2012 State of the County

Mike Sanders delivers the 2012 State of the County address.

Good afternoon and thanks for coming here today.

I want to thank, first of all, Mayor James for being here and giving us his time, Rabbi Londy as well as Pastor Miles. I want to thank Mr. Welsh and Jim Heeter and all the members of the Chamber of Commerce for giving us this great space. 

Additionally, I want to thank my family for being here, including my wonderful wife and my wonderful son John and my mother and father and my mother- and father-in-law -- as well as members of the County Legislature, Chairman Tarwater, honored guests, family, friends.  

In exactly four days from where stand here today, the American people will choose who our next President is going to be, who our leaders in Congress are going to be, and, frankly, who is going to lead the State of Missouri.

Because of the nature of our public discourse that we watch every day, I think it's easy to get distracted from and diverted from, by the noise of the political process, what is really at hand with the November elections.

However, the history of our nation tells us the great leaders of our nation are not remembered for how they got into elected office, but rather, the values and principles they used while governing in office.

And that is why we begin here today, by looking at the bigger picture of our democracy, with the focus on four of our nation's great presidents and leaders, who all believed in the value of public service, and that government, at its best, at its core, is an honorable enterprise. 

Nearly a quarter century before Jackson County was even created, our nation's third president, Thomas Jefferson, completed the purchase of the Louisiana Territory. Shortly after, Jefferson began his search for a public servant, possessing qualities of heart and mind and spirit and character that warrant complete trust with the exploration of our nation’s new frontier. 

He not only needed a scientist, not only an explorer, but also someone with the values of a loyal servant and soldier -- someone who possessed all the virtues necessary to accomplish this great undertaking. Those virtues included honesty, courage, perseverance and determination. And Jefferson found all those qualities in one man, Meriwether Lewis. 

Now if we walked out of here today, in just a few short minutes, and went a few blocks west to Jefferson Street, and drove straight north to one of the highest points in our city, we'd find ourselves in a place called Case Park. Now that park sits on a bluff that overlooks the Missouri River Valley. That is where Lewis, Clark, and Sacagawea first viewed and laid eyes on the place that we now call home, the City of Kansas City.

Today, there stands a sculpture that honors the accomplishments of their journey of discovery. Carved into the base of that statue are Jefferson’s own words, describing Meriwether Lewis, a proud public servant as a man "Of courage undaunted and a fidelity to truth, I could have no hesitation in confiding the enterprise to him."

So, Jefferson knew that by putting our destiny in the hands of citizens worthy of our trust, this great national enterprise would certainly succeed.

Two hundred years later, one of our nation's great presidents, William Jefferson Clinton, spoke of this same principle and belief by declaring that Democracy, in and of itself "can advance the public interest. It can be an honorable enterprise."

An important part of the honorable enterprise here in Jackson County and of government is our tradition of reporting to you on state of our finances, the progress of our initiatives and the prospects for our future together as a community.

There is no greater barometer of where a government stands in terms of its fundamental principles and direction than how it chooses to spend the money that it has been entrusted with by the public. 

A principle of prudent governance is to not borrow from the promise of tomorrow to pay for the obligations of today. Furthermore, we must use the dollars that we are given, that we are entrusted with, to provide the greatest benefit to the greatest number of citizens.

Over the past six years, despite what we all know is the devastating effects of our Great Recession, we have re-imagined our county’s finances, not only out of necessity, but also by design. We were confident that by adopting and incorporating these higher standards, we could do more for our citizens, while at the same time spending fewer dollars while doing it. 

Because Jackson County is, frankly, doing more with less, we can take pride in the fact that once again, this year, we, with the Legislature's help, made the choice to balance our budget without raising taxes.

In fact, we went a step further, by making the decision to reduce the county's 9-1-1 tax rate on citizen's telephone lines by 18 percent. This will result in lower phone bills for all Jackson County residents. 

Another important barometer of the county’s financial health are the results of our annual independent audit. This summer, we once again, received an "unqualified" or clean opinion, which is the highest possible attainable by any organization, whether public or private.

