2014 State of the County

County Executive Mike Sanders shakes hands with new County Legislator Theresa Galvin.

Good evening to everybody here. On what is a fabulously warm Missouri January evening thank you for making it. 
Thank you to Presiding Judge Roldan. Thank you to Prosecutor Baker, Sheriff Sharp, Chairman Tarwater and the members of the Jackson County Legislature.

Thank you to everyone… family… friends… for being here tonight. Thank you especially to Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum staff for being such gracious hosts for all of us.

My wife, Georgia, our two sons, Patrick and John, and I, thank you, the people of Jackson County for this incredible opportunity to serve for one additional term. We see it as an honor to serve, and every day we feel grateful for this extraordinary privilege that we have been given by God.

Now the history of this facility is just apparent when you walk into the back room. To see at this very podium, presidents have spoken—and not just Harry Truman. David McCullough… Bill Clinton… Kofi Annan… Madeleine Albright…

This building oozes history.

As we gather here tonight in this incredibly historic building, it’s fitting to reflect briefly on the life of the man this building was erected to honor for his service to our county and certainly to our nation. 

The lives of all of us—of everyone in this room—have been shaped by the decisions that he made—decisions that charted new paths for our county, our country and this world.

The words written behind the Truman presidential statue in the very courtyard where we stand here today honor this legacy by say: “Harry Truman’s decisions set the course of American foreign and domestic policy for generations. They continue to shape American life today.”

Whether in the White House as President, or in the courthouse as Jackson County’s Presiding Judge, Truman believed that government had important work to do in shaping our lives and making our lives better. He also believed it was the duty of each elected leader to make sure that work gets done.

Tonight, just eight days into the new year, 2015, this ceremony reflects, for all of us in county government, an important passage in our democratic process, the swearing in of a new Legislature. Together, the members of the Legislature and I are deeply humbled and honored to be entrusted with the stewardship of these great offices in our great county.

County Executive and County Legislators

Everyone here should know our resolve is to govern our great county as one community with one future. As we are one nation under God, we are also one county under God.

Together we pledge that we will never settle for anything short of excellence, from both ourselves and out of our county.

The great book Citizen Soldier, about Harry Truman’s life, described Truman as being the “most energetic and farseeing county judge in [Jackson County’s] history. His burst of building and planning remade the [Kansas City] area.”

Like Truman, we must strive to be farseeing and continually push ourselves to make choices that best position our county for our collective future together. 

As your County Executive, I have been privileged to serve alongside some great County Legislators and public servants like Scott Burnett, Greg Grounds, Dan Tarwater, Denny Waits and Crystal Williams. And moving forward, we all as a family are eager to forge new partnerships with our newly sworn-in legislators, Theresa Galvin, Alfred Jordan, Tony Miller, and Frank White.

On behalf of the citizens of Jackson County, we say a heart-felt thank you to the former Legislators here with us tonight: Theresa Garza Ruiz, Ken Bacchus, James Tindall and Fred Arbanas. During their service to the county, this Legislature helped keep Jackson County moving forward in very difficult economic times.

Our future success rests in our shared fundamental principles: keeping taxes low, being accountable for every tax dollar, balancing the budget and pursuing every chance to raise the efficiencies of your county government. All while striving to improve lives of all the members of our community.

Together, we have come a long way, but there is always more work left to be done. In many ways, it is as if we are running a marathon with no finish line.

Now, every year, together, we’ve balanced our budget, while making progress and making things better. We have, in true Missouri Show-Me fashion, shown that county government can get things done and get them done—even in the aftermath of the Great Recession—without incurring more debt or resorting to raising taxes.

The County Legislature and I understood that the economic downturn that hit Jackson County government had equally hit just as Jackson County families hard. We were adamant that their county government would not hit them again by raising the county tax levy to balance its books.

In fact, the county’s operating tax levy is lower today than it was in 2008. It’s lower today than it was in 2000—and is at its lowest point since 1996.

Working together, finding efficiencies, we’ve made real progress by making every single dollar count. 

After being repaired, restored, and reopened, the historic courthouse on Independence Square, which now bears Harry Truman’s name, is, once again, a “working courthouse.”

On the exact same date, literally exactly 80 years to the minute after Truman rededicated the same courthouse in 1933, we all gathered on the courthouse Square to celebrate as the doors to that national landmark—its history dates back to the 1820s—swung open again. 

Collectively, we got the job done by re-establishing, beneath the Truman Courthouse, a solid foundation. Then we worked all the way to, making sure that iconic clock rang again.

More than 80 years after Harry Truman got the county back on its feet—after the Great Depression had dropped our nation to its knees—we are still driving down the very county roads he paved in 1930s and driving across bridges he built in the 1930s.

The courthouses he helped construct whether in Kansas City or Independence are still serving the people of this community today. With a little help from our generation, the courthouse on Independence Square, where Truman presided over Jackson County, is back in business.

