2009 State of the County


Thank you so much for coming here today.

In 1787—more than a quarter of century before Lewis & Clark’s expedition and almost a half century before the Missouri Legislature created Jackson County—our founding fathers gathered in Philadelphia for the Constitutional Convention. At the conclusion of deliberations, Benjamin Franklin stood and addressed the convention and said: 

“Much of the strength and efficiency of any government, in procuring and securing happiness to the people, depends on their general opinion of the goodness of that government, as well as the wisdom and integrity of its governors. I hope therefore, gentleman, that wherever our influence may extend, [we] turn our future thoughts and endeavors to the means of having [the government] well administered.”

Franklin understood that it’s not enough to enact a Constitution, adopt legislation, pass budgets and sign bills into law, unless those acts of the government are going to be effectively and properly administered. 

It is to that end—the effective administration of county government—that myself, this administration and the County Legislature has turned its attention to the last three years.

Although we are here today to discuss the future of Jackson County, I want to for just a few short moments to look back to almost three years ago when I first stood before many of you to deliver the inaugural address. On that cold day in January of 2007, we described what were soon to become the most daunting challenges this County has faced since the Great Depression. Together, we vowed as a people not to shrink from those challenges or to seek quick or easy fixes, not when long-term solutions for this County were so badly needed. Together, we pledged that as a people “we would not compromise the promise of tomorrow, by putting off the problems of today.”

So, to vice-chairman Rizzo… The members of the Legislature… Presiding Judge Nixon… And to all of our distinguished guests and to all the citizens and employees of Jackson County… I want to thank you for being here today and for joining me in helping to meet the problems that confront Jackson County and in striving to build a more promising tomorrow for our community and our children. 

Much has changed since that January when I took the oath of office. While the struggles of our County are more significant than ever, the way Jackson County government conducts its business has literally been reshaped.  We have trimmed our budgets further than we thought possible, made “doing more with less” our unofficial motto as a government, and sought every opportunity to raise our government’s efficiencies and our expectations. At the same time, we have strived as a government to improve our responsiveness to meeting our citizens’ demands.

A long overdue change that I believe and hope that our citizens can appreciate is instilling the belief that Jackson County government must continue to live within its means. The quick fix of overcoming a budget shortfall by putting the burden back on our citizens by raising taxes is simply not acceptable. In 2007, 2008 and in 2009 and now as we move as an organization into 2010, my executive staff and the County Legislature have been and continue to be of one mind in holding the line on increasing taxes. 

This year to that end, the Jackson County Legislature took the bold step of voting unanimously not to raise the County tax levy to overcome a record third straight budget shortfall. With property values continuing to go down, this means that Jackson County Government will see less revenue in 2010, but those homeowners in our community will see their property taxes continue to go down.

Instead, to balance the 2010 budget, we have continued to do what we have done for the last years. We have and will continue to challenge every County employee—every person in this organization—to be innovative and imaginative. Cutting costs should not be and is not at war with the concept of cutting edge technologies, ideas and actions. We are doing what every family in Jackson County is forced to every single day: We are working to live within our means and working hard to make sure that every dollar counts. 

As 2009 draws to a close, Jackson County is no longer content to merely “get by” during the calendar year. Our agenda is one of taking firm and decisive action. We don’t seek to lower expectations of County government, but to continue to move the bar even higher. We realize that standing still as an organization makes it impossible to move forward. 

The changes that have been made to the way County government conducts its business—the way we as public servants serve the public we are honored to serve—has made a difference in getting through today. But it will also have a dramatic payoff in future years. In what will be a more prosperous future.

Let me briefly describe several projects we’ve addressed this year, starting with the Regional Correctional Center. Dating back to my days as Jackson County Prosecutor, I recognized it was clear our community had a need to consolidate its jail services. Rather than several jails all operating independently, with separate administrations and separate budgets, throughout the entire County, the creation of a centralized facility made more sense—that it would improve public safety and, at the same time, save public dollars.

In 2009, we took a giant step forward as an organization and as a community by opening the Regional Correctional Center. By the way, ahead of schedule and on budget. Jackson County’s Department of Corrections has assumed the responsibility for detaining Kansas City’s municipal inmates. A very historic step.