That's something we can be very proud of.

Among the reasons why this iis the case is because we've made the choice to continue to have prudent cash reserves set aside for all of our major county funds. Thus, we in Jackson County are one of only six counties, out of 116 counties in the State of Missouri, with a "Double A" bond rating. And, as we always have, our county budget this year will be truly balanced. 

We recognize in Jackson County that no good effort that serves the public's interest is possible without a strong spirit of cooperation. 

Consequently, the members of our County Legislature and Chairman Tarwater, our Sheriff Mike Sharp, our Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker have all made a conscious choice to implement a more fiscally responsible county government. Each of them and each of you have kept the faith, on a day to day basis through this extreme challenge in this recession, with the principle of doing more with less as a government.

A balanced budget is only possible through your partnership and your hard work.

I’d like to ask the members of the Legislature, Chairman Dan Tarwater, Sheriff Sharp, Ms. Baker, will you please stand so we can give you a round of applause? Thank you for everything that you have done for our citizens.

Additionally, every year we work with the Jackson County Circuit Court in order to balance our budget. Will the members of the 16th Circuit, the Jackson County Circuit Court, please stand? Once again, but for their hard work and partnership, we could not have a balanced budget. Thank you very much.

Despite our progress, however, we face new and serious challenges because of decisions made by our state government. Consequently, in 2013, Jackson County will see nearly $4 million in lost revenue for the next calendar year.

So, as we look to the future, we in local government have to be realistic. But as we have done since 2007, Jackson County will use this changing climate, the changing budget climate and the recession, not as an excuse but, once again, as an opportunity.

If you will permit me, allow me to quickly share with you seven "honorable enterprises," as Jefferson described them, that Jackson County Government has managed and designed in the public's interest over the past and to the years ahead looking forward.

Few presidents in our nation’s history have had so many consequential enterprises to manage as Harry Truman.

Whether it's from the Truman Doctrine or the Marshall Plan abroad or his Fair Deal here at home, each one exemplified the spirit and character President Truman had exhibited when he said, "America was not built on fear. America was built on courage, on imagination and an unbeatable determination to do the job at hand."

In 2009, during the very first few days of the Great Recession, we were in danger of losing this historic building. The foundation was literally eroding before our eyes. We declared a public emergency and made this project a priority for our entire county. Emergency fixes to save the exterior of that building has allowed us to return that building to its classic integrity, which is Truman's original design of 1933.

When the doors to this historic building open to the public, visitors will be able to see Harry Truman’s Office and the courtroom where he worked as Presiding Judge of Jackson County in the 1930s. Additionally, it will be home to the Jackson County Historical Society, the Independence Visitors Center, as well as a gallery filled with great art that is important to all the citizens of the State of Missouri.

But this building will also serve a 21st Century purpose by housing various county departments, so that it, once again, becomes a working courthouse for all of our citizens. 

Additionally, in keeping with our commitment to providing citizens the basic right of access to courts in a timely fashion, we will also begin work next year to work on the expand, renovation and modernization of the Eastern Jackson County Courthouse in Independence.

Out of 116 counties, that courthouse is burdened with the most crowded dockets in the entire State of Missouri. The only way to alleviate this problem is by simply adding more divisions. The only way to add more divisions is to add more space. A lack of adequate courtroom space in this building jeopardizes the basic core operation of our civil and criminal justice systems. 

That is why, over the past year, my administration has worked diligently and closely with the 16th Judicial Circuit Court and Judge Atwell specifically to formulate a plan for this courthouse that will eventually feature five new courtrooms, as well as an expanded, renovated and modernized jury room. 

This is an investment that will satisfy not just the needs of the citizens today, but the needs of generations for years to come.

And, let me add, because of our careful planning and responsible budgeting of the courts, of my staff, the work at both of these courthouses will be done without any additional expense to county taxpayers. We will not borrow from the future to address the needs and problems of the present.

Now, I would like to talk about the work that continues to go to create a safer and better community.

