In perhaps the single most embarrassing moment in the past two decades of Cass County government meetings that I have attended, total ignorance followed by complete cowardice has shown the Library Board of Trustees to be on the verge of becoming an absolute clown show. One that must be addressed.
During Wednesday’s meeting, newly appointed board member Diana Larson blurted out a reprehensible response to veteran board member Roger Toomey’s caution that litigation could be the result if the board’s actions cross the lines of free speech.
“That’s the problem with the world today. Everyone wants to bitch about it . . . they complain until they get their way. Look at the LGBTQ, what is that? Three percent? What a big mouth they have.”
Then, instead of immediately rebuking the statement, board chair Tonya Long lectured the small audience for its reaction of shock and dismay, choosing to chastise those she serves instead of a fellow board member. So with extreme embarrassment followed quickly by utter cowardice and incompetent leadership, one has to wonder how bad things have to get on this board before the body that created it steps up and takes responsibility.
That body is the Cass County Commission.
My discussions with Presiding Commissioner Bob Huston have indicated that he knows there’s a problem. And of course he won’t say it on the record, but clearly that problem begins and ends with North District Commissioner Ryan Johnson, who has been the architect of the transformation of the Library Board from a thoughtful, academic, qualified, community-oriented board of caretakers to a politically centered weapon of control.
Since he made us all a laughingstock with his proposal to have Cass County host a Chiefs victory parade his first month in office, when Jackson County made it clear that COVID would not allow any such large public gatherings, he has taken a quieter approach – one far more damaging.
Somehow, he managed to assume de facto control over appointments to the Library Board, a role that began when he urged the commission to replace long-time board member Mary Dobson with a fellow home-school advocate from the Harrisonville area, April Nourse.
While Nourse was certainly no Dobson, she actually managed to serve until last month without creating much of a stir or causing great harm. But she recently resigned due to health concerns, opening the door for Larson, whose application for a board position said simply, “Desire to see the library cleaned up from far-left policies.”
That was it. Her entire reason for applying to serve the county on a tax-supported Board of Trustees. "Desire to see the library cleaned up from far-left policies." So now, was Wednesday's outburst really that much of a shock? Shouldn't have been.
Her appointment followed the selection of Tonya Long – another home school advocate who at least managed to keep politics out of her written application – and Jessica Levsen, who had just completed an unsuccessful run as a Republican candidate for the Missouri House. It was a race where she couldn’t manage to comply with Missouri Ethics campaign reporting rules, but sure, let’s put her in charge of one of our most valued – and non-partisan – institutions.
Long is the veteran of several unsuccessful campaigns for the Raymore-Peculiar School District board, but apparently, again, voters’ opinions don’t matter if you have the power to appoint and can get the support of your fellow commissioners.
Which brings me back to my main point.
I have every confidence that North Cass voters, as well as the leadership structure of the local Republican Party understand what a disaster Ryan Johnson has been, and that he won’t be re-elected next year even if he does decide to run. Others have expressed an interest, and that's all it will take.
Huston and the present county leadership structure in Harrisonville like to do their tinkering quietly, without a lot of hoopla and controversy. And that is a pleasant change from how things were, say, a decade ago. But that approach sometimes allows bad actors to manipulate control in areas where it can be least afforded.
We saw some indications of that during COVID with the Health Department, though in the end, calmer, wiser heads seemed to prevail. And that was critical, because, like the library, these are functions of county government that directly touch each citizen in a very personal way. We may not all choose to use these resources, but we do all pay for them and have the absolute right for them not to be used as political tools of control. Or to be humiliated by ignorance and cowardice from among those appointed to lead.
So in the meantime, I’m asking the county commission to denounce last week’s slur by Larson publicly and to ask her to resign.
I’m asking Long to apologize to the public for turning on the audience rather than rebuking her fellow board member for an obvious slur and to consider whether she’s truly cut out to lead the board if she lacks the instinctive courage to manage such an important public role.
And I’m asking the public to help me get this message across. Contact information for the Cass County Commissioners can be found at https://www.casscounty.com/Directory.aspx?did=34 and Library Board member contacts can be found at https://www.casscolibrary.org/about/board/.