2010 State of the County
TUESDAY, JANUARY 4, 2011
Thank you so much for being here today on this great January afternoon.
Mr. Chairman, members of the Legislature, Prosecutor Kanatzar, Sheriff Sharp, Presiding Judge Atwell and honored guests. We gather here today in this magnificent courthouse, mindful of past accomplishments, but with our thoughts firmly focused on our future and the future of this great County.
Interestingly, exactly 80 years ago, our nation stood in the midst of the greatest economic calamity we have ever faced as a people – the Great Depression. In January 1931, as Harry Truman, then presiding judge of Jackson County, began his second term, he did so against a backdrop of the Great Depression, the crash on Wall Street, record unemployment and the collapse of our nation’s banking industry.
The challenges ahead were great, but in those challenges Truman also saw great opportunity. Rather than sit idle as he began a very tumultuous second term, he began his second term advocating for his ambitious 10-year plan of construction that resulted in three iconic buildings for our community, City Hall, the “Truman Courthouse” and the courthouse we stand in today.
Those choices, made over four generations ago, still echo through these halls today and continue to shape the community we have become and will become in the future.
Since I first spoke to you four years ago, we as a community have experienced our own similar struggles with an uncertain economic future.
Four straight years of unprecedented shortfalls, combined with increasing maintenance needs for the County, posed a daunting challenge to everyone in County government.
However, we in County government refused to use this as an excuse for mediocrity or as an excuse for failure. Instead, we chose to see this economic storm as an opportunity to raise the bar of expectations for County government and to solve problems with unique and innovative solutions.
We as a County did not react timidly to the economic challenges of our time. Through hard work and planning, we slashed spending by nearly 20 percent in our general fund, while at the same time refusing and sacrificing the critical services we provide to the public every day -- critical services such as the jail, prosecutors and maintenance of our important roads and bridges for our entire community.
Additionally, with the creation of the County’s first comprehensive capital improvement plan almost three years ago, we were able to coordinate and focus all of the County’s resources as part of an overall plan. Despite having fewer resources every year to work with, the condition of our County’s roads and bridges over the last three years has actually improved and still remains well ahead of state and national averages.
County government has balanced its books and moved forward by focusing on long-term solutions, rather than quick, short-term fixes. Together, we have looked inward rather than outward for our answers by working to become more efficient as an organization and demanding and accepting a greater sense of responsibility and professionalism in our daily operation.
We continue to be steadfast in the belief that Jackson County government must live within its means. If this is the harsh economic reality that families in our County face every day, then their County government should be required to live up to the same high standard they have to every day.
While we have made great progress as a County, there is still much work to be done. For every family that has prospered, we know there are still families who still suffer.
The challenge before us is to restore the hope that leads to prosperity for everyone. The welfare of our citizens has been and will continue to be our number one priority.
To this end, our administration and this County Legislature have refused… have refused to add new burdens to our citizens by either raising taxes or reducing critical County services.
Throughout this difficult recession, we have kept our tax levies flat and our budgets have been and remain truly balanced.
The way in which Jackson County government operates has been permanently transformed as we have worked to remove and have removed the veil of secrecy that once shrouded this very courthouse. With the adoption of the first-ever comprehensive code of ethics, and with the passage of the most comprehensive reforms to our County’s Charter since its adoption in 1970, County government is more open and more accessible than ever before in its history.
Most importantly, these reforms are permanent and can not be abolished with the simple stroke of a pen. This administration and this Legislature and the citizens of Jackson County have made it clear that elected officials will truly be held accountable for their actions -- and the days of special treatment and backroom deals will and must end.
To every County official, employee, citizen and distinguished guest, I want to thank you for your cooperation and support during these last four years. But I also want to thank my wonderful wife, Georgia, for putting up with me and for my wonderful family. And everyone knows she does have to put up with. And thank you to my wonderful mother and father, who I can really say without them I would not be here today. And to my mother-in-law and father-in-law thank you for all of your wonderful support.
