Wyandotte County doing just fine, thank you
In what seemed to be one of those grand schemes proposed by marginal and novice political candidates, Kansas City, Kan., Senator Chris Steineger surprised everyone late last month by proposing a merger of Johnson and Wyandotte counties.
Steineger said the merger, which he proposed through legislative action, would give a single voice to more than 600,000 people, creating a Midland's dynamo that would compete with Denver, Omaha and St. Louis.
There is much odd about the state senator's proposal and its refusal to acknowledge a century of divergent history. Not surprisingly, it was greeted more as a curiosity. One has to wonder why anything so ambitious should be taken seriously if not first ran by officials in the counties it would affect.
Early dismissals seemed to focus the reluctance of those in Johnson County to tarnish their high-toned "branding." But it is its timing that is most peculiar, coming as it does as Wyandotte County has stirred from decades of decline to once again become a major economic and political player in the metropolitan area.
Despite Steineger's assertion that bigger would be better, it's debatable that such a renaissance would have been possible if that county's most significant accomplishments would have required the support of the southern suburban cities. It should be remembered, Wyandotte County embraced the NASCAR track that found little support when proposed for the Gardner vicinity.
This is not to assume the cooperation between the two counties should not be a priority or that a tax dollar spent across the county line could have more return than spending the same dollar in county. Johnson County residents should realize that continued poverty in the Kansas City, Kan., urban core creates problems that spill over county lines, and that air pollution from Johnson County's commuter lifestyle drifts with ease across the Kansas River. Cooperation is needed to find solutions to regional issues, foremost of which is transportation in an age of steeply rising energy costs and congestion. A regional approach to parks and trails, for example, improves the quality of life for all.
But again strong, focused local leadership responsive to the need for revitalization turned Wyandotte County around with Johnson County's help confined to its legislative delegation. The cult-like worship of size aside, there is a lot of merit in local governments confident in their understanding of local culture and conservant with private sector leaders enough to build consensus and flexible enough to act. Limited size can be an aid in those qualities not a hindrance.