Johnson County

Christina Lieffring / KCUR

For decades Johnson County has lured people from all over the Metro with its promise of safe neighborhoods and good schools. Some have made sacrifices to make the move, because the cost of living in Johnson County is higher than other parts of the metro area. 

Megan Rojas crossed the border from Wyandotte into Johnson County and is trying to make it work for herself and her children. On a recent visit to her home, her son, Julian, like a typical two-year-old,  has already eaten two bowls of peaches and is still hungry.

“He eats all day,” she says.

He picks out Rice Krispies with milk and Megan tells him he has to eat at the bar in the kitchen.

“That’s one thing that I don’t like is that there isn’t enough space to put a table. So he has to sit at the bar or on the couch,” she says. “I wish we had a table. But living in a two bedroom doesn’t give you much space.”

Suzanne Hogan / KCUR

Gabina Castañeda has run a daycare out of her home for many years. Her own kids have grown up and are in school, but she watches a 3-year-old, a 4-year-old, and a 5-year-old five days a week. One day last week they were busy scooping up Easter eggs with plastic spoons — working on coordination, colors, numbers and sharing, in both English and Spanish. A few years ago, this whole in-home-child care operation would have been against the law.

Lexie’s Law

In 2004, 13-month-old Lexie Engelman suffered fatal injuries at a Johnson County day care. The tragic incident led Lexie’s Law legislation in Kansas in 2010. The law mandates inspections, background checks, training and licensure for home care providers who care for children outside of their family more than 20 hours per week.

Suzanne Hogan / KCUR

Both Wyandotte and Johnson Counties in Kansas have seen their Latino population grow in the past 25 years. And though the highest concentration of Latinos in Kansas City live in Wyandotte County, the number of Latinos living in both counties is about the same, nearly 40,000 people.

The population is growing at a rate that's fairly new to Johnson County, whose Latino population has nearly doubled in the past 15 years. I talked to Latinos living in both counties about the opportunities and differences between life in both counties.

Eleanor Klibanoff / KCUR

Terrie Van Zandt-Travis had only been a preschool teacher for three weeks when one of her more challenging students scampered away right after lunch. She looked around the classroom, and what she saw stopped her in her tracks. 

"He was face down in the trash can," she said. "We had peaches that day and there was a peach between every single finger. He was pulling them out of the trash can and jamming them into his pants."

She says she'll never forget this 4-year-old's face when he told her, "I'm taking food home for me and my brothers." 

Laura Ziegler / KCUR

Lake Quivira may be the only gated city that straddles a county line in Kansas.

Most of its 400 homes are in Johnson County but 17 of them are across the line in Wyandotte County. The political boundary between the two cuts through the lake on the northern end.

The clubhouse, golf course, and tennis courts — even the gas station just outside the security booth — are in Wyandotte County.

But during my recent trip to Lake Quivira — I found that if you didn't know which side the homes or amenities were on, it was impossible to tell where you were —WyCo or JoCo.

Johnson County Board of County Commissioners on Thursday narrowly approved a plan to repurpose the 1960s-era King Louie building in Overland Park, Kan. as the county’s new Arts & Heritage Center.

The vote was 4-3.

Overland Park Kansas

Overland Park Mayor Carl Gerlach is beginning his 10th year in office, and this year looks to be a busy one, with plenty of development going on in the city. 

Gerlach spoke about some of those development projects, including an indoor skydiving facility he is excited to try out, in his State of the City address on Tuesday

Wikimedia - CC

It's common knowledge among Kansas Citians that much of Johnson County, Kan., is suburban, while Kansas City, Kan., proper is an urban core.

What might not be common knowledge is that Overland Park, Kan., has a larger total population count and higher employment density than KCK. So is it still a suburb?

Suzanne Hogan / KCUR

    

Missionary work, slaveholding in Kansas, a bogus legislature and a murder. These are some of the stories that surface when you investigate the namesake of Johnson County: Reverend Thomas Johnson, who founded the Shawnee Indian Mission (now a museum tucked away in a residential neighborhood). What happened at that site tells a larger story about the relationship between American Indians and the United States government.

Guests:

Dan Verbeck / KCUR

You probably don’t know it, but Johnson County is in the middle of one of its biggest election challenges ever.

The county election office says it will mail ballots to more than 330,000  voters in a mail-election on whether school districts should be allowed to increase how much of their budgets can be raised from local property taxes.

County Election Commissioner Brian Newby says he expects half of those ballots to be returned. That means officials will be handling more paper ballots then they ever have.

futureatlas.com / Flickr--CC

Do you use the word, Kansas, as shorthand for the suburbs?

Our daily talk show Central Standard explored that question Wednesday.

There’s some truth to the perception that the Kansas side of the metropolitan area is way more suburban than the “real city” in the Show-Me-State, said Bill Coldiron.

Coldiron, of Overland Park, Kan., is a member of Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kan., where KCUR held a community forum last week as part of our Beyond Our Borders series.  

courtesy: Johnson County Library

The Johnson County Library Foundation recently announced a $70,360 grant from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.

The funds will boost the scope of the MakerSpace at the Central Resource Library, 9875 West 87th Street, Overland Park, Kan. 

The MakerSpace opened in 2013. It’s where you can learn to sew, record music, or print something in 3-D.

Kate McNair, teen services coordinating librarian, says demand for the MakerSpace, with its tools and technology, exceeds capacity. 

Johnson County District Court

The Johnson County, Kan., judge who approved the issuing of marriage licenses for same-sex couples is now the subject of a recall.