Together, we must all continue to raise the bar of expectations for County government, while continuing to be innovative and imaginative in tackling what we know will be challenges ahead.
To the members of the Legislature, thank you for your support, and I promise and commit that we will continue to work as partners on the challenges we confront in the years ahead. Thank you for all of your support.
Prosecutor Jim Kanatzar, Sheriff Mike Sharp and Presiding Judge Atwell and former Presiding Judge Nixon, thank you for your hard work through what have been exceptionally difficult budgets, and thank you for work in ensuring that, even though we had fewer dollars to do so, that public safety always remained a top priority and was always protected.
And I want to take this opportunity to recognize all of the employees of Jackson County. Their hard work and their determination have made the reforms of the past four years possible. Without them we would not have those reforms today. Their dedication has allowed this organization to be in the position that we are in today. Often times, as we all know, the best ideas on how to reform an organization and how to move forward, come from the people who work every day on behalf of the citizens of this community.
Their dedication, their commitment, their hard work honors Truman’s words when he said almost 75 years ago, “It’s amazing how much you can accomplish if you don’t care who gets the credit.” So, thank you to the employees of this County.
So often the work they do goes without fanfares. They do it without headlines in the press, but today provides us an opportunity to recognize and honor the sacrifices they have made and to reward them for what they have done for all the citizens of this community. Therefore, today, I, along with the Legislature, am proud to announce, a three percent pay-raise merit pool for all employees in 2011.
We continue to assert that Jackson County will take a back seat to no one in our attempts to recruit and retain the best employees possible for the citizens of this community.
Through hard work, through creativity, the tough but necessary reforms have reshaped our County government and they have been implemented. Because of these reforms, the County is now well-positioned to take advantage of the future that lies before us. Mindful of the rich legacy that Truman left us almost 80 years ago, we must begin as he to act and plan for the next generation.
But as we know, part of moving forward continues to be preserving the treasures of our past. The historic Truman Courthouse in Independence brings people from all over the world – literally all over the world – to visit this community. Although much restoration work has already been done to that great structure, we must continue to work in the months ahead to find a way to complete the renovations and make that courthouse a working courthouse once again.
Similarly, as the demands of our eastern Jackson County courthouse continue to grow, we must adapt to this new reality for our community and provide for the judges, prosecutors and staff necessary to conduct the public’s business and keep our community safe.
Both of these projects come with significant need but with equally significant price tags. However, we must pledge as before and as a government that we will do these projects, we will complete these projects while keeping to our core value of not asking for more in taxes from our public. Thus, we will work hard in the weeks and months ahead to identify new or already existing revenue sources to provide the money necessary for their completion.
Now as our metropolitan area grows, many of the challenges we face can only be adequately dealt with as a region. As we know, in the global economy, our collective futures do not stop at the County, municipal or state boundaries. We are all bound together as one community.
Jackson County has sought and will continue to seek to be a catalyst for increasing and improving regional cooperation, not only to improve the quality of services our citizens need and demand, but also to bring the costs of those services down.
As an example, this past August marked the one-year anniversary for the opening of the RCC, the Regional Correctional Center. After over one year of operation, I can say that project is an unqualified success.
By working with our partners in the City of Kansas City, many of whom are with us today, to close the Municipal Correctional Institute or MCI, we were able to turn a costly burden to a taxpayer into a savings – a savings of almost $3 million per year. At the same time we are saving money, we have enhanced much needed transitional services for those inmates so they do not have to become part of the costly criminal justice system.
But now it is time to move into the future and build upon the success of the RCC. We must engage our community partners in planning a new correctional center that will serve all the citizens of Jackson County. Centralized correctional services will ensure public safety, create savings for the taxpayers and institute 21st Century correctional reforms for all the citizens of this County.
Regional cooperation is essential – essential – if our community is going to remain viable and competitive in the new millennium. If we do not take bold steps soon to grow as a region, then we risk falling further behind as a community as our options become more limited with the passage of time.
