A group of citizens trying to read aloud a Heartlander article about racial indoctrination in local schools has been shut down by a Kansas City-area county commission for not being relevant to county business.
At a May 11 commission meeting, concerned citizen Jill O’Connor was repeatedly interrupted and told by Johnson County Commission Chairman Mike Kelly to stop reading a Heartlander article about “white-shaming” racial indoctrination by Shawnee Mission School District teacher Caedran Sullivan.
The opinion article – “I will not be deterred’: Kansas public school teacher stands by criticism amid attacks and national attention – was actually a follow-up to one Sullivan wrote that earned national attention for exposing woke Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) curriculum in the district.
O’Connor, one of several citizens who teamed up to read Sullivan’s second article relay-style, to comport with each one’s allowable two-minute speaking period, was not allowed by Kelly to read her portion. Another commissioner, Janeé Hanzlick, had earlier reminded the audience to stick to county business, and Kelly ruled the article about local schools didn’t qualify.
O’Connor and her ad hoc group disagree, noting that Hanzlick herself has touted schools as a key component of the county’s success. O’Connor also noted to commissioners that two-thirds of Shawnee Mission students aren’t proficient in math and science.
“We felt like that was something that was applicable to a county matter, the fact that our schools are not proficient, those kids are not proficient in math and science,” she told The Heartlander. “That should be important to the board.”
O’Connor also notes that Johnson County has provided controversial DEI training not unlike what teacher Sullivan exposed that Shawnee Mission schools are doing – making it a matter of county business and citizen concern.
Nonetheless, O’Connor wasn’t allowed to read from the article, as seen at the 9:45 mark of this citizen-recorded video. Kelly appeared to look in the direction of county administrators and legal counsel before shutting O’Connor down.
The Heartlander reached out to Kelly for comment on the matter.
“He was very polite to me the whole time, but he was throwing his weight around and he had the blessing of Peg Trent, the legal counsel, to do it,” O’Connor says. “There would have been no harm with him letting us read that article, but he wanted to be an authoritarian, and I didn’t like it.”
Gary Morgan – a member of the volunteer group who often videos public comments because Kelly has decided not to stream them online with the rest of commission meetings – is less diplomatic than O’Connor about her treatment.
“I think it was absolutely reprehensible, and I think it epitomizes the unprofessionalism of Chairman Kelly,” Morgan said. “He’s the bully in the room. He’s not going to put up with anything he doesn’t want to hear.
“I’ve known Jill for the last couple years, and she is nothing more than professional and courteous and kind. But you know, she demands her voice be heard. And clearly, that’s not what’s going to happen with this commission that exists today.”
Steve Snitz, another part of the group, said members decided to read Sullivan’s article because “it’s extremely well-delivered. If you want to know about what’s going on in Shawnee Mission and you want to know the effect of DEI, or even what DEI is and how it’s being presented and how the district administration is all-in on this, her article is like a 20-minute read and she brought you right up front of what’s going on.”
All three lamented not only Kelly’s shutting them down, but also his decision after taking office this past year to stop streaming public comment portions of commission meetings online – ostensibly to prevent the spread of 2020 election “misinformation” and the possibility YouTube might stop streaming commission meetings altogether because of it.
Morgan said citizens asked the county for proof of such a threat and never received any.
“Clearly, from Day 1 Commissioner Kelly’s actions have reflected more of a tyrannical leader than a public servant here to serve us as taxpaying citizens,” he said.
On Thursday, with Kelly absent, the group did manage to read an article from the Sentinel about taxpayers fleeing “high-tax jurisdictions like Johnson County.”
Asked why the group was prevented from reading the Heartlander article, O’Connor replies quickly, “Because (Kelly) is a tyrant. He wants to ‘show us who’s in charge.’ He just wants to be the boss, and he makes no bones about it. He caters to his liberal followers with Janeé Hanzlick and the others on the board.”
Morgan says public comments he’s seen at commission meetings have sometimes been pointed and even harsh, but unfailingly respectful.
All three say, despite the strain of being a small group of volunteers, that they won’t stop trying to be heard by their elected officials. O’Connor says they should get shirts emblazoned with teacher Sullivan’s own mantra: “I will not be deterred.”
She announced exactly that to the commission upon being told to stand down.
“We are not going away. We will not be deterred,” O’Connor tells The Heartlander. “We’re not gonna back down. We can’t. I just wish we could get more people to show up, but they’re busy and they’re tired of the fight. But we can’t stop.”
For her part, Sullivan has been interviewed by Fox News and Newsmax, the latter segment airing Thursday night (at the 39:33 mark), as some are expected to call for action against her, perhaps including firing, at the Shawnee Mission school board meeting this Monday.