Johnson County, Kansas, leaders have lost their focus on what’s important, says an Olathe planning commissioner who wants to broaden his impact by joining the county commission this year.
Tony Bergida has announced his run for the 6th District seat held by first-term Commissioner Shirley Allenbrand.
“For decades, Johnson County has been the ‘go to’ community for families and businesses seeking a safe and prosperous community in which to put down roots – including my own,” Bergida wrote in his campaign announcement. “Advancing and maintaining the desirable quality of life in Johnson County must be the county commission’s top priority.”
Yet, as taxes rise “over 24% for some residents while the county makes sweetheart tax-giveaways to special interests,” he argues the county commission “has lost sight of its mission to govern in a manner that benefits our families, local businesses and builds a strong foundation for the future.”
“I do think the county commission does not align with the average Johnson Countian and how they want their local government to operate,” Bergida tells The Heartlander. “It feels like the county commission has a social agenda that they’re looking to push through instead of looking at how can we provide the best service.”
A financial manager for a research and development company as well as a member of the Olathe Planning Commission and a husband and father of three, Bergida says he’s concerned the commission “has taken a hard shift to the left. And from my conversations with my neighbors and people around the community, this area is a conservative or a middle-of-the-road area.
“And our [6th District] county commissioner, I get the impression, is ‘go along to get along.’ I have never seen her vote against the agenda set forth; it’s been a rubber-stamp vote. And those votes have led to an increase in property taxes.
“Also, I’m concerned about the treatment that the county commission has done towards our public safety officials.”
Indeed, the current county commission has struck an oddly combative pose toward the county sheriff – even threatening his funding as he investigates the integrity of the 2020 election.
Others have noted that the commission has emphasized controversial employee training in diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), while choosing to prevent public comments at its meetings from being streamed online.
Some comments haven’t even been welcome in person: Last May concerned citizen Jill O’Connor was repeatedly interrupted and told by Johnson County Commission Chairman Mike Kelly to stop reading a Heartlander article by area teacher Caedran Sullivan about “white-shaming” racial indoctrination in the Shawnee Mission School District.
In his announcement for office, Bergida instead cites “public safety, lowering property taxes, and maintaining Johnson County’s world-class parks” as the county’s proper priorities.
As for “sweetheart tax-giveaways,” Bergida declined to be specific, but said “people I’ve talked to, there are some concerns about government favoring businesses coming in that haven’t been a part of the community, especially when it directly affects people that have been here and have been great contributors to our community for a really long time.
“This is a great place to have a business and do business. But the government should not be picking winners and losers here. And we should be community-centered in supporting local businesses.”
Having moved to the area from Lawrence for its quality of life some years ago, Bergida says he wants to see it nurtured and protected.
“We’ve got it really good in Johnson County, and one of the things I don’t want to happen is for that to fundamentally change. Sometimes they say it has to get really bad for people to change. And that worries me, because we left somewhere because we wanted a great quality of life for our kids, and I would hate for us to let the worst happen [before doing] something about it.”
Although the county commission doesn’t have direct responsibility for the local public library system, 3rd District Commissioner Charlotte O’Hara has tried to get her colleagues to wield influence over the library’s unabashed policy of allowing minors access to sexually charged books – such as a talking book for toddlers called The GayBCs, checked out by The Heartlander, which teaches the alphabet using LGBTQ words.
Bergida has already taken notice.
“I have to review every single book that my kids take home from the library,” he says. “My kids love the library. I think an easy solution would be more parental control, in terms of what’s available for kids to see. I know the county commission doesn’t directly affect that, but in terms of appointing someone to the library board, I would like to see more parental control.
“The library’s for everyone, and people shouldn’t feel threatened or feel like their child is exposed to inappropriate content just being there. It should be a safe haven for kids, especially little kids.”
“Tony will represent and serve well the conservative values of District 6,” O’Hara wrote The Heartlander. “His methodical and studious approach will be a valuable asset to the JoCo BOCC in January of 2025.”
Elections to the commission will take place this November, and in August if there’s a primary.