We negotiated this agreement with our partners within the City of Kansas City government, thus closing MCI, the Municipal Correctional Institute, and moving their inmates to the now renovated County facility. The County is now making good use of space that was previously used simply for storage of boxes or old equipment. A regional detention facility maximizes efficiencies while at the same time streamlining costs. By negotiating as partners and working as partners, we were able to reduce the cost of inmate services for both governments dramatically. This partnership, however, would not have been possible without the hard work of Ken Conlee. [Jackson County’s Corrections Director] Ken Conlee and his staff, through their dedication and hard work in a short amount of time, just two years, were able to reduce the amount taxpayers were having to spend to house an inmate, from $74 a day to $57. Thank you to Ken and the staff of the Regional Correctional Center.

That savings—the savings that Ken and his staff have helped us realize—will add up every year. No longer are the City of Kansas City and Jackson County duplicating the services and, therefore, the expense of housing inmates. Furthermore, we will continue to work to bring in additional partners and reach agreements with other communities, as the Regional Correctional Center works to expand and spread the savings for all the communities throughout Jackson County.

In the depths of the Great Depression, as Presiding Judge of Jackson County, Harry Truman didn’t just look to get through the current year. He looked to make improvements—to move County government and his community forward. For example, during the heights of the Great Depression, he secured the funding to construct this building, the very building we sit in today, which was constructed 76 years ago. 

At the same time, Truman did not turn his back on the past. Instead he oversaw the remodeling of the historic courthouse on the Independence Square, the national landmark that we now refer to as the Truman Courthouse.

Truman found a way to move Jackson County forward during the Great Depression of the ’30s. During the most prolonged recession to affect our nation since the 1930s, we have to find a way in 2009 to move forward again and to reverse the deterioration that has occurred at the Truman Courthouse. Decades of decay and decades of neglect were beginning to jeopardize the very foundation upon which this national landmark stands.

In January, I, along with members of the Legislature, declared the condition of the building a public emergency. We believed that the Truman Courthouse—the place where Harry Truman got his start in politics in a career that would ultimately lead him to the White House of our great nation, and a building listed on the national registry of historic places since 1972—should not fall into such a state of disrepair that it could not be retrieved. 

Moving forward with renovations, the Courthouse grounds have been restored to their original 1933 appearance, and the walls that had caused so much water damage to the building’s foundation were removed. 

In September, I, along with the Legislature, was able to announce the project’s completion, on schedule and for less than what had been budgeted. The courthouse Truman wanted to make sure was preserved in 1933, through the hard work of so many, again has been saved.

But our goal is not complete.

Our goal is to complete the restoration of the Truman Courthouse, now turning our attention to the interior, restoring it to be both historically accurate and to meet modern building codes. As Truman recognized, part of moving forward must include preserving the treasures of our past. The historic Truman Courthouse is a national treasure. It brings people from literally all over the world to our community every day. We must work, and we will work as community, in the months ahead to find a way to complete the renovations of that historic building.

Nine days ago, the voters of Jackson County expressed their opinion by going to the polls and voting overwhelmingly to approve for the fourth time a renewal of the COMBAT tax—almost 20 years after the tax was first passed. The voters recognized the need to assure that law enforcement retained the resources necessary to combat drug use and drug crime in our community. Although COMBAT and its programs remain popular, we should always strive to make sure that a popular program or good program can be made even better.  

Last week’s election outcome, however, does not mark the end of the changes frankly necessary to continue to improve COMBAT—changes to make that program even more effective and more accountable to the people. The Drug Commission, chaired by one of our region’s finest public servants, Mr. Alvin Brooks, will be called upon to move forward and to build upon the changes already made, and to oversee the development of a long-term strategic plan, and to ensure that Jackson County remains a model for communities seeking to become and remain drug-crime free.
Last year Jackson County launched a new program, a program called Constructing Futures—one program designed to accomplish three objectives: 

• First, to remodel a vacant house in an at-risk neighborhood where we know abandoned dwellings can often times become havens for illegal drug activity. 

• Second, to create job-training opportunities for graduates of either our Drug Court program or for former offenders looking to obtain the necessary job-skills to get their lives back on track.

