n Tuesday, Nov. 3, voters in Platte County will choose a new second district county commissioner. The race is between David Park, Democrat, and Joe Vanover, Republican.
Generally speaking, the second district is comprised of the northern portion of Platte County.
John Elliott, current second district county commissioner, is not seeking re-election.
Following is some background information on each of the candidates.
In his previous position, David Park spent his professional career garnering input from residents in the Kansas City neighborhoods, and the candidate for district 2 on the Platte County Commission said he plans to follow that model if elected.
The Democratic candidate, who faces Republican Joe Vanover, said current commissioners often lapse into what he considers a “lack of transparency.”
He added, “Government works best when citizens are aware of the processes.”
For more than two years, Park has been a frequent attendee of commission meetings and, if elected, Park said he would encourage several changes to improve the current trend of lack of transparency: a published agenda for all meetings which would allow residents to gauge their interest in attending. The regularly scheduled meetings currently are the only ones with a published agenda, he said, as work sessions do not.
He also would push for some actions currently taken in staff meetings/work sessions, which are held prior to the commission’s official regularly scheduled meetings, to be moved to the official meetings.
While staff meetings are open to the public, these sessions generally are not well promoted and not attended by the public, he said.
Park also is critical of the commission’s method for recording what happens in staff meetings in which the only record are minutes taken. He prefers recording the staff meetings/work sessons, especially if commissioners continue to have lengthy discussions about issues on the agenda for regularly scheduled meetings.
Work sessions typically have no agenda. Instead, they are based on a lengthy laundry list of items that could be discussed. These meetings typically last for about five hours, and are held before 5 p.m., all of which discourages public attendance, he pointed out.
Park considers his status as a retiree an advantage in filling the commissioner role.
“I’ve knocked on thousands of doors,” he said, referring to his campaign efforts. “It’s the best way to reach citizens.”
Park said the county commission’s lack of transparency and public outreach is evident in a question many have asked during door-to-door campaigning: “What does a commissioner do?”
“We work for them,” he said of area residents. “I want to make the boss happy with the way I spend their (tax) money,” he said.
Community input also could be improved by commissioners hosting town-hall style meetings, he said.
Park said his experience as director of Kansas City Neighborhoods and Community Services Department, where he used resident input in conducting programs from liquor control to homeless services, has well prepared him for a commissioner role. In fact, the size of the Kansas City department he managed, which included about 240 employees and a $24 million budget, are comparable to the county’s budget and number of employees, he said.
During his career, Park served in the director role for about seven years before he retired in 2014. Prior to the director role, he served as deputy (assistant) director, also for about seven years.
The 65-year-old resident of Kansas City within Platte County shares a home with his wife, Wanda. The couple have two children and two grandchildren and have lived in Platte County for more than 40 years.
During that time, (since the late 1970s), he has watched the county grow from one-lane to two lane roads and the addition of numerous highways.
Finally, Park said in his previous position with Kansas City people often commented on his last name, assuming he worked for the city parks department. While he worked with parks staff, his office operated from a separate department. However, if elected to the Platte County Commission, an early issue will center on how to spend a quarter-cent sales tax for parks approved by voters this past August. He joked, “I must have been destined for this.”
Joe Vanover believes his contacts in Platte County will serve constituents well if he is elected Platte County Commissioner. The seven-year private practice attorney also spent more than 14 years as an assistant prosecutor working in Platte County while also serving as a special assistant U.S. Attorney. His Platte County role put him face-to-face with many employees at the Platte County Courthouse, he said.
During his private practice, he has become familiar with those who operate the Platte County Health Department while his work as a criminal defense attorney in private practice has caused him to know many courthouse employees and those connections help make him the obvious choice for the district 2 seat, he said.
In addition, Vanover said he plans to draw from his experience serving on the Platte County Republican Central Committee, a prior position he held. “I’m glad I served and I think they do important work,” he said of the position in which he advised Republican Platte County candidates and helped them secure seats when running for public office, “but it was something I was willing to let someone else take over.”
The attorney began his private practice career in an office in Platte City and said, for the past few years, he has worked from an office near the airport. But Vanover said his real passion lies in real estate law, which he described as an area not many attorneys enjoy.
“There are a million lawyers if you’re getting divorced or you have a car crash,” he said. “I think that area (real estate) of law is fascinating,” he said, adding that its foundations stretch back hundreds of years without much change. “It draws you back into history,” he said.
The 47-year-old rural Platte County resident who, with his wife Julie has two teenaged children, said the impetus for running for a seat on the commission is Platte County itself.
“We have wonderful memories of raising our kids in this community and I want that for the next generation,” he said, adding that he hopes to maintain the area as “healthy, vibrant and safe.”
When considering his next political step, Vanover said he consulted with retiring Platte County Commissioner John Elliott and decided to “step up” his public service role and “decided it was my time.”
If elected, Vanover said he will pursue an investigation into apparent air quality issues that led the Platte County Prosecutor’s Office to move from the county courthouse to the county administration building next door. Other topics include the controversial CARES grant money allocation, which county commissioners are charged with dispersing.
“I’m not going to criticize how they’ve done it,” he said of the current commissioners’ decisions. He added, “Any time the federal government is giving away free money, we should take what we can get and it’s easy for there to be controversy,” he said.
But Vanover added that whatever the issues, he will be ready to work toward solutions.
“We need to be ready for what issues face us,” he said.
The August voter-approved quarter cent sales tax for parks and law enforcement is, however, one issue the commission is sure to encounter. He said he is ready to work with other commissioners in setting the county budget, while focusing on those two areas. But, just like the beginning of the pandemic, not all topics can be anticipated. His wife’s profession in health care will aid his decisions “to help people work through issues caused by the pandemic.”
He said, “She’s my main source of information on the pandemic.’
Vanover added that he sees the role of commissioner as one of finding solutions to problems and he believes his legal experience will help guide him.
“I would like to take that approach (legal, problem-solving) to county government,” he said. Vanover described his approach as that of a conservative who believes in government having the smallest possible role while “focusing on essential services.”
He said, “The success of the community rests with individuals.whose jobs cause them to work serving others. I hope to bring new leadership and fresh ideas to local government.”