Downtown Parkville
A row of shops in downtown Parkville, Missouri. Parkville is located in the southern 1st District, represented in county commission by Dagmar Wood. (Zach Bauman/The Beacon)

In a midterm election year, most voters who turn out to the polls are focused on high-profile U.S. Senate and House seats or state legislature candidates. But further down the ballot are local elections that affect government services just down the street.

Though they often fly under the radar for voters, Matt Harris, a professor of politics at Park University, said local offices are the ones that determine how residents interact with their government on a day-to-day basis.

“It’s the minutia that we don’t think about until you need it,” he said. “If there’s a giant pothole in the front of your house, you’re not going to call Joe Biden.”

In Platte County, where Park University is located, half of the county’s elected officials will appear on the ballot on Nov. 8, including competitive elections for presiding commissioner and county clerk.

The election will also place officeholders in roles that aren’t always clear to the average voter. The Beacon sought to break down what each of these positions is responsible for, as well as the general duties of Platte County’s government.

Government structure is established by Missouri statute

Some county governments, including Platte County, are established under guidelines set by Missouri statute. Under this statute, the county has a commission made up of three members, as well as nine other elected officials who fulfill specific roles for the county.

These roles are: assessor, auditor, clerk, collector, prosecuting attorney, public administrator, recorder of deeds, sheriff and treasurer. All nine officials have duties outlined in Missouri statute, which differ among counties of different sizes.

Of the 12 total positions, including the three commissioners, six are up for election every two years, serving four-year terms. In 2022, Platte County voters will choose their auditor, collector, county clerk, prosecuting attorney, recorder of deeds and their presiding commissioner, who is elected at-large.

The assessor and collector oversee taxes. The assessor is responsible for property valuation, and the collector makes sure tax bills get paid. 

The auditor and treasurer manage the county’s money. The yearly budget is prepared by the auditor, who serves as the budget and accounting officer for the county. The treasurer tracks the funds more directly by monitoring the bank accounts and making investment decisions for the county.

The prosecuting attorney, sheriff and public administrator work within the justice system. The sheriff oversees law enforcement and the prosecutor prepares cases against people accused of crimes.  The public administrator serves as the guardian for the roughly 200 Platte County residents who the probate courts have deemed unable to manage their own affairs.

Finally, the recorder of deeds and the county clerk oversee much of the county’s records. The county clerk is the record keeper for the county commission’s actions and minutes, and the recorder of deeds oversees real estate transactions and marriage licenses.

These elections are partisan in the sense that most candidates register with a political party, Harris said. However, partisan politics don’t often come into play with the more bureaucratic positions, such as the county clerk.

“It’s a partisan election, but (the clerk) is really almost a nonpartisan position in the sense that a lot of what they’re doing is the behind-the-scenes legwork to make the government function,” he said.

Commission heads the Platte County government

The Platte County Commission serves as the central governing body for the county.

“The commission is basically the legislative body for the county,” Harris said. “The person who’s up this year is the presiding commissioner, and that is a commissioner who’s voted on by the entirety of the county.”

The current presiding commissioner is Republican Ron Schieber, who is not seeking reelection.

The three members of the commission include the presiding commissioner, as well as representatives from two districts, one to the north and one to the south.

The southern 1st District includes suburban areas like Parkville, Weatherby Lake and Riverside, and its representative is Republican Dagmar Wood. The larger northern 2nd District includes more rural areas, including Platte City and Weston. Its representative is Republican Joe Vanover.

The presiding commissioner oversees the procedure of the commission, Harris said, but doesn’t hold much power over the other commissioners. The commission generally acts as a three-person unit. 

Much like in the Jackson County Legislature and the Johnson County Commission in Kansas, the Platte County Commission must pass a yearly budget, which is presented to them by the county auditor. In addition, the commissioners are responsible for appointing certain officials.

“They appoint residents to a bunch of different boards and committees — everything from the parks boards, zoning boards, library boards,” Harris said. Within the Kansas City area, representatives from Platte County serve on the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority’s Board of Commissioners, the Mid-Continent Public Library Board of Trustees and various other multicounty agencies.

In some cases, such as the county planning commission, the Mid-America Regional Council and the Platte County Economic Development Council, a county commissioner is selected to serve directly on the board.

Platte County candidates for six out of 12 positions are on the ballot

Evaluating candidates in local elections requires a different approach from higher-profile national races, Harris said. Instead of focusing on partisan issues, he suggests a more granular way of thinking.

“I think what’s important for voters more than anything is just thinking about the services that you get from public works and parks and zoning,” he said. “What’s going to be built near where you live, or what do you enjoy doing in the county? Think about those kinds of things, and then go to the candidate’s website, see what they are proposing and how that relates to what you as a citizen want to get out of government.”

List of Platte County candidates in 2022

Incumbents are italicized.

Presiding commissioner
Scott Fricker (R)
John DeFoor Sr. (D)

County clerk
Jera Pruitt (R)
Rebecca Nafzinger (D)

County auditor
Kevin Robinson (R) 

Recorder of deeds
Christopher L. Wright (R)

County collector
Sheila L. Palmer (R)

Prosecuting attorney
Eric Zahnd (R)

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Josh Merchant is The Kansas City Beacon's local government reporter. After graduating from Seattle University, Josh attended Columbia Journalism School, earning a master’s degree in investigative journalism....