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PV residents to gather signatures in new effort to recall Mayor Eric Mikkelson, who decries ‘smear tactics’

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Another round of petition-signing events is on the horizon in Prairie Village, but this time the effort aims to recall the mayor.

Days after Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe found a recall petition against Prairie Village Mayor Eric Mikkelson to be sufficient, a group of residents are planning to gather signatures at a city park over Memorial Day weekend.

This is believed to be the first recall petition effort against an elected official in Johnson County that has been cleared by the district attorney’s office in 15 years.

But this is far from the first attempt over the past year to get a recall petition against Mikkelson approved.

Howe’s office says there were nine other recall petitions from Prairie Village residents that he rejected before finding this most recent one sufficient.

As such, the successful petition represents at least the 10th attempt to begin the recall petition process against Mikkelson. The Post already confirmed six rejected attempts last year and another earlier this year. Earlier this week, the district attorney’s office confirmed at least three other previously unknown attempts.

This latest petition, which was submitted by three Prairie Village residents on May 17, alleges that Mikkelson misused taxpayer funds to respond to allegations made against him during the previous attempts to get a recall petition approved last summer.

In the other petitions previously rejected by the DA’s office, petitioners made myriad accusations against the mayor, including citing a perceived conflict of interest with a local organization that deals with housing issues and failing to discipline a now-former police officer for sexual misconduct.

Mikkelson told the Post via text on Wednesday that the allegations in the recall petition cleared by Howe’s office are false.

“There was no wrongdoing,” Mikkelson said. “There was no misconduct. There was no personal benefit. There was no misuse of public money. In the summer of 2023, there was no recall issue before the electorate because there was no authorized recall,” a reference to the fact that Howe, at that time, had not approved any petition for signature-gathering.

But supporters of the effort appear eager to move forward.

Already, people affiliated with the PV United group, also known as Stop Rezoning Prairie Village, as well as individuals involved in previous recall efforts have begun promoting an event to gather signatures for the latest petition this coming Saturday at Porter Park.

Prairie Village recall petition planning on Facebook in May 2024.
Screenshots from former councilmember Jori Nelson’s Facebook page show residents are planning to gather signatures soon. The screenshot on the left, posted on May 21, states “details coming soon” about a petition signing event on Saturday, May 25. The screenshot on the right, posted on May 20, features a comment from former recall petitioner Mike Sullinger stating people can sign the petition “Saturday at Porter Park!” Images via Facebook.

What does this latest recall petition allege?

As outlined in Howe’s response letter obtained by the Post via a public records request, the recall petition submitted by three Prairie Village residents on May 17 argues that Mikkelson “diverted taxpayer dollars for personal political benefit.”

Specifically, it says:

  • Mikkelson allegedly committed the “crime of misusing public funds” by spending taxpayer dollars “against his own recall”
  • He also “used taxpayer-paid consultants for his ‘public response’ against taxpayer recall allegations” on June 7, 2023.
  • It also alleges that he continued to use “consultants to advocate against taxpayers’ recall” from June to August 2023.

“Mikkelson violates his duty to ensure public funds are spent for public purposes when he spends them for his own personal purposes,” the petition states.

When asked by Post, petitioners share little about latest recall attempt

The Post knocked on the doors of all three Prairie Village residents whose names were listed as part of a “recall committee” on this latest recall petition: Mary O’Connor, Margaret McCoy and Joan Clough.

McCoy told the Post on Wednesday that she wanted to be a part of the recall petition because of concerns with the housing rezoning recommendations the city considered last year, though that issue is not raised by the current petition.

“I want to make sure that we have somebody who is more interested in Prairie Village than his own personal issues,” she told the Post.

When asked about her reaction to Howe’s opinion finding the recall petition sufficient, McCoy appeared to not know that it had happened: “Good, yeah, glad to know that.”

McCoy said she did not know the specifics regarding the June 7, 2023 “public response” cited in the recall petition.

When asked about proof that Mikkelson misused taxpayer dollars during the summer of 2023, McCoy said, “I think they do have proof, yes.” She said she personally did not have proof or know it off the top of her head. She did not specify who the “they” that she referenced was.

As far as next steps, McCoy said she’ll listen to the guidance from others involved and she’s “going with that.” She did not specify who else is involved in this latest recall attempt.

Joan Clough declined to comment to the Post, and instead directed a Post reporter to attorney Edward Greim.

Greim is a partner at Graves Garrett Greim, a Kansas City, Missouri-based law firm known for some high-profile political cases in recent years, including representing Missouri Attorney General Jay Ashcroft in his defense of that state’s anti-ESG investing rule, as well as several witnesses who testified before the special Congressional committee investigating the U.S. Capitol attack Jan. 6, 2021.

Last month, Greim and his firm represented Prairie Village resident Tim Swanson in a lawsuit that argued Mikkelson’s recommendation to fill a vacant city council seat violated state law. Swanson has since voluntarily dropped the lawsuit, according to court records, and the city council voted to approve the appointment.

O’Connor, the third woman listed on the recall petition, did not answer her door.

Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe said there was not evidence of criminal misconduct in the investigation into misuse of the Overland Park police charity funds.
Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe. Photo credit Kaylie McLaughlin.

