Archive for Thursday, June 12, 2008

Local candidate assures commission race

June 12, 2008

The Johnson County election year got a lot more interesting Tuesday with District Attorney Phill Kline's decision to seek re-election, but one first-time local candidate was already excited about the campaign season.

Calvin Hayden said his anticipation is such that he was disappointed a third person didn't file for the 6th District Johnson County Commission seat.

When the filing deadline passed at noon Tuesday, only Hayden and incumbent John Toplikar had filed for the position. In the non-partisan contest, both have a free pass for the November election.

"When we filed, I was prepared for a primary and I was ready for it," he said. "I'm kind of disappointed. I'm anxious to get started."

Hayden is from De Soto and filed just days after retiring from a 27-year career with the Johnson County Sheriff's Office. The first-time office seeker entered the race because of the encouragement of others.

"It was suggested to me by some friend, and the more people I talked to the more support I ran into. There is a lot of disappointment with the current county commissioner. People are disappointed with him not showing up to city council meetings, chamber functions, zoning board and fire board meetings - his making late appointments or no appointments at all. No returned phone calls was a major, major complaint."

That disappointment has his supporters as anxious to get started has the candidate as evidenced by the many Hayden signs already up in De Soto's right of ways. Those will have to come down with no primary.

"I gave them to some friends, and they are putting them out," he said. "That's great. They is my hometown, and I'd love to see this town blue and white."

Hayden said he willingness to listen to constituents was a key part of his message.

"I was born and raised here, and I love this part of the county," he said. "As much that is going on here - Sunflower, a north-south route, the intermodal - it has to be done with as much input as possible. These things are going to have a tremendous impact on De Soto, Gardner, Edgerton and Spring Hill.

"Having public hearings is one thing, but a commissioner ought to be out there listening."

Toplikar has a record on the commission of voting against advancing tax increase proposals, including the quarter-cent education grant sales tax extension in 2005 and the proposal this year to extend the sales tax for public safety.

Just last week, Toplikar voted against putting a one-eighth cent sales tax for use to fund projects and programs for the proposed Johnson County Education Research Triangle Authority.

"The name of this reminds me of the Bermuda Triangle, where maybe the public's money going in will never be seen again, although, we can expect those who begin their projects with the public's money will surely be back for more," Toplikar wrote in a press release. "True economic development doesn't need a tax to support it."

Hayden, a former corrections officer with the county, said he supported the public safety measure because it offered a way to collect sales tax of residents of nearby counties who benefit from Johnson County's jails. But he said he also supported letting county voters decide the issue.

"Just because I think it is the right way doesn't mean voters don't see a better way," he said. "Let them make a decision. Voters have done a pretty good job in Johnson County."

Sheriff's race

The public safety tax, which is to be decided in the Aug. 5 primary and would extend the current county quarter-cent sales tax for education for building and operating county correctional facilities is also an issue Johnson County Sheriff's race.

Challenger Ken Smith said the tax is not needed and should be defeated.

"It's absolutely not necessary," he said. " He (Sheriff Frank Denning) has plenty of staffing. My personal opinion is he's overstaffed. They are extremely top heavy, and they have more than enough personnel to staff that jail."

The sales tax was another example of Denning's appetite for spending, Smith said. The sheriff's office budget increased from $56 million to $72 million in Denning's three years in office, the challenger said.

Smith said during that time Denning was cutting programs popular with other law enforcement agencies in the county, including the transportation unit, which transported inmates from city holding points to the county jail, and the joint sheriff's office, local departments special investigations unit into narcotics.

Smith also criticized the current crime prevention attitude of the sheriff's office, which he said was reactive rather than proactive. As a result, he said. the crime rate in Johnson County was increasing while trending downward nationwide.

"One of the biggest problems in Johnson County is there is no law enforcement intelligence whatsoever," he said. "A county this size should have a fusion center. They sit back and wait for crime to happen."

Denning attributed Smith's criticism to politics and his opponent's inexperience.

"I really have no idea what his experience is because I've never met him, but he has no concept of the complexities of what it takes to run this sheriff's office," he said. "That is just inexperience."

The violent crime rate in Johnson County is 2.3 percent and the overall crime rate is 2.7 percent, Denning said. They are the lowest in the metropolitan area and going down, he said.

The budget increase can be understood as a response to the county's annual population increase of 10,000 to 12,000 people, Denning said. When he first joined the department in 1987, there were 100 employees. He now has 700, Denning said.

He attempts to run a frugal department that maintains the public safety excellence Johnson County residents expect and has hired the department's first chief financial officer to help with that goal, Denning said. That is why he supports the use of the quarter cent sales tax for public safety, he said.

Last Thursday, he gave a report to the county commission announcing a hiring freeze of correctional employees until voters have decided the fate of the sales tax and the downtown Olathe jail, which will close for remodeling with the opening of the 542 bed second phase of the jail at the New Century AirCenter, Denning said.

The freeze and the ways his staff found to increase the population the second phase can handle without increasing its size would save the county more than $2 million, Denning said.

It was also why was he compelled to drop the transport of city offenders to county jails, Denning said.

" It was a good program, but it was based solely on overtime funding," he said. "I didn't feel we could justify or afford a program that was staffed only on an overtime basis."

District Attorney's race

Kline's last-minute decision to enter the district attorney race will pit him against former District Attorney Paul Morrison staffer Steve Howe in the Republican primary. The winner of that race will face another former Morrison staff member, Rick Guinn, in November.

Both former Morrison staff members announced their intention to run soon after they lost out to Kline in a county GOP caucus in January 2007. In making his decision, Guinn switched party allegiance to the Democratic Party.

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