A year and a half ago, I was honored to have the opportunity to appoint Jean Peters Baker to the position of Jackson County Prosecutor. Jean has shown during that time great courage in that job as well as the exemplary leadership skills necessary to make our community a safer and better place.

Jean is someone I've known for a while. She has never shirked away from making the hard decisions or the right decisions. She has done a remarkable job. 

And she has done so also by leading that office by listening to and collaborating with the citizens from all across our county.

Despite increasing budgetary problems and challenges, Jean has recognized the important mission of the neighborhood prosecution program in terms of reaching out to our community at large. To build trust with our citizens, Jean and her fellow prosecutors have literally walked door to door in neighborhoods throughout our community, in an effort to bring down the high rate of violent crime. 

Let me describe one example of the positive results we are seeing because of Jean's hard work. 

Earlier this year, residents at 27th and Prospect immediately led staff members to a drug house that had introduced dangerous and illegal activity to their neighborhood. Think about impact on their quality of life and daily life. With the help of the COMBAT-funded Drug Abatement Response Team or DART, that house was quickly shut down through Jean's leadership. A short time later, several of those drug dealers who were dealing poison in that neighborhood were targeted, arrested and convicted.

So, Jean, by working with and encouraging our citizens to work with law enforcement to build a better and safer community, we can report that trust is being built in their county government. Building off of this success, Jean's efforts will now expand to eastern Jackson County in 2013. So, Jean, thank you for your hard work. Thank your office for its hard. That is indeed an honorable enterprise. Thank you Jean.

Now I want to bring you update on another key county initiative.

Today, I’d like to announce that, by this year's end, the obsolete and dangerously inadequate radio system currently used by our sheriff’s deputies and law enforcement officials in this county will be replaced with a new, state-of-the-art communications equipment. This new system will fill the unacceptable communications gaps and public safety gaps that they struggle with now every day. 

Also, next year through Sheriff Sharp's leadership, we will add two new radio towers that will expand and enhance our public safety capabilities.

For the first time, our citizens will be able to rely upon the ability of our deputies to talk to one whether it's across municipal boundaries, county boundaries or state boundaries in often times what happen to be life-or-death situations. 

To solve this problem -- we've known about it for years -- we all knew that the costs would be very, very high. 

Had Jackson County acted alone in this endeavor, the costs would have exceeded, vastly exceeded, over $20 million to fix this issue.

Instead, Sheriff Sharp worked with law enforcement officials all throughout this county, forged strong partnerships with law enforcement teams all throughout this community, throughout the metro, including the Missouri Highway Patrol, the Kansas City Police Department and the Independence Police Department. Consequently, Jackson County's costs have gone from $20 million to $5 million for a state-of-the-art system -- literally 25 percent of what the original estimates were. 

Now this project will be and is being completed on time and under budget, and with these improvements, in keeping with our principles, we will pay cash for this project.

In county government, we have been entrusted with the responsibility to take care of our citizens in times of crisis. The rabbi mentioned what is going on, obviously, on the East Coast. Our hearts and minds certainly go out to the citizens of the East Coast. God forbid something like that happens in our community.

So, let me tell you about several steps Jackson County has taken, in honor of the trust given to take care of citizens during a crisis. 

Let's go back a little amount of time, just a few short months ago to May 22, 2011, when a category F-5 tornado ripped through the small town of Joplin, Missouri, bringing historic death and destruction on citizens of our state. 

In that aftermath... In that aftermath as we watched television reports, Mike Henderson with our Medical Examiner's Office rushed in. And he responded immediately. He rushed in to help with the recovery efforts in Joplin, a very difficult task and difficult job. 

Upon his return from Joplin, when the lessons learned, Mike dedicated himself to improving Jackson County’s ability to be prepared if just such a large-scale disaster, God forbid, were to strike our metropolitan area. 

Building on work that was already underway, our Medical Examiner’s Office collaborated with the Mid-America Regional Council to obtain the necessary equipment, should such a disaster strike Jackson County or anywhere else in the Kansas City Metropolitan area.

