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant. It was a stance that earned her considerable goodwill among Oz's many opponents, but it wasn't a rigid no-growth stance. Until Oz self-destructed, she left the door open for the company to prove it could deliver on promises to bring benefits to the county.

De Soto can't turn back the clock in western Shawnee, already home to some 20,000 residents. The sewers that will drive additional development are already a reality. What the city of De Soto and USD 232 badly need is commercial and residential development and limited residential growth. Should the transfer process start moving forward, Sunflower is a made-to-order opportunity to achieve just that. Any development would be greatly aided by the county's willingness to provide sewers and roads.

Given the level of interest in the Oz plan throughout the county, it might be assumed Sunflower would be an important issue in the coming campaign. Absent an earth-shattering announcement, we doubt that will be true. The unfortunate reality is that others will make a decision about an issue crucial to De Soto's future in an election that will address Sunflower only as the subtext of a larger debate. It is our hope the candidates explain how Sunflower fits in their larger vision.

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