2016 State of the County Address

Frank White State of the County Address
NOTE: County Executive Frank White, Jr. delivered the 2016 State of the County Address on Friday, February 19, 2016 at the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum. He was introduced by his son, Frank White III, and spoke after a brief video highlighting the County Executive's career of firsts. The following is the text of his speech.

> WATCH THE SPEECH ON YOUTUBE

Thank you. And thank you Frank, for your kind introduction. It is rare that a father has the opportunity to be introduced by his son.

I am blessed to be a father, and a grandfather, a great-grandfather, and a husband to a wonderful woman. I would not be standing here before you today without my wife Teresa’s support. She will be a terrific First Lady for Jackson County.

Welcome everyone. 

Today, I feel like a rookie again. As you saw, my career has been built on many ‘firsts.’ But, I have never experienced a first quite like this.

Often, it is all about the journey.

Jackson County has come a long way. In the early 1800s, slaves built our first courthouses. Today I proudly stand here as the first African-American to hold the position of Jackson County Executive.

I’m not the only person here today who has experienced a first. I would like to turn the spotlight to the first woman to be chair of the Jackson County Legislature, Crystal Williams.

And while I am mentioning strong women, it is a privilege to have Dutch Newman in the audience.  Dutch has been a role model for anyone who is politically active in Jackson County, and I appreciate her taking the time to be here today.

I’d like to thank our friends at the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum for so graciously allowing us to use this iconic setting. There is no one more historic in Jackson County than our 33rd president. For me to have the opportunity to walk the halls that Harry Truman walked  and to sit in the office he occupied will always be an inspiration. 

It is my honor to present the State of the County in this building.

RESPONDING TO THE PEOPLE

When I was sworn in a month ago, I was frequently asked, “What is your top priority?” My answer is simple: people.

I want to improve the quality of life for people in Jackson County—in every part of the county—and to make sure that our county government is truly “of the people, by the people and for the people.”

For some, county government is an afterthought. Many don’t understand what we do. A few still remember the days of old-time political battles. On the other hand, some don’t even realize that Kansas City is part of the county.

In order to change that, we must govern in a way where all our residents feel well represented. We need to educate our people. We need to inform our people. We need to listen to people. And we need to respond to people.

Whether you work in Grain Valley or the old Northeast neighborhoods, whether you attend school in Lee’s Summit or the Center School District, whether you live in Lone Jack or the Key Coalition neighborhood of Kansas City, you deserve the best from your county government. We need to be there for you. We need to be accessible. We need to continue to be public servants, always ready and willing to help.

Under my leadership, Jackson County will be laser focused on the people.

Imagine a county government that makes decisions based on how it affects the average worker. Think about a county government that is transparent to our residents. Consider a county government that judges success on how their projects affect the lives of its citizens.

This is my vision. To get it done, I will need your help. 

ASSOCIATES—NOT JUST EMPLOYEES

First and foremost, I’ll need help from everyone who works for Jackson County. I don’t see them as employees, but as associates.  The difference is that employees are focused on getting a paycheck, while associates buy into the goals of the organization and get things done.

When our associates have great ideas, I want to hear them.  Together we can make county government more effective. 

For example, take Pat McCormack. Pat is our 2015 Employee of the Year. He works for our Parks + Rec Department as an Equipment Operator. When Pat noticed that many of the Park’s small machines—leaf blowers, weed-eaters and chainsaws—were piling up waiting to be repaired, he organized a team to get it done. In the past those machines might have gone to the surplus pile, but Pat’s willingness to step up and manage a new project saved the department and taxpayers a lot of money.

Employee of the Year
Frank White congratulating 2015 Employee of the Year Pat McCormack

REGIONAL PARTNERS

Second, we will need our regional partners, many of whom are here today.

In today’s economy and in today’s political climate, no government can act in isolation. Rather, we need the help of many partners, including our state and federal governments, other counties in the region, and the cities—big and small— in Jackson County.

One of my favorite leaders, Congressman Emanuel Cleaver, once said, “There is more power in unity than division.”

Jackson County has often taken the lead to promote unity, and we can do even more.

It is because of partnerships with the Mid-America Regional Council, Core4, The Eastern Jackson County Betterment Council and other similar groups that we have been able to share knowledge, combine talents and save tax dollars.