Additionally, the Medical Examiner’s Office has worked with our Sheriff to form a regional partnership with agencies featuring over 100 professionals and law enforcement officials from throughout both Missouri and Kansas. Because we have chosen and they have chose to to plan ahead, we will be ready to respond for disasters of any kind should they threaten our community. 

Now, clearly, no one has the power to prevent such disasters. But we do have the ability to commit to the challenging and sometimes painful duties that disasters require us to perform. This is a basic core requirement of a compassionate society, as well as one that serves the public interest. Mike, Sheriff Sharp, thank you very much for your work.

Sometimes, in the course of their everyday duties, our county employees are called upon or looked upon to do some extraordinary things. On May 15 of this year, four of our employees faced just such an unforeseen circumstance.

On that afternoon, two of our citizens, James Bowden and Gladin Harrison, were fishing on Lake Jacomo, when their boat suddenly capsized. Gladin fell below the water’s surface while James clung to the boat, which was more than 30 yards from the shore and safety. James repeatedly shouted for help. Anna Nicholson and Tara Pollard, both of whom are with us today, working in our Communications Department, heard the shouting from their offices just by Lake Jacomo. They saw James just barely staying above the water and immediately called the Sheriff’s Office and Park Rangers for assistance after rushing down to the shore to see what they could do.

While emergency crews were in route, a fellow citizen and boater, Joseph Groff, was able to get a life preserver to James. Within minutes, Sheriff Sergeant Doug Caster and Park Ranger Derek Craft arrived at the scene and pulled James to safety -- literally saving his life. Unfortunately, they were not unable to save Mr. Harrison. But because of the teamwork of our employees, their dedication, further tragedy was averted. James was quickly transported to a hospital, where he was made, thankfully, a full recovery. 

In Jackson County, as we have seen, we have come to expect of our employees. Thank you for your hard work and dedication.

As we have just seen, the success of any enterprise, whether public or private, is due in no small part to the talents and the skills of its employees. 

Thus, over the past three years, we have instituted a training program, which brings together employees from all departments across the county to help build a permanent leadership structure. This effort recognizes that leadership is required and encouraged at all levels of county government. 

The participants of this program meet on a monthly basis and work to identify problems and issues, both within our organization as well as in the community at large, and come up with solutions that benefit the greater public interest.

Quickly, let me share with you one, just one tangible project that is the result of this program and has benefited, we think, not just the employees of our county but the citizens of our community.

It was discovered that, for a variety of reasons, many of our employees were and, frankly, many citizens in our community were unable to access fresh and healthy food for themselves and their families. So, they went to work on the problem. In order to fix this, our leadership management and development program worked with Truman Medical Center to bring their mobile farmers market to our downtown courthouse one morning a week. Our employees, as well as many people in our community, now have regular access to fresh and healthy seasonal produce. 

By confiding this enterprise to our county employees, they have brought a much-needed benefit to our community.

Now, also in our budget is another important initiative that will benefit the health of our entire community through the expansion of the popular and growing county trails system. 

As I reported to you last year, Jackson County has established a new partnership with the city of Kansas City in order to extend the Little Blue Trace Trail from where it currently resides. 

As we often say, imagine... imagine, if you will, being able to leave your home, anywhere within Kansas City or Raytown or Lee's Summit or Independence or Grandview, and being able to catch the trail and take your bike all the way to St. Louis continuously, uninterrupted.

So, I am happy today to report to you that next year, we will begin work on extending the spine of our county trails system into Kansas City for the first time. 

Trails are important investments and help contribute to our citizen’s quality of life. An important partner in these efforts has been the members of the City Council of Kansas City, Missouri, but specifically Kansas City Mayor Pro-Tem Cindy Circo. An important project of hers... But for her hard work, but for her contribution, we would not be celebrating the extension of our important an growing ever popular trail system. Mayor Pro-Tem will you please stand, so we can give you a round of applause.