After nine previous attempts, why did Howe approve this petition?

In a response letter sent on May 20, Howe said he ultimately found sufficient legal grounds for this latest recall petition to move forward.

But the letter also noted that Howe’s response “does not pass on the credibility of the allegations.”

No direct evidence in support of the allegations of Mikkelson’s misuse of public funds is included or cited in Howe’s ruling or in the petition itself.

Howe, at one point, says “this Office assumes the factual allegations are true, and must only determine if they meet the legal requirements.”

When asked for clarification by the Post, Howe said in an email response to questions that his office “does not examine ‘evidence’ when reviewing the petition.” He said his review of the petition is only to determine whether the allegations themselves meet statutory requirements for a recall petition.

The Office of the District Attorney is required by state statute to determine whether the facts “support the grounds for recall as stated in the petition for recall,” according to Howe’s letter.

In his letter, Howe spelled out three types of legal grounds for recall: a conviction for a felony, misconduct in office and failure to perform duties

Howe’s response says he specifically found sufficient grounds for a recall due to possible misconduct. He also found the factual ground, or how state laws define the misuse of public funds, to be sufficient.

Since taking office in 2009, Howe said he has reviewed and approved only one other recall petition, which took place in 2009 in the city of Gardner.

County Election Commissioner Fred Sherman also recalls at least one other recall attempt to remove elected officials from office in Johnson County. That attempt proved successful when voters recalled two seated councilmembers from the Gardner City Council on March 2, 2010.

See the entirety of Howe’s May 20 letter to the recall committee below.

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Mikkelson calls petitions ‘abusive smear tactics’

In a text message to the Post, Mikkelson said that by failing to verify the allegations, Howe’s opinion essentially determines that “any three residents can fabricate misconduct allegations to start a political recall in Kansas under this standard as now interpreted.”

He went on to say that the “abusive smear tactics” gum up the democratic process and take time and resources away from issues the city should be focusing on, such as public safety, parks and infrastructure.

Mikkelson said that the repeated recall attempts have had an impact on him and his family and have broader citywide ramifications.

“These tactics discourage volunteer public service, waste taxpayer dollars, damage staff morale, and divide the community,” Mikkelson wrote.

While Prairie Village residents can have differing policy opinions, Mikkelson said, “this toxic character assassination… threatens” one of the best parts of Prairie Village, that is, the “friendly, mutually respectful fabric of our social and civic community.”

He told the Post that the goal for “this particular false petition” is to discourage the local government from communicating with residents regarding city policies and processes.

Mikkelson ran unopposed for a second term and won 94% of the ballots cast in the November 2022 general election.

“I will need help from courageous residents ready to stand up now against sown chaos and disinformation,” Mikkelson said in his response to the Post.

Prairie Village Mayor Eric Mikkelson at the Jan. 16, 2024 city council meeting.
Prairie Village Mayor Eric Mikkelson at the Jan. 16, 2024 city council meeting. Photo credit Juliana Garcia.

How does the recall petition process work?

The process for recalling state or local officers in Kansas is outlined in Chapter 25, Article 43 of the state statutes.

Now that the district attorney has found this latest recall petition against Mikkelson sufficient, petitioners can begin gathering signatures. That process and requirements are below, as outlined in state statutes:

  • Per K.S.A 25-4325, the signatures must amount to at least 40% of the votes cast for all candidates for the mayoral office in the last general election. The last general election in which Mikkelson was elected was in November 2022. There were 10,035 votes cast for the office of mayor in that race; 40% of that total would be 4,014.
  • Petitioners have 90 days to gather all the signatures, per K.S.A 25-4324.

In an interview with the Post, Election Commissioner Fred Sherman said he has yet to confirm the specifics regarding the recall petition process and that it is unclear exactly how many signatures are needed and when the 90-day clock to gather signatures started.

Sherman said those circulating the petition for signatures will submit it to the election office, which has 30 days to review and verify it. If the petition meets the requisite number of signatures, then the petition will go before voters on a future ballot.

Sherman said the state law of K.S.A. 25-4328 governs how an election for a recall petition works. It is unclear whether the Prairie Village City Council will play a part in determining the validity of the petition or approving ballot language.

Greim, the Kansas City lawyer who is at least one petitioner’s legal representative, told the Post that a committee of petitioners are now free to circulate an exact copy of the recall petition among Prairie Village registered voters for 90 days.

Greim said he believes the 90-day clock began on May 20, when Howe sent petitioners the letter finding the petition sufficient. That puts the deadline for the signature gathering at Aug. 18.

More information about the recall petition process can be found on Ballotpedia.

Read last year’s Prairie Village petition news: JoCo judge’s final ruling reinstates initial decision on Prairie Village petitions

About the author

Juliana Garcia
Juliana Garcia

👋 Hi! I’m Juliana Garcia, and I cover Prairie Village and northeast Johnson County for the Johnson County Post.

I grew up in Roeland Park and graduated from Shawnee Mission North before going on to the University of Kansas, where I wrote for the University Daily Kansan and earned my bachelor’s degree in  journalism. Prior to joining the Post in 2019, I worked as an intern at the Kansas City Business Journal.

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