Billable Hours vs. Public Service

by Charlotte O’Hara – As Printed in the Johnson County Gazette, Shared with Permission

In the last few weeks, the Johnson County Board of County Commissioners has been discussing the 2024 Calendar. In the study session on the subject, Chairman Kelly pressed the idea of reducing the number of meetings nearly 50% from 46 to 26, emphasizing the need to be more efficient with the board’s and staff’s time.

46 meetings a year to 26? That is Chairman Kelly’s vision for his time commitment to Johnson County?

I countered that our responsibility of overseeing the $1.79 billion budget for Johnson County government requires our current weekly meetings. Biweekly meetings would send the message that county staff is running the show and the elected board is superfluous.

Perhaps it is difficult for Chairman Kelly to juggle his many commitments, which include his position as a partner in his law firm, Husch Blackwell. But shortchanging his elected position by reducing the number of BOCC meetings by nearly 50% is not the answer.

Chairman Kelly’s other strategy in his drive for time efficiency? Loading up the consent agenda. This tactic takes items from the action agenda and places them on the consent agenda, undercutting transparency for the public. There is no discussion on consent agenda items for our BOCC board meetings.

Every week I make requests for most of the items to go back on the action agenda, citing the issue of transparency. Watch the first 10 minutes of the archived November 9th agenda review meeting and you will see Chairman Kelly berating me over and over and over for my requests.

Does our chairman need to reassess his priorities? Public service or private law practice. The need for billable hours must not drive public policy.

Charlotte O'Hara
Charlotte O’Hara


  1. The late Senator Barry Goldwater is credited with saying:

    “I have little interest in streamlining government or in making it more efficient, for I mean to reduce its size.”

    What is described in this piece certainly appears to be an attempt by the BOCC chair to not only establish himself as the only member of the BOCC to have any influence over consequential decisions by the board, and arrogating to himself more power, but also to cast a shroud of secrecy around the deliberative process.

    Moving agenda items to the Consent Agenda, bypassing not only discussion and debate by the elected board, but public comment and input as well, certainly serves to obfuscate whatever “transparency” there might have been in the governing process. It certainly reinforces the impression that the BOCC serves primarily as a rubber stamp to decisions and recommendations of the staff instead of true representation by elected members.

    It’s difficult enough for citizens to uncover whatever agenda items are pending before the board and to discover whatever supporting documentation there might be. (The county’s public-facing IT systems are not very user-friendly or intuitive.) Putting these items directly on the Consent Agenda makes it appear even more strongly that there are details the board chairman wants to conceal from the public.

    If Chairman Kelly believes the demands of office on his time excessive, perhaps he should consider stepping down to concentrate on his law firm’s business and leave the demands of governing to those willing to expend the time on the people’s business.

    A smart man once urged people to “follow the money” if they wanted to discern why politicians do certain things. Others ask “cui bono” or “who benefits” when evaluating the actions of politicians. It might be interesting to see who stands to benefit, and what is hidden, by putting items directly on the Consent Agenda…and who their lawyers are.

    “Efficient government” is often little more than a cover for actions intended to circumvent sunshine laws. There are many people who would prefer transparent government over efficient government.

  2. A blatant attempt by Chairman Kelly to cut public comment even more.
    Fewer meetings leads to a 50% reduction in the opportunity for the public to have a 1st amendment voice.
    Also, putting items straight to Consent Agenda means no public comments on these topics. Last Thursday there were many items that had robust commissioner discussions. These were items that Kelly wanted on the Consent Agenda. Transparent discussions are what a Constitutional democratic society should be built on.
    Not stamp and move on!

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