Bi-State factor in 6th District, Toplikar says
Gardner Mayor Lehman seeks upset in Johnson County Commission race
A contest other than his race against Gardner Mayor Carol Lehman to retain his 6th District Johnson County Commission seat is playing a part in the campaign, John Toplikar said.
A press account from earlier this month claiming county committees and boards were short members because Toplikar failed to name more than 20 people to open positions was politically motivated, Toplikar said. He also bristled at suggestions of his erratic attendance at County Commission meetings.
The record showed he was the only Commissioner with a perfect attendance record since he was sworn into the newly created seat in January 2003, Toplikar said. As for the unfilled board and committees, three boards mentioned in press accounts didn't exist, he said. He didn't appoint members to fill open seats on the Northwest Consolidated Zoning Board because of the sensitivity of Hunt Midwest Mining Inc.'s controversial conditional use permit application, he said.
"One of the biggest things I've done is try to kill Bi-State," Toplikar said. "That did not sit well with Bi-State organizers. That was pretty close to their heart. They had an incentive to see me gone.
"It was basically payback time."
When the County Commission voted to put Bi-State II before county voters in the general election, Toplikar offered a competing motion that would have let Johnson County voters decide whether they wanted to remain a part of the Bi-State Cultural District. Despite what he saw as heavy-handed tactics from Bi-State advocates to discredit him, he would make the motion should Bi-State fail in the county on Tuesday.
"I still think it's a great idea," he said. "I think it's time. I still think the voters need to be asked, 'Do we still want to be in this?' It might have been a good idea eight years ago, but that doesn't mean De Soto voters and others in the 6th District aren't ready to withdraw from the compact."
His opponent, Gardner Mayor Carol Lehman, said she would not support such a move.
"We don't know what the future holds," she said. "There may be a wonderful opportunity down the road. Why cut ourselves out?"
The results of the August primary suggest Lehman faces an uphill battle to unseat Toplikar in the non-partisan race. The five-term Gardner mayor finished a distant second in the three-way primary term Gardner mayor finished a distant second in the three-way primary, which was also contested on non-partisan grounds, with 24 percent of the vote to Toplikar's 53 percent.
Add to that disadvantage the demographics of the district. The population of Toplikar's homes in north Olathe more than doubles that of the rest of the district, which includes De Soto, Gardner, Spring Hill, Edgerton and much of the county's remaining unincorporated area.
Lehman, however, said she was encouraged by the response she had received to her vow to work with voters.
"Lots of times you can tell how candidates will serve by how they campaign," she said. "I've been in the five cities a lot. That's how you learn.
"I'd be a responsive, visible commissioner for them, keeping up with what's going on and apprised of what's going on with the issues important to them."
Contrasting her style to that of Toplikar's, Lehman said she would seek to find consensus as she had done for so long in Gardner.
"I also think the County Commission needs to work together as a unit," she said. "You have to work together to make progress."
Toplikar has often been the odd man out on the Commission. In addition to his isolated stand on Bi-State, he voted against the 2004 budget in the summer of 2003 because it included a mill levy increase. He remains the lone vote against measures designating Kessinger/Hunter and Co. the developer of the Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant because the Commission has thus far failed to appoint a redevelopment authority.
Toplikar said he was right on both the latter issues. His opposition to the 2004 budget wasn't in vain because it influenced the 2005 budget. His position this year was likewise useful, he said.
"If it wasn't for me pushing for a 1 mill roll back, we wouldn't have rolled back what we did, which wasn't quite a half mill," he said.
He would continue to insist on a roll back to the mill levy during the county's annual budget process, Toplikar said.
Voters were concerned about taxes, Lehman said. But at the same time, they insisted on the excellent quality of services and amenities Johnson County delivered, she said. A forward-looking approach would help address both concerns, she said.
"I would like to see more of the tax dollars filtered to capital improvements and maintenance of the infrastructure we have," she said. "It costs so much more to rebuild a road than to maintain it."
Two years ago, county voters approved an economic development sales tax for the benefit of the county's school districts. That tax will end in 2006 unless renewed by county voters.
Neither Toplikar or Lehman think that will be necessary because Legislature, perhaps under the direction of a Supreme Court decision expected this fall, would address the issue of funding education.
"I firmly believe funding education is the state's job," Lehman said. "I sincerely hope the Legislature takes care of that.
"If they don't, I would support letting the voters decide (whether to extend the tax)," she said. "Economic development and excellent education go hand in hand."
As for Sunflower, both candidates said they would not support the redevelopment plan of any developer that did not protect De Soto's interest for the Sunflower water treatment plant.
"I would demand that any measure follows the county master plan, that it cleans Sunflower to residential standards, that absolutely no county tax dollars are used for the redevelopment, and that the developers live up to commitment to De Soto," Lehman said.
Toplikar said he had worked at Commission meetings to get promises from the developer to guarantee De Soto's interest on the record and behind the scenes to advocate for the city's position.
"Let's get to the bottom of this," he said. "One of the issues is the developer and others in Washington (D.C.) are holding up the water plant's transfer because it doesn't fit in with the developer's plans.
"I think it can. There is a way to make it work. What there needs to be is a desire from Kessinger/Hunter to make it work."
They also share the position that a redevelopment authority should be named as soon as possible to help guide future development at Sunflower.
De Soto unsuccessfully went to the County Commission in 1998, asking that the portion of Johnson County Rural Fire District No. 3 be detached from the district. This last year, preliminary talks began between the jurisdictions about how best to resolve the long-standing issue of detachment, consolidation or maintaining the status quo.
Lehman said she went through a similar experience as mayor of Gardner. Although she didn't advocate that as a template for a De Soto solution, saying "one size doesn't fit all," Lehman said as commissioner she would endorse the process that led to that agreement.
"We asked the professionals in both departments to find a workable solution," she said. "They didn't immediately agree, but after meeting three or four times they came to an agreement. We tweaked that a little bit, but that was the basis for the agreement."
Toplikar, too, said progress would be made through continued talks. But he said he opposed a proposal those associated with Fire District No. 1 in the southeast part of the county had floated, which would consolidate all rural fire districts.