Our partnership with Kansas City and the Kansas City Police Department to run a joint correctional facility has saved both the city and the county millions of dollars.

Our partnership with Clay, Platte and Cass counties to provide Medical Examiner services has created a model medical examiner’s office, whose excellence is recognized nationally.

And, our unique partnership with the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority on the Rock Island Corridor has set the stage for an exciting future for the expansion of trails, for new modes of transportation and for economic development in the region.

We will continue to seek partnerships that will benefit all of our citizens. To every mayor, county official and our other partners here today, thank you for giving your support to Jackson County and our residents.

Frank White 1

 I want to improve the quality of life for people in Jackson County—in every part of the county—and to make sure that our county government is truly “of the people, by the people and for the people.”


County Legislators
County Executive White applauds the members of the Jackson County Legislature.

TRAILBLAZING PAST & FUTURE

Jackson County is well known for its trailblazing spirit. Perhaps the most defining moment in our history came as pioneers made their way to Independence, and continued west on one of three famous trails: The Santa Fe, the California and the Oregon.

It was a man named Hiram Young who helped many of those pioneers make their journeys possible.

 Young started life as a slave in Hawkins County, Tennessee.  He was purchased by a man from Lafayette County and came to Missouri as a young married man. 

Hiram had a vision for his future—he wanted to be free. Working hard, he purchased his wife out of slavery, so that their children would be born free. Then he purchased his own freedom.

Once he was freed, Young started a business building wagons.  He built a shop three blocks down what is now 24 Highway, and he prospered. In 1860 Young employed about 25 men, many of whom were working their way to freedom—just as he had. Records show that they built over 300 wagons, and over 6,000 ox yokes that year.  Some sources say he was one of the richest men in Jackson County. 

He had an unbreakable will to succeed.

One part of the Thomas Hart Benton mural you saw when you walked in today depicts Hiram Young’s contribution to Jackson County’s trailblazing spirit. And just a little over a mile from here is the former Young Elementary School, built in 1934 to honor one of Jackson County’s most remarkable and important citizens.

Hiram Young knew at a young age that he had to take a stand to be successful. 

One of my heroes, Jackie Robinson, knew that too.  He said, “Life is not a spectator sport. If you’re going to spend your whole life in the grandstand just watching what goes on, in my opinion you’re wasting your life.”

Like me, many of you in this room have left the grandstands with the goal of making a difference. As elected officials, as community leaders, or as engaged citizens, we do make a difference. 

TAKING A STAND

Jackson County is blessed to have two strong county leaders like Sheriff Mike Sharp and Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker to help lead the way. 

We have made a difference, but we still have a long way to go.

Too many of our residents still experience some form of discrimination.  We see it in housing, in employment, and even in the criminal justice system. We need to take a stand against discrimination of every type.

Too many of our sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, are dying needlessly before they can make a difference. We need to take a stand against violence and against all crimes.

Too many of our residents still struggle to find a job or to be paid a living wage when they find one. We need to take a stand against poverty.

We need to stay on the playing field. And we need to recruit more leaders who will come out of the grandstands to help us.

In this year’s State of the Union, President Barack Obama encouraged us to act, and his message was:  “To vote. To speak out. To stand up for others, especially the weak, especially the vulnerable, knowing that each of us is only here because somebody stood up for us.”

Jackson County government must be committed to taking a stand and to backing that up with our words and our deeds. If we do that, our citizens will follow.

CREATING OPPORTUNITIES

I was blessed to work under one of Kansas City’s greatest entrepreneurs and philanthropists, Ewing Kaufmann. Mr. Kauffman was known not only as a brilliant businessman, but also as someone who was willing to lend a hand.

Mr. Kauffman once said, “I think the greatest satisfaction…is helping others, doing something that either inspires them or aids them to develop themselves, so they’ll not only be a better person but be a better, productive citizen of the United States.”

Jackson County has done its part to help others. Each year we fund dozens of agencies whose main goal is to lend a hand to those in need. In the 2016 budget, Jackson County Legislators appropriated over three and a half million dollars in funding for those agencies.  They should be recognized for their efforts.

We are on the right track, but we can do better.