The long-range needs of our families include a network of hiking and biking trails that is second to none in the Midwest. The three-and-a-half-mile expansion of our County’s largest trail system, the Little Blue Trace Trail, began in 2010 with a partnership with the City of Independence. But that job is not finished. It is time to transform the Little Blue Trace into a world class 27-mile trail stretching from the northern to the southern boundaries of our County.
Also, we must work with an eye toward connecting this new trail system to the state’s award-winning Katy Trail, which currently stretches from the boundaries of Missouri and Kansas all the way to St. Louis and Illinois. This will create a world-class trail system that allows anyone to walk or bike from Sibley to St. Louis without ever leaving the trail.
Furthermore, with an eye toward future regional cooperation, a week from today, I will be sitting down with many of my county partners, other county leaders from throughout the Greater Kansas City area, in our effort to seek new and unique solutions that will continue to help make Greater Kansas City a thriving community.
But as we know and as we can feel, Kansas City and our community are at a crossroads.
That is why I speak today with a great determination as I say that it is time for a new direction in how we live, how we work and how we move. As Greater Kansas City continues to expand and grow, we must look for new ways to remain and become more competitive.
The construction of an integrated mass transit system would bring immense competitive and economic benefits region-wide to all communities in our area.
Recently, Jackson County, in coordination with the Mid-America Regional Council, was awarded a $1.8 million competitive grant to study regional transportation in Greater Kansas City.
Now think about this: Out of 67 applications nationwide that were reviewed, only 23 were awarded any money. Our region’s proposal received the third largest grant amount, beating out such cities as – look at the list – such cities as New York, Washington, D.C. and Dallas. This proves as we know that our community can compete head-to-head with any city in America, whether big or small.
Our award would not have been possible without the firm work and dedication of our Missouri Congressional delegation. I want to specifically thank United States Senator Claire McCaskill and Congressman Emanuel Cleaver for their hard in making sure that grant application was granted. Thank you to them.
This award, however, is not the end, but the beginning. We must continue to push forward and transform the way our community lives. If Jackson County and Greater Kansas City want to remain competitive, we need to find smarter and better ways to move our citizens and spur job growth and business development.
I just want to add a parenthetical here.
Here on about December 22… We received the grant on December 21 and it hit the paper on December 22, hit the press on December 22. Often times when we talk about grants and $1.8 million and studies, often times we lose sight of what this is really about. It’s really about people. It’s about moving people to and form their jobs and where they need to do.
That night, I just happened to be going home – and I do all the shopping now because my wife injured her arm – I was in HyVee and it really struck me. I was in HyVee for about 15 minutes picking up some groceries for that night, and in that 15 minutes I got stopped by no less than eight separate people each with his individual story about what this project would mean to them and why we needed to continue to push forward.
I won’t use their names, but it was everywhere from Mike the manager – who’ll probably hate that I used part of his name – but Mike the manager who talked about his son who moved from Kansas City to Portland because we didn’t have mass transit and he only wanted to live in a “green” city.
It was from the woman who said she remembers back in the 1940s and 1950s every day taking the trolley system from Belton to Kansas City. And it was everything in between. Eight individuals each with their individual story.
But the ones that struck me the most were two people saying, “If you built it tomorrow, I’d be riding it the next day.”
We can’t lose sight of the fact that those individuals, these people, are what must drive this project as we continue to change the way we will compete and move as a city.
Now is not the time to settle for the results of the past, but it is time to think about and get to work building our future – the future of this community. It’s time to look beyond this year or this next election cycle, and start thinking about and planning for the next generation.
The people that elect us give us jobs for a such a short amount of time, not for the purpose of exercising power, but to aspire to and honor the highest ideals of our forbearers, to whom we owe so much.
And so….ladies and gentlemen...
After all the speeches have been made and we are long gone, let them say of us, let them say of this time, that although we made mistakes and we will, we made them honestly and that through our time here that we chose what was hard but was right, over what was easy but wrong.
And let them say that today, the next four years were truly a new beginning for Jackson County.
Thank you. God bless you and may God bless Jackson County.