A few blocks from the Independence Square, we are now renovating the Eastern Jackson County Courthouse by creating five additional courtrooms, working with our friends in the 16th Judicial Circuit, to accommodate a court docket that is ever-increasing with some of the most crowded dockets in the entire state of Missouri. This project is not just about updating a facility last remodeled in 1972, when I was 5. It’s about meeting our obligation to keep our justice system running effectively and efficiently. Our collective public safety is dependent upon it.

This project would not be possible without the leadership of the County Legislator and our friends with the Jackson County Circuit Court. Let’s give our friends with the 16th Circuit a great round of applause. Thank you so much for your service.

Our construction projects are not just about bricks and mortar and making major capital improvements. They’re also about improving people’s lives.

The homes we’ve remodeled through our innovative Constructing Futures program might be small in comparison to our larger projects, like the Regional Correctional Center or the two courthouses in Independence, but each has made a large difference in someone’s life.

First, a difference in the life of a previously homeless family. I think we can all remember the front page of The Kansas City Star a few weeks ago when that little girl who had just walked into her new home said—and I quote—“I want to live here forever.” Words that touched us all.

Constructing Futures also makes a difference in a neighborhood by taking an abandoned and dangerous house that had previously been a haven for criminal activity, remodeling it and returning it back to the market. And a difference in bolstering public safety through providing former drug offenders on-the-job training, so that they can become taxpayers rather than repeat offenders.

The County’s COMBAT program also has a far-reaching and positive influence on improving public safety for all the citizens of Jackson County and across this entire metropolitan region.

The Jackson County Drug Task Force is funded entirely through the anti-drug tax that was just renewed by the taxpayers just recently.

The Task Force provides crucial law enforcement services, especially investigative service, for the entire county that many municipalities—especially smaller municipalities and even some of the larger ones—would not otherwise have. This unit’s success has led to them being named the Law Enforcement Unit of the Year by the Missouri Narcotic Officers Association four separate times and it’s director, Dan Cummings, being named the law enforcement officer of the year this past year.

So, please help me in thanking Dan Cummings who is here with us tonight and the Jackson County Drug Task Force for the amazing job that they do. 

Additionally, working with Sheriff Sharp and Prosecutor Baker, COMBAT’s High-Risk Offender Initiative has certainly made a difference. We coordinate with police agencies all across the metro to build cases against those criminals who prey upon jurisdictional lines. This initiative targets the worst of the worst and the most violent of the violent. 

COMBAT’s reach extends beyond our region, however. Local governments around the nation and even the world come to Jackson County because they see COMBAT as a role model—one they hope to replicate in their communities.

Further impacting lives in our community, Jackson County is stepping up to assist those who have served our nation honorably in the military. This past year, we developed a Veteran’s Task Force to determine how we, as a county government, could help our returning soldiers when they return home to our community after their service overseas. 

Among the first steps we took was allowing Jackson County employees, both new and former employees, to credit up to five years of military service, years spent serving our country, towards their retirement with the Jackson County.

Our obligation to support our soldiers does not stop when they take off their uniforms, but, in so many ways, that is when it begins. 

Our county government works because of the truly outstanding men and women who are the backbone of Jackson County government: our county employees.

They are the reason we get to stand behind podiums like this and to declare, without exception, that projects, like the courthouses and the recent restoration of the stone arch bridge over Truman Road, have all been completed on time and on budget, if not—as all of those projects were—ahead of schedule and under budget.

Our employees have been asked and have in so many ways done more with less. They have embodied the American can-do attitude.

Ladies and gentleman, will you please help me in thanking Jackson County’s great employees.

Together, we have all worked to put Jackson County’s financial house in order. 

Our independent audits the last several years indicate that Jackson County routinely meets and exceeds the highest accounting standards for any organization—whether that organization is a government agency or a private entity. Like any successful business must, Jackson County operates within our means, meets all of our financial obligations and continues to make sound investments for the future.  

We have created a voluntary 3 percent contingency account in each of our major funds. We are paying cash for all major capital improvements, like our courthouse renovations and our new state-of-the-art 911 radio system for law enforcement officials.  

Through sound financial management, we have re-confirmed the county’s triple-A bond rating and set the path for future growth for this community. 

A great testament to our new financial position was the county’s ability this past fall to refinance over $360 million in the bonds issued to refurbish Kauffman and Arrowhead Stadiums. The savings to our taxpayers will amount to over $34 million. How about that?

In the midst of an historic World Series run, Jackson County hit a grand slam. 

In giving the county this high credit rating, Moody’s public finance division wrote the reason for the rating was the strength of—and I quote— “[Jackson County’s] healthy financial operations supported by conservative budgetary practices.”

Today, Jackson County stands on historically strong and sound financial footing.
As we talk about the path we are on and the work we have to yet do, it is important to keep in mind the wise words of Benjamin Franklin, who said, “Well done is better than well said.”

The world will not wait for us to speak, and certainly it will not wait for us to act. We face fierce and immediate global competition for the jobs of today and the jobs of tomorrow. Leading this next wave of growth is our opportunity, not our entitlement.  

