Across the city of Olathe, there are multiple contested races on the ballot for the 2021 general election, ranging from USD 233 Board of Education seats to City Council seats. Take a look at who is asking for your vote in these races and how frequently they've cast a ballot in regularly scheduled elections over the last five years.
This assessment does not include possible school district bond measures or out-of-cycle mail ballot issues, but primary and general elections in which these individuals could have voted. The voting records for each candidate were collected by the Olathe Reporter from the Johnson County Election Office via a records request.
CITY COUNCIL AT-LARGE
The two candidates who emerged from the August primary for the citywide at-large seat on the Olathe City Council are Dean Vakas, current Planning Commission chair, and Kevin Gilmore, current Ward 3 City Council representative. That seat is currently held by Karin Brownlee.
Since the general election in 2016, both candidates have voted in every regularly scheduled election available to them. In separate conversations with the Olathe Reporter, both Kevin Gilmore and Vakas said they believe voting is a key responsibility.
“It's our responsibility as citizens to educate ourselves on the issues and the candidates and get out and vote,” Kevin Gilmore said. “I feel a responsibility as a citizen in my community to not just invest and give back to my community, but also be involved in elections. We elect the people that we believe are going to help lead our communities to the place we want them to go in the future.”
Vakas expressed similar sentiments.
“The strength of our democracy rests on the active participation of all citizens and so we are obligated to be actively involved in the governance of our society,” Vakas said. “So many of the decisions that impact our lives are made locally, and this simply means that everyone should pay particular attention to local elections and be involved, understand the issues, understand the candidates and vote.”
CITY COUNCIL WARD 3
LeEtta Felter, who sits on the Olathe school board, and Wayne Janner, who serves as a member of the Planning Commission, are vying for the Ward 3 City Council seat. The seat represents the southeast corner of the city and is currently held by Kevin Gilmore, who was appointed to the seat.
Since the general election in 2016, Felter has cast a ballot in every election. Janner did not vote in the 2017 primary election. That election featured a contested race for an at-large seat on the Olathe City Council. He could not recall why he missed that election, saying “I just don't remember the circumstances at the time.”
In general though, Janner said his philosophy is to vote in every election.
“Voting is a right and a responsibility,” Janner said. “It's important for people in the community to be involved in what’s going on, to be informed and make a difference. That's of utmost importance at the local level [because] it’s closer to home.”
Felter said local elections, which can be easily swayed by just a few votes, need informed voters to take the time to think critically about their choices and cast a ballot.
“While I'm all about getting out the vote, I sure want our voters to be informed about what they're voting on,” she said.
She said she’d recommend anyone who is planning to vote to consider voting early, particularly by mail.
“How we used to traditionally go in and vote on Election Day and … I was very rigorous about it being Election Day and my kids would go with me and see me voting and get the sticker,” she said. “During a pandemic, risking it just for the pomp and concentry of the tradition is not worth it. At this point in time, a mail ballot is the way to go.”
CITY COUNCIL WARD 4
Marge Vogt, who has held the seat since 1997, and Dustin Morris are on the ballot for the Ward 4 City Council seat. As the only two candidates to file, the race skipped the primary and went straight to the general election. The seat represents the northeast corner of the city.
Vogt, who could not be reached for comment, has a perfect voting record over the last five years.
Morris, who moved from Douglas County to Johnson County in 2017, did not vote in either election available to him that year.
“We moved right right during the election,” he said. “I was new to the area, so I didn't feel that it was necessarily appropriate for me to cast a ballot just moving here.”
He did vote in the 2016 general election in Douglas County. Additionally, Morris has voted in every election since.
“It's extremely important I think who represents you at a local level, whether that's your county commissioner, your city council member, your school board member,” he said. “They have a greater impact on your life than whoever is sitting in the governor's mansion in Topeka or who's sitting behind the resolute desk in the White House in DC.”
USD 233 BOARD OF EDUCATION MEMBER 3
Two Olathe school district graduates Julie Steele, a former educator, and Jennifer Gilmore, who worked in school finance in the De Soto school district, are running for the Member 3 USD 233 school board seat currently held by Brent McCune. The seat is one of two that represents the northwest corner of the school district.
Steele, who could not be reached for comment, has a perfect voting record over the last five years.
Since the general election in 2016, Jennifer Gilmore has cast just two ballots — the general election in 2020 and the primary election in 2021, in which she was a candidate.
When asked by the Olathe Reporter to speak for her history of civic engagement, she said she was “not sure what this has to do with anything productive in our race. I am not interested in this news story when we have much bigger issues going on right now with our students and schools.”
USD 233 BOARD OF EDUCATION MEMBER 5
Kristin Schultz, who was appointed to the school board in 2019, and Robert Kuhn, a former law enforcement officer, are in the running for the Member 5 USD 233 school board seat. The seat is one of two that represents the east corner of the school district.
Schultz lives in the Overland Park side of the school district and did not have a primary in 2017 to vote in. However, she has voted in the last 10 elections available to her, dating back to the 2016 primary election.
In an emailed statement, Schultz said she’s always believed voting was important, especially at the local level. Originally from Iowa, she says growing up in a small town instilled it in her.
“Voting for local offices is how you select the people who’ve demonstrated that they have the best interests of the community at heart; and the people stepping up were the adults who were my role models because they were leaders and volunteers in community organizations before they felt qualified to take on an elected role,” she said. “Local elections are all about the interconnectedness of the civic infrastructure: it was – and is – about quality of life for residents, and preserving or improving quality of life for generations of families growing up there.”
Kuhn did not vote in the 2017, 2018 or 2019 primary elections. In 2018, there were multiple statewide races that had primary elections. Additionally, in 2017 and 2019, there were citywide races with primaries.
When asked by the Olathe Reporter to speak for his voting record he said in an emailed statement that he’s “not sure how this is really important for the current school board race. I am not interested in this news story. We have bigger issues going on right now that you might want to consider reporting on that would be important for this race.”
USD 233 BOARD OF EDUCATION MEMBER 6
Brian Geary, who currently serves on the school board as the vice president, and Brian Connell are in the race for the Member 6 USD 233 school board seat. The seat is one of two that represents the northwest portion of the school district.
In the last 10 elections available to him, Geary has cast a ballot in each one.
“I like to discuss things going on in my community, and if I didn't take part in selecting those that represent me in my community, then I’d have a hard time discussing decisions being made,” he said. “It's important to find people that most represent your thoughts and beliefs to represent you, and that's what I think elections are meant to do, that's why I vote in them.”
Connell did not vote in either the primary or general election in 2017. In 2019, he also did not vote in the primary election.
Connell, after multiple inquiries from the Olathe Reporter, asked for clarification on who ran in each race via email.
“As for 2017, most seats ran unopposed and I would not vote for anyone I didn't know or didn't trust,” he said.
In 2017 and 2019, there were contested citywide races, both for at-large City Council seats with more than two candidates filing for the primaries.
When the names that appeared on each ballot in each year were provided to him, he did not respond further.