Steve Klika has been an active, progressive, thoughtful force for truly helping to improve Johnson County during his first term on the County Commission. He richly deserves re-election over Ben Hodge in the 3rd District contest this fall.
In the other contested commission race, 6th District incumbent John Toplikar is a one-note “no” vote on major issues. His opponent is Mike Brown, who also calls himself a conservative. This endorsement is far less definitive, but you can’t do much worse than Toplikar. So Brown it is. (Here’s The Star’s story on the race.)
Back to Klika. It’s extremely important to keep him on the commission.
In an interview Tuesday, Klika said he was proud of what he had helped accomplish in his first four years on the panel. He absolutely should be.
Klika has been on the right side of some controversial, close votes. He has pushed back against ultra-conservative commission members who want to merely hold down taxes and not try to make major improvements in fast-growing Johnson County.
The vote that stands out the most to me was Klika’s essential support for a property tax increase in 2015 to build better parks, libraries and transit systems in Johnson County. The vote was 4-3, with Klika on the right side of history. (Toplikar voted no.)
The county by 2015 had been struggling to expand services to some of its parks. The nationally praised library system needed major capital improvements. And the transit system was becoming more important as a way of getting people around in the county.
Klika helped make sure those high-priority projects are adequately funded. That tax decision was the single most crucial investment in recent years in a top-notch quality of life in a county that for the last five decades has prided itself on superb public services.
The incumbent commissioner also has been a powerful advocate of regional transit, bringing The Jo as well as bus services in Kansas City, Independence and Wyandotte County under one umbrella in many ways. Klika accurately says he has helped “move the bar substantially on transit.” One big future challenge: Help more suburban residents use transit to get to jobs, especially on high-traffic corridors in the county.
Klika also supports a quarter-cent sales tax increase on the county’s Nov. 8 ballot. It would last 10 years to pay for a needed $200 million project to build a new county courthouse and coroner facility. I back the tax too, with a few reservations. (Toplikar opposed putting it on the ballot.)
Finally, Klika showed political savvy when he joined a slim majority in 2014 in voting against what he called a questionable re-use plan for the county-owned King Louie West facility on Metcalf Ave. But a year later, after the project was revamped, he endorsed it in a 4-3 vote. (Toplikar opposed it. See what I mean about his anti-everything votes?)
The building is going to become the home for an advanced voting area (already being used this week by large crowds), provide space for the Johnson County Museum, and offer arts and theater space overseen by Johnson County Park & Recreation officials.
Klika has the valuable experience in the next four years to further boost public transit and make sure the county wisely spends its increased property tax revenues. He also can help keep an eagle eye on how the Kansas Legislature passes laws that might adversely affect the county.
The message is clear: Keep Steve Klika on the Johnson County Commission on Nov. 8.