For every person we help find a job, for every family we help survive a tough winter, for every homeless veteran we help retrain, for every child we help with medical care, for every teenager we dissuade from a life of drugs or crime, we gain “better, productive citizens” of Jackson County. 

It is our responsibility, as good stewards of the county, to improve lives and create opportunities.

SOUND FINANCES

Let me be clear. Your Jackson County government can only make a positive difference if we are financially strong ourselves. The good news is that sound financial decisions, good management, and wise choices have left us in better shape than many other governments across this nation.

Much of that success can be directly attributed to the diligence and hard work of former County Executive Mike Sanders. Mike’s focus on financial responsibility allowed the county to not only be fiscally sound, but also to work on major projects like the renovations of the Historic Truman Courthouse and Eastern Jackson County Courthouse.

Courtroom
New courtroom in the renovated Eastern Jackson County Courthouse

The combined result is that county associates can better serve residents and our courts will be able to hear cases more quickly. As both Prosecutor and County Executive, Mike’s service to Jackson County is much appreciated.

Now Jackson County is poised to move forward, ready to build on that strong foundation. We need to continue to focus on what is tried and true, what is best for the long haul, not the short term.

We will be bold, but prudent. To use a baseball analogy—because it is expected of me—we won’t just swing wildly for the fences. We will advance the runner, or as the Royals would say, we will “keep the line moving.”

FOCUS ON CORE SERVICES

In short, Jackson County must do well what the county is supposed to do well. We must continue to place our emphasis on those services which are at the core of county government. The residents of Jackson County deserve nothing less.

That effort starts with making sure we have the best-trained, best-paid associates who are excited to do their jobs! Public service is a high honor, but it is often a difficult job. As County Executive I will continue to fight for better wages, better benefits and more opportunities for advancement for our associates.

Jackson County provides a lot of services for our residents. We assess property. We collect taxes. We manage the jail. We provide licenses and deeds. We maintain roads and bridges. We need to continue to improve our performance in all those areas—and we will.

COUNTY’S CROWN JEWEL

I started today by talking about firsts. It is said that first impressions matter, and they do. The place where many of our residents get their first impression of Jackson County is in one of our parks.  I have heard them described as the crown jewel of Jackson County.

We manage the third largest county parks system in the United States: three lakes, over 100 miles of trails, campgrounds, a public golf course, several historic sites, pocket parks located throughout Kansas City, and even some ball fields named after a former Royals player.

In other words, our parks offer something for every county resident to enjoy.

Our Parks + Rec events are some of the biggest in the region. Our Fourth of July event draws tens of thousands of people. Christmas in the Park is a regional attraction. People come to visit Fort Osage and Missouri Town 1855 for their historic festivals.

The Big Bang
2015 Big Bang Fourth of July Celebration

My point is that our parks can tie us together as a county. Our parks can be our unity. 

Many of you know that I love to fish. Growing up in Kansas City, fishing was one of my favorite past times.  But my family would never have thought of going to Lake Jacomo.

The city and the county were like two different worlds—separated not just by geography, but by attitude.

If I can accomplish one thing in my time as County Executive it will be to change that perception. To bring people who live in the western part of the county—in Kansas City—to the eastern part of the county. To encourage them to use our lakes and historic sites. And to bring people who live in the eastern part of the county— in Oak Grove, Independence and Lee’s Summit—over to what Kansas City has to offer.

‘JACKSON COUNTY JOURNEY’

Jackson County is rich in history. But it is also modern and forward thinking. And, it is a community! It is a place people want to be.

Today, I am ready to continue my journey. Call it my “Jackson County Journey.”

The journey you saw in my introduction was just the beginning. I am here today to encourage all county residents to take this new journey with me. Together we can blaze some new trails and create some new history.

One of our nation's ultimate trailblazers, former astronaut Jim Lovell, said there are three kinds of people: People who make things happen, people who watch things happen, and people who say, “What happened?”

Join me, and let’s go make things happen!

Thank you, and God Bless you.

Frank White 2

 Now Jackson County is poised to move forward, ready to build on that strong foundation. We need to continue to focus on what is tried and true, what is best for the long haul, not the short term.

We will be bold, but prudent. To use a baseball analogy—because it is expected of me—we won’t just swing wildly for the fences. We will advance the runner, or as the Royals would say, we will “keep the line moving.”