Third District commissioner singing swan song
Daniels not endorsing either candidate, but sees work ahead for commission
It's a Thursday afternoon at the Leavenworth County Courthouse, and Joe Daniels, the 3rd District county commission representative, is showing off some of the long-overdue upgrades to the 1800s-era building.
The new digs are quite nice, and a drastic change from the dreary courthouse of old that hadn't received anything more than some new coats of paint since the 1980s. For Daniels, who's entering the waning days of his tenure in public office, the courthouse renovations are bittersweet. On one hand, the changes were needed. On the other, his time is limited and he won't get much use from the refurbished offices and a new commission meeting room.
"Not a very good sense of timing, is it?" Daniels said.
Daniels was elected to represent southern Leavenworth County residents in 2000. In his campaign, the GOP candidate vowed not to seek a second term. He has followed through on that promise and next week, on Nov. 2, voters from his district will elect his successor.
New officers will be sworn in Jan. 10, a day which will mark not only the end of Daniels' four-year run as commissioner, but also 36 years working in some capacity with government, community or municipalities.
"I think I took my chance and tried to do what was a good deed for the county," Daniels said of his commission service. "Now it's time for someone else."
Turnover in the 3rd District is nothing new: since 1980, no one has held the seat for more than one term, according to records.
The county commission, like the 3rd District itself, will receive a two-thirds overhaul Tuesday. Second District representative Bob Adams is also not seeking re-election.
It's a fine line that outgoing commissioners are attempting to walk in these last weeks in office, Daniels said.
"We don't want to leave the new board in a position where they have to decide on things we needed to have made a decision about," Daniels said, adding that commissioners are trying to "clear the docket" of old business while trying to decide on current issues presented to them. "There are things that have to be done as they're presented to us. We just have to go ahead and plow through as usual. We're doing what we can."
As Daniels said, some things perhaps can't be delayed until new representatives are sworn in next year. Daniels said a decision on proposed annexation from the city of Lansing may go to a vote before the two new commission members take over.
While some may term Daniels' final days in office as lame duck, he is treating his work on the county commission as anything but and has maintained the normal day-to-day attention to county business that he has for the last four years.
"Being available is different from working," he said. "I've come into the office every day and been available and working."
The responsibilities that come with governing haven't always been easy, Daniels said. In this business of politics, successes are tempered by failures. Daniels said rough times included failing to hire a county administrator (a notion county voters rejected in 2002) as well as dealing with post-Sept. 11 funding cuts initiated by the Kansas Legislature two years ago.
On the flip side, there have been high points: holding the mill rate steady for the last three years, working more harmoniously with local cities and landing several large businesses have all proved to be a benefit to the county and feathers in the commission's cap.
The landscape of Leavenworth County and particularly Daniels' southern Leavenworth County district has shifted dramatically over the years. Development has invaded many rural corners of the area and the spur in new construction has brought its share of benefits and headaches.
"The county has matured to some degree in the last four years," he said.
And while there are difficult times ahead in dealing with, planning for and managing new growth, that growth "in the end will show itself as a benefit to the people that will live here."
A philosophy Daniels said he's tried to follow in dealing with the new growth is to make development pay for itself. It will be vital for the next county commission, if it hopes to expand the county's commercial and residential base while maintaining a reasonable climate for the existing businesses and residents, to follow the same thought-process, he said.
Daniels said he doesn't endorse either of the third district candidates (Democrat Jerry Willburn and Republican Dean Oroke are vying to inherit Daniels' seat) but believes he, Adams and commissioner Don Navinsky, the lone county commission holdover, have left Leavenworth County in a better position than they received it.
And, as witnessed by the new upgrades to the commission's home base, the county courthouse, certainly a better work environment.