We must move swiftly. We must move boldly. As Franklin Delano Roosevelt said, “Never before have we had so little time in which to do so much.”  

The challenges we face and the opportunities before us are not neatly defined along county lines, city limits or even state borders. We have reached a point in this region where local governments must and are sharing best practices, working together to help one another raise efficiencies and lower costs. Understanding that we can get more done pulling together in the same direction, rather than each of us going our own separate way, is in the best interests of all of our citizens. 

To that end, I want to thank some of our local leaders, who are here with us tonight, for working with Jackson County as partners for the betterment of our region: Kansas City Mayor Sly James; Mayor Eileen Weir of the City of Independence; former mayor Don Reimal; Raytown Mayor David Bower; Mayor of Sugar Creek Matt Bowen; Mayor Megee of Greenwood; representing the City of Blue Springs, City Councilman Dale Carter; and the Mayor of Grandview John Maloney.

Thank you so much for being here.

These men and women are working together in an era of cooperation in economic development, creating a win-win environment in which our communities are partners, not competitors pitted against one another—partners working together for the betterment of the whole. Speaking with one voice, they are working to attract new businesses and help already existing businesses prosper. Pooling our resources, they are well aware that growth in one community will have benefits that extend to all of our communities.

“Regional” works, and it’s the only way we can move forward.

Thank you for your leadership.

Over the last several years, Jackson County has been honored to help led the charge to reorganize the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority. We are tasking the Authority with improving services today through better coordination with all surrounding communities with the various bus systems currently operating throughout Greater KC. The archaic notion that transit service can abruptly end based on lines on a map separating the metropolitan’s cities, counties and two states—rather than on where people actually need to go—has to change.

Developing a more extensive mass transit and trails system to better serve the next generation who want to call our region home will require from this regional team. Everyone, in Missouri and Kansas, must to get on board and pull together.

We have in 2015 within our grasp an opportunity to do something tangible to move the ball forward, something big to significantly improve public transportation and expand our community’s already outstanding network of trails. This opportunity would help propel our region into the future, making ours exactly the kind of community where young Americans will want to live.

Ladies and gentleman, I am happy to say that Jackson County has extended our memorandum of understanding with the Union Pacific Railroad, giving us until the end of September of this year, to raise the funds necessary to acquire more than 21 miles of Rock Island railroad lines that, heretofore, was not for sale. 

We have already secured, with the help from the people in this room, $10 million in federal funding to go toward the purchase of these lines—lines which run through all of Eastern Jackson County to downtown Kansas City. We now have nine months to secure the remaining $49.9 million—nine months to make an investment now that will benefit future generations in ways that may be difficult to perceive tonight. 

But we may not get a second chance to take this giant leap forward for our entire community. The moment is at hand, and this is an opportunity we must seize in 2015 with both hands.
In the future, we can redevelop these existing rail lines for commuter rail, which would be but one component of a multi-faceted metropolitan transit system that will also feature more bus service and streetcars, a seamless system providing frequent, convenient, efficient public transportation to all corners of the metropolitan region for all of our citizens.

But there’s more. 

Through making this investment, we would be able to greatly expand and connect our biking and hiking trails. At long last, we could connect our region’s integrated network of trails to the Katy Trail, creating one continuous trail stretching all the way from St. Louis to Kansas City. Imagine, with me tonight, being able to get on your bike in Raytown, Lee’s Summit, Kansas City, Johnson County, Leawood or Wyandotte County, and traveling the entire length of state of Missouri using nothing but foot or pedal power.

It would be a trail of more than 300 continuous miles.

This golden opportunity is at our fingertips. Let’s, together, choose to grasp this opportunity.

We live in a region that is culturally diverse and economically vibrant—in large part metropolitan, but in other parts still what we might call “the countryside.”

We have always taken pride in calling this community our home. There is no other place my wife and I would rather live. We are with a great family, great community and a great county.

From our county’s historic roots that began when Merriweather Lewis established Fort Osage along the backs of the Missouri River and in so many ways established the being of America’s Western Frontier, to celebrating a brilliant Blue October at “The K,” with the backdrop of that fabulous Kansas City skyline, Jackson County has always been a wonderful place to live a full and rewarding life. 

We embark on 2015 as a community, as a county, as a government filled with incredible opportunity: expanding our trails, developing a mass transit system worthy of a modern 21st Century city, increasing opportunities for all of our citizens. Moving forward we can make life in Jackson County and our entire region even better for everyone. 

Our work is just beginning.

Now that we’ve got it ticking, each chime of the clock atop the Truman Courthouse connects our past with our present—and signals that the future is upon us. It’s time to seize the moment.

It’s easy to remember how President Kennedy challenged us as a nation to begin to think big and to think about going to the moon. At the time, no one knew if were even possible technologically. He confidently stated, “The American, by nature, is optimistic. He is experimental, an inventor, and a builder who builds best when called upon to build greatly.”

As we go forward as a county and a community, we ask God for the grace to serve our citizens with honor, with dignity, with justice, and to see clearly the great opportunities that lie before us.