• And third, to provide a family that is currently homeless with a new home. 

Jackson County’s Constructing Futures program accomplished all three of those goals under one roof.  It made a difference in the lives of Barbara Nelson and her daughters, Kyessa and DeBorah. Can the three of you please stand up for a round of applause? They now call that location “home.” 

Thank you so much.

Barbara, I can tell you, handing the key to you and your two daughters was one of the most touching things I’ve done in public service. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house. Thank you so much. If you saw the story, if you read the story in the newspaper, what you have been able to overcome, through your love and your leadership with your family, is an inspiration to all of us. Thank you so much. And welcome to your new home. 

Constructing Futures has obviously made a difference in this family’s life, but it also made a difference in the lives of those individuals who received crucial on-the-job training to better their lives. That one house also made a difference in the lives of the neighbors in that neighborhood, who no longer have a decaying house vacant on their block, in jeopardy of being used to sell narcotics. But additionally and most importantly of all, they also have some wonderful new neighbors. 

We have recently moved forward with our next Constructing Futures homes. We are looking at two new projects moving forward. Funding will come from the Housing Resources Commission that is chaired by Bishop Tindall. Bishop Tindall, thank you for your leadership on this program and look forward to working with you on future homes. Thank you very much, Bishop Tindall.

Whether working with the State and Federal governments on emergency management, or with Kansas City on detaining inmates, we are seeing a new era of cooperation in Jackson County and with Jackson County government. We have recognized that moving forward may only be accomplished or possible if we do so as a community in unison . 

We have sought, within this government, to be a catalyst for improving regional cooperation, not only to improve the quality of services, but to bring the costs of those important services down. Regional cooperation is essential if our community is going to remain viable and competitive in the new millennium. 

In the spirit of refusing to accept that cost cutting precludes the possibility for cutting-edge change, we believe that Jackson County should begin advocating about the benefits of Regional Rapid Rail, a system that would serve the entire metropolitan area and not just Jackson County. Public transit must cross city, county and state boundaries if it is going to serve the public well. We have brought together and been fortunate to bring together some of the greatest minds in our area with regard to transit, people like Jim Terry with TransSystems, who has helped create an extremely innovative, effective and creative approach to serving the most people in our region utilizing existing resources. 

Many communities across our nation and throughout the world have seen the wisdom and the benefits by investing in commuter rail systems. If we are going to be able to compete on a national stage as a metropolitan area, then we cannot miss this prime opportunity to take action. There is a powerful urgency to remain behind this issue and to continue moving our community forward. 

Jackson County, however, is also looking inward—not just looking externally but inward. We wanted this spirit of cooperation to spread throughout all departments and to every branch of County government. Working together, we have worked diligently to drive down costs and raise efficiencies, and thus we are all better serving our citizens. The 16th Circuit Court and the County have, frankly, never had a better working relationship. I and the people of Jackson County can not thank the Court and Presiding Judge Nixon enough for their cooperation and its help in reducing costs in our ongoing struggle to balance our budgets. Presiding Judge Nixon has led with candor, with integrity and with honesty, setting an example for us all. 

Judge Nixon, thank you so much for all that you have done. And I know it is not an easy job.
Jackson County and its employees have heeded the words of Truman, who in his 1949 inaugural address observed, “The tasks we face are difficult. We can accomplish them only if we work together. Each period of our national history has had its special challenges.”

To the employees of Jackson County, I say, “Thank you!” Thank you for your commitment. Thank you for your dedication. Without your perseverance, ,actually doing more with less, our County government would have come to a standstill. I speak for all the elected officials… I speak for everyone in Jackson County in thanking you for continuing to be our community’s greatest asset. Thank you very much, on behalf of the people of Jackson County.

By necessity, and with a bit of foresight, we in Jackson County prepared in 2007 and 2008 for the difficulties we are experiencing in 2009 and will experience in 2010. For three years now, we have tightened our belt, adding new notches as we have needed to tighten it even more and more. Because of the planning, because of the hard work we’ve done in these last three years, Jackson County is on firmer ground than it otherwise would have been as we move into the uncertain area of 2010. 

