To the editor:
This fall, a proposed amendment to Article 9 of the Kansas Constitution will be on the ballot. Voters will be asked to decide a measure which requires the county sheriff to be elected in all Kansas counties with the exception of Riley County who consolidated law enforcement services in 1974. Further, this amendment identifies the Kansas Attorney General as having the sole authority to initiate ouster proceedings of a sitting sheriff. Currently, this authority is shared with each county attorney and has shown to be partisan and subject to personal animus. This change is supported by the Kansas County and District Attorneys Association. Finally, the voter recall process is not eliminated or changed in any manner.
Following a survey by the National Sheriff’s Association of states who have sheriffs, it was learned all but 15 recognize the office in their state constitutions. These 15 states, mostly in the Midwest, have the office created by an act of legislature. This means the office of sheriff can be abolished by an act of legislation or through a charter commission.
The premise of this amendment will preserve the office of sheriff in the great State of Kansas while protecting the ability of a qualified electorate to choose this individual by popular vote every four years. This decision belongs to the voters and should not be relegated to a group of elected or appointed individuals. Please note, this vote is not about the individual holding the office of sheriff, rather it is about preserving your right to actively participate in choosing who holds that office.
Why is this important? The sheriff is the only elected law enforcement official in Kansas. As such, he or she is directly accountable to the public they serve and are not filtered through an elected body or appointed official. The actions of the sheriff should be predicated upon the US Constitution, the Constitution of the State of Kansas and lawful statutes. He or she is responsible for their actions and those in their employ and subject to remedy grievances directly to the populace and not at the direction of administrative oversight.
In recent years, attempts to abolish the office of sheriff in some Kansas counties have failed. Counties such as Phillips, Lyon, Bourbon, Reno, Shawnee, Sedgwick and Johnson County have entertained this notion. These efforts have failed due in large part to opposition from the populace; however, the threat remains to all Kansas counties which elect their sheriff.
In 2000, Johnson County established a Home Rule Charter and soon after abolished the elected offices of County Clerk, County Treasurer and Register of Deeds. These positions are now appointees of the county administrator. Although the office of sheriff and county attorney were initially preserved, every ten years the charter commission is required to revisit this issue. Earlier this year, the commission met and initially supported abolishing the office of sheriff only to change course and preserve it until the next review period. The citizens of Johnson County, with a population in excess of 600,000, came dangerously close to losing their ability to cast votes for who they wanted as the chief law enforcement officer of the county. Unless and until the office of sheriff is preserved in the Kansas Constitution, the voice of 104 Kansas counties remain in jeopardy of being usurped.
A yes vote in support of this amendment is non-partisan and will help to preserve not only your participation in deciding who has the privilege of serving Leavenworth County as elected sheriff, it will preserve the office of sheriff itself.
Brian J. Bellendir
Barton County Sheriff