Bruce Baumgardner, a physiology professor at Johnson County Community College, on Friday announced that he is trying to oust Johnson County Chief Judge Kevin Moriarty by urging people to vote against him in the November election, according to the Kansas City Star.

Johnson County announced Thursday that it has hired a new director for its mental health center.

The new hire is Tim DeWeese, a longtime staff member of the Johnson County Mental Health Center.

For nearly the past two years, DeWeese has served as director of clinical services, overseeing the largest operating division of the center. He has also served the center as director of community support services and as a crisis case-management team leader.

The three candidates running for Johnson County Commission Chair in Tuesday's primary election appeared on Up To Date Friday. In a forum led by guest host Brian Ellison and covering taxes, growth, and the county’s purchase of the King Louie Bowling Alley, candidates Ed Eilert, Ed Peterson and Patricia Lightner fielded questions from listeners.

Hannah Copeland / KCUR

Next week voters will cast their votes for Chair of the Johnson County Board of Commissioners— the highest elected office in the county. They’ll narrow the field from three candidates down to the two who will be on the November ballot. All three joined Friday's Up to Date for a candidate forum, their last before Tuesday’s election.

Guests:

Centers for Disease Control

There are 76 million Americans who were born between the mid-40s and the mid-60s. The Baby Boomers have much of the wealth, much of the power, much of the responsibility in our nation today. But, they also now have the highest suicide rate among all age groups. Guest host Brian Ellison talks with Kansas City Star reporter Rick Montgomery about this alarming statistic and how the rate in Kansas has skyrocketed in the last few years.

The Upshot / The New York Times

Johnson County, Kan., is one of the easiest places to live in the United States, according to a new study by The New York Times

The New York Times ranked counties based on six criteria: education, unemployment rate, median household income, disability rate, life expectancy and obesity rate.

Poverty in suburban Johnson County doesn't look like it does in urban Kansas City, Kan., or rural parts of the state. 

And that makes it harder to address a growing problem in a part of the metro seen as affluent, says County Manager Hannes Zacharias.

The Johnson County Board of Commissioners has announced that it plans to raise property taxes in the 2015 budget. But, if the increase is implemented, it will be far from staggering.

Board of Commissioners chairman Ed Eilert says the recommended increase likely won’t mean a large burden for homeowners. Under the recommended increase revealed Wednesday, owners of properties valued at $249,000 would pay about $2 more per month. The increase would cover an anticipated $45 million budget shortfall over five years.

Alyson Raletz / KCUR

Every government, non-profit or business has to find some way to gauge what a community needs or wants from them. But how do you figure it out?

On Wednesday's Up to Date, we talk about what community engagement means to a local government official and a director of community engagement at a non-profit. We also take a look at how they talk with community members and how the information they get helps shape their organizations’ budgets, programs and other critical functions.

KCUR

Sunday’s shootings at Jewish centers in Johnson County raise a lot of questions for law enforcement and the victims’ families.  

But as the news continues to pick up more local, national and even international attention,  the shootings may prompt questions from little ones.

We want to know how you’re explaining the recent shootings to them.

Photo Credit Creative Commons

The Salvation Army of Johnson County has expanded and improved its facilities for the homeless. Their existing shelter is 60-years-old and does not meet the needs of the county, which is the fastest growing county in Kansas.

The chapter's Major Mark Martsolf says the county wanted to provide a more dignified environment while the growing number of homeless families are trying to get back on their feet. He says the new Olathe facility will upgrade broken amenities and fixtures, as well as add square footage.

State and local health officials have confirmed a case of tuberculosis in Johnson County, Kan. A patient who was treated at Overland Park Regional Medical Center last September has an active case of the airborne disease.

Officials say spread of the disease requires very close contact with an infected person, so it’s highly unlikely that it has spread to anyone else. Health officials have identified about 100 people who need to be tested for TB, as a precaution.

BNSF Railway officially opens a huge new freight handling center in southern Johnson County, Kan. Thursday. The intermodal freight yard in Edgerton will be the largest in the region.

Kansas City is a major shipping hub. It’s the second largest rail hub, as measured by number of train cars, and by some measures, the third largest trucking center in the country. 

All that freight flowing in and out of the Kansas City-area creates jobs for drivers, warehouse workers and others. Increasingly it comes in by train, and gets distributed from Johnson County by truck.  

Thomas Long/Flickr-CC

The Midwest is generally a calm place, but a new museum exhibit in Johnson County is recalling a place that was potentially explosive.

On Friday's Up to Date, we talk about the history and development of the Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant. A former plant manager and the top government official both join us today to give an inside look at what it was like to work there.

Guests:

“The state of our county is good.” That was the message on Tuesday from  Johnson County Chairman Ed Eilert, as he bragged about the county’s 4.5 percent unemployment rate and dramatic increase in housing starts.

In his annual State of the County address, Eilert acknowledged it wasn’t easy to keep expenditures in line with revenues last year.  The county consolidated government departments and reduced the work force by the equivalent of more than 430 jobs through early retirement and attrition.

Courtesy Kansas Health Institute

According to the latest Kansas County Health Rankings, Johnson and Riley counties have the healthiest residents in Kansas again this year.  Wyandotte County and a cluster of counties in southeast Kansas remain among the least healthy.

Robin Cross / KCUR

Kansas City area residents have fought their way out of a second major snowstorm in less than a week. Some areas got upwards of a foot of new snow.

KCUR

Update Tuesday, 7:30 a.m. Due to the weather, polling places have been consolidated in both Wyandotte and Johnson Counties. Find polling places for Wyandotte County here and Johnson County here

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