Each year the County goes through an independent audit to review our annual financial reports. This happens every year. This year, the County received from the independent auditor for the first time in recent memory, an “unqualified or ‘clean’ opinion.” While that may not sound exceptionally exciting to anyone not an MBA or an accountant, it is truly an indication of how far, even in tough economic times, the County’s financial practices and procedures have come—in just three short years.  

The impact of decreased revenues, as the economy has continued to struggle, has resulted in a total reduction in the County’s funds of $12.1 million since the adoption of just the 2009 budget. Once again our employees rolled up their sleeves and made it possible for us to present a 2010 budget that is balanced.

Balancing the 2010 budget has required instituting reforms. It has required changing the way Jackson County government does its business. Without cooperation at all levels it would not have been possible to withstand the budget shortfall we experienced in 2009 due to declining revenues—declines caused in no small part due to the reduction in the sales of housing and declining property values. 

Once again, we were forced to ask everyone to start cutting budgets. The response we got from our partners—from the Courts, from the Legislature, from the Prosecutor’s Office, from the Sherriff’s Office— has been simply exceptional. It’s never easy to cut budgets. Everybody wants to be Santa Claus. It’s even less easy when you have to do it for three straight years. But through it all, we have all remained committed to bringing the costs of doing the people’s business down and at the same time not raising taxes.  

Furthermore, I want to recognize the incredible work, dedication and effort of my executive staff in putting together such a challenging budget: Fred Siems, Shelley Kneuvean and Calvin Williford, and all of our department directors. The hard work of balancing the 2010 budget began in earnest in December of 2008. Both I and the citizens of this community owe you a great debt of gratitude. Thank you so much.

As we look ahead to 2010, let’s continue to cooperate in moving Jackson County forward, despite what promises to be even greater challenges and difficulties ahead. We have laid the groundwork for a promising future. Our County government will be efficient and more effective for years and decades to come. 

The Show-Me attitude of Missouri thrives here within Jackson County government, inside the walls of this courthouse. For the last three years we have shown our citizens we can make their County government leaner, smarter and more service-oriented—and less costly to operate. We have opened the Regional Correctional Center. We have made the renovations necessary to save the historic Truman Courthouse. We have transformed Constructing Futures from an idea into a viable program that literally is going to change lives in our community.

But our work is not finished.

The veil of secrecy that once surrounded this courthouse, that once shrouded the business practices of this Courthouse, must never return. Upon taking office, one of the first executive orders that I signed voluntarily limited the County Executive’s power to issue unlimited no-bid professional service contracts, without either legislative oversight, public input or oversight by anyone. By voluntarily limiting my power, we as government sent a powerful and clear message that all of the people’s business must be open for public scrutiny.

However, we must continue to raise the bar of public expectations about how our government operates and about what we and the County should expect from ourselves. The public expects and rightly should demand that all of the County‘s business be conducted in the open and with the highest of ethical standards. It is to that end, Jackson County adopted its first-ever comprehensive ethics code with the help of Mr. McInerny who is here with us today. Thank you very much for all of your hard work.

It does little good, however, to enact reforms if an executive in the future looking to expand their power can, with merely the stroke of a pen, cancel out those reforms by simply signing a new executive order.

Therefore, I am proud to announce today that I will be forming in 2010 a Jackson County Charter Commission to make recommendations to the voters of Jackson County, for updating Jackson County’s Charter—our own constitution. 

Every 10 years, we are allowed this opportunity to examine our County Charter. 2010 is one of those years. I want the 2010 County Charter Commission to look specifically at making permanent our initiatives surrounding ethics reform and limiting the powers afforded current and future County Executives. 

We have in these last three years been driven in Jackson County government to be true to Franklin’s words, to see to it that our government has been and will continue to be well administered. The 2010 Charter Commission will be charged with safeguarding the reforms we have put in place today and assuring that they will be there to benefit future generations.

Together, we can continue moving forward, constructing our future together. Let us work together with a sense of honor and a sense of dignity being our guide. 

Thank you so much for coming here today, and let us together work, with the grace that God gives us to serve our Country and serve our County with honor, dignity and justice. Thank you.

2009 State of the County Address