Finally, we meet here today in this iconic structure -- what a beautiful building, this iconic structure, which reminds all of us daily of the power of transit to connect us. To connect our lives, to connect us to each other and to connect us to our jobs and our recreation. 

No initiative in Jackson County has more potential to transform how our community lives, how it works, how it grows or how it moves than the effort to build a new, modern and efficient public transit system.

We can find inspiration in the words of one of our nation's great presidents, its great leaders, Dwight Eisenhower. He recognized the urgent need to connect our nation during his presidency, and thus, promote the economic future and vitality and the safety of all of our citizens. In doing so, he became the chief advocate for a novel concept, an historic national project that we now know as the Federal Interstate Highway System. 

In February 1955, in unveiling this project, Eisenhower explained the importance of this project to Congress, when he said, "Our unity as a nation is sustained by free communication of thought and by easy transportation of people and goods. The Nation’s highway system is a gigantic enterprise."

Re-imagining Jackson County's transportation needs and system for the 21st Century must be our next big enterprise. 

If we work to connect our citizens through a network of rail, buses and trails, then getting to your destination by car will no longer be a necessity. It will be a choice and not a practical necessity. 

But transit has always been about more than simply moving people from Point A to Point B. Investment in transit creates jobs and boosts economic development. As we've heard, national averages indicate for every dollar invested in rail transit, three dollars is returned in terms of economic development in any community in the United States. 

Improved transit is also a key to retaining and attracting the best and the brightest that our nation has, the leaders of tomorrow. Now what polling indicates is that they not only want to live in cities with mass transit options and rail options, they are demanding it for the cities they reside in. 

So we have to begin to ask ourselves, "Who is going to be the next Bill Gates, Steve Jobs or Walt Disney? And where will they choose to live?" What type of society are they going to choose to live in? 

If we want them to live here, which we do, it is vital that we provide for them the kind of vibrant, progressive community where our future leaders want to live, work and raise a family. But the harsh reality is that, with each passing year, the need for a comprehensive mass transit system for our entire community only grows larger and more cumbersome. According to the Brookings Institute, our region has fallen even further behind in the national averages in just the past year alone. Out of the top 100 metropolitan areas in the United States, we in Kansas City rank 94th --94th-- in our citizen’s ability to access their jobs and recreation through public transit. 

While this unacceptable gap has continued to grown wider and wider, our resolve to provide solutions to this problem remains steadfast.

But the process of constructing a world-class transportation system is complicated, and it tends to move more slowly, frankly, than any of us would like, including. Now that is why it is important to invest the necessary time in order to present the public with a smart, concise and sensible transit plan that addresses the needs of all our citizens for future generations. 

So, this is not about getting transit done fast. It’s about getting transit done right. 

We are proud to say that every mayor in Jackson County shares in this commitment. Many of whom are with us here today. We, the mayors and myself the County Executive, as partners, assure you that we will not ask for your commitment until we have meet all of the expectations that we have laid out. 

Because of this unique and, frankly, historic and unprecedented collaboration, being 94th is no longer acceptable for Kansas City. And because we are now speaking with one voice on one project, a solution is now within our grasp.

This enterprise, this conversation, this collaboration is only possible because of the hard work, the foresight, the cooperation of all the mayors of Jackson County. Would you all please stand, so we can recognize you gentleman?

And so, in conclusion, ladies and gentlemen, we don’t know what choices the American people are going to make this coming Tuesday. But we do know that Jackson County has worked hard to create a competent, confident and compassionate government that serves the public interest.

Our journey of discovery is not unlike Jefferson's. It is one that will require the most talented individuals in our region, one that will overcome old barriers to cooperation and accomplishment, and one that truly acts in the public interest by improving the lives of all of the citizens we are duty-bound to serve.

Today, as I've done in the past, I ask each of you to support this honorable enterprise.

In doing so, let us ask for God's grace as we continue to serve the citizens of our great county with honor and dignity and justice. Thank you for coming here today.
Mike Sanders delivers the 2012 State of the County address.
Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders delivers the 2012 State of the County Address