It is probably the most grassroots form of government in America – the county township.
Neighbors serve neighbors just down the road. And, township board members hear about it if that road needs repair.
These were the folks gathered at the Great Bend Knights of Columbus Hall Monday for day-long Barton County Township meeting. The annual event is sponsored by the county with funding from the attending vendors.
“State statutes require that we meet,” said County Engineer Barry McManaman, who helped organize the meeting. But, regardless of the requirement, he said the gatherings are usually well received with 70-75 people attending.
“It is a chance for us to provide updates,” McManaman said. He was one of several county department heads, such as County Works Director Darren Williams and County Appraiser Barb Esfeld, who made presentations to representatives from most of the county’s 22 townships.
There were also six supply vendors present Monday. They had information on such things as guard rails, culverts, road graders and other equipment.
A lot on their plate
There is a lot for the townships to handle, noted County Counselor Pat Hoffman. Barton County is one of only 35 counties in the state where townships are responsible for maintaining all the gravel rural gravel roads, collecting a mill levy to fund the work.
“Township officials have a duty to take care of the township’s property, which includes materials and equipment, for the public good,” Hoffman said. The system is designed for local control, but with coordination with the county.
“It is a thankless job,” Hoffman said. “You get to hear about it from all sides.”
Norm Bowers, local roads engineer for the Kansas Association of Counties, took it one step further.
“Townships are not going out of business,” he said. “They need to start thinking long-term when budgeting.”
He was talking about gravel roads and what it takes to keep them in good shape. “Often, they skimp and get behind.”
These roads are key pieces of infrastructure, he said. “To farmers, it’s pretty important. It’s a big deal.”
Bowers said he attends the Barton County meeting just about every year. He also tries to hit as many of the meetings across the state as he can.
Both Bowers and Hoffman addressed an issue that many township officials may not understand – the Kansas Open Records Act and the Kansas Open Meetings Act. These cover transparency and public access to government, and apply to township boards whenever they meet.