2017 State of the County Address

NOTE: County Executive Frank White, Jr. delivered the 2017 State of the County Address on Friday, January 27, 2017 at the historic Gem Theater in Kansas City. He was introduced by his wife, Teresa.

Thank you. Wow, it is hard to follow my lovely wife, Teresa. 

Thank you for that warm welcome and thank you for the past 16 years. You have been a constant source of inspiration and love, and I wouldn’t be half the man I am today without you by my side. 

I know I have made the right choices in life because I had the right people beside me, from my grandparents to my parents to my wife and children. Thank you for your support on this new journey in our lives.

Teresa and I started out this year with one goal — to make life better for the citizens of Jackson County, as well as the associates who work for the county. Many nights, Teresa would hear me say how hard our associates work for so little and how it was up to me to make the small changes which will impact the associates in a positive way. 

Teresa often reminded me to stay true to who I am and to make sure to do what is right for all.

‘Making Things Better For Other People’

I feel that we can define success and measure it by the way we touch people.

Today — a whole 382 days after first taking the oath to serve as your Jackson County Executive — I stand before you eager to continue serving this wonderful community we all call home: Jackson County.

While we may spend much of our time talking about policies, problems and programs, everything should be about the people. To quote Robert Kennedy, “The purpose of life is to contribute to making things better for other people.”

Expanding Kids’ Worlds

It is in that spirit that Jackson County began taking our kids from the urban core on special outings to the parks in eastern Jackson County last summer. We worked with three agencies: the Whatsoever Community Center; Guadalupe Center, and The Boys and Girls Club.

Some of the kids had never seen, let alone swam in one of our county lakes. We wanted to show them that these were their lakes and parks, too.

As Charlie Gascich, the executive director for Whatsoever Community Center said, “I can guarantee, for these kids, this is a first. For most of them, their whole world is that six square-block area around our center. There's nothing like this in our neighborhood.” 

Now they have had their world expanded a little. 

Buried Alive
Kids from the Whatsoever Community Center enjoy their day in the water and on — and under — the sand.

We have some children and leaders from the agencies here today.

I can’t thank the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority enough for providing the buses for these truly special trips.

 I’d like to thank Robbie Makinen, KCATA President and CEO, for fully embracing this new program. I think he would agree with me that the sounds of those children laughing, while splashing in the water, was memorable indeed.
We also took seniors from the Kingswood Senior Living Community to the parks to enjoy the wonderful holiday displays at Christmas in the Park.  

These trips are a great example of how Jackson County government partners with other local organizations to serve our community. 

A Jackson County ‘Jewel’ 

As you may know, Jackson County Parks + Rec is our nation’s third largest county parks system, welcoming 1.4 million visitors each year. Our parks are truly a jewel, with more than 21,000 acres, including outstanding lakes, campgrounds, a golf course, historic sites and more. 

Our Parks + Rec team also produces several of our community’s most beloved holiday traditions, Christmas in the Sky and Christmas in the Park. Through these events over the years, more than $1 million has gone to support more than 1,000 local charities.  
I’d like to thank Michele Newman, our Director of Parks + Rec department, and the many hard-working county associates who continue to make things happen.

I feel that we can define success and measure it by the way we touch people.

Today — a whole 382 days after first taking the oath to serve as your Jackson County Executive — I stand before you eager to continue serving this wonderful community we all call home: Jackson County.


‘Keeping Things Running’

Another department that deserves a mention today is the county Public Works Department. This team, which is led by Director of Public Works Brian Gaddie, keeps things running and provides Jackson County residents with essential services. 

In 2016, the Public Works team was instrumental in the completion of the Jackson County portion of the Lee’s Summit Road project, which was finished ahead of schedule and under budget — which is the norm for Jackson County Public Works. 

This project improved Lee’s Summit Road from U.S. 40 Highway to Anderson, and is a great example of collaboration between Jackson County, MoDOT, Independence, Kansas City and the City of Lee’s Summit. 

Providing The Resources To Meet All The Demands

All county departments have unique challenges when meeting the needs of the people they serve. They deserve recognition for their efforts. 

This brings me to talk about the Jackson County Corrections Department. 

I, along with the County Legislature, am responsible for assuring that our Corrections Department has enough resources to meet all the demands placed upon it. Therefore, it was essential that we approved in our 2017 budget what is the single largest one-year increase in funding for Corrections. 

But it’s the associates who work for our Corrections Department who really make the difference every day. I’d like to recognize the brave men and women who wear the badge of a Jackson County Corrections Officer — whose hard work is essential to our community’s public safety.

We have a few of our Corrections Officers here today. 

Captain Nilda Serrano
Captain Nilda Serrano calls the Jackson County Corrections Department her second family.

The best way I can illustrate this point is to share the story of Nilda Serrano, who has worked in the Jackson County Corrections Department for more than 24 years. Last summer, Nilda became the first woman and first Hispanic ever promoted to the rank of captain in the history of the Jackson County Corrections Department. She describes the Detention Center as her home away from home and said, “This really is my second family.” 

Adding 100-Plus Years Of Experience

For many years, the Corrections Department has needed to stretch its limited resources, creating a difficult environment for both inmates and associates. Correction Officers are now responsible for securing and caring for, on average, about 100 more inmates per day than they were just a few years ago. 

We must provide a safe environment for our Corrections Officers and inmates. For example, we are addressing the mental health needs of our inmates through our partnership with Truman Behavioral Health, which provides important services within the Detention Center.

Another way we’re addressing the needs of our Corrections Department is by hiring key professionals to lead us forward. My administration has been working with Director of Corrections Joe Piccinini to identify and hire corrections professionals with significant experience, including Mike Raines, who is managing our Detention Center accreditation; Major James Eickhoff, who oversees jail operations; Isaac Johnston, an experienced corrections professional; and Rex Tarwater, Deputy Director of Corrections.

Together, just these four professionals bring more than 100 years of combined corrections experience to Jackson County. We must continue to strive for excellence.

Associates Dedicated To Serving The People

When talking about excellence, I can’t help but talk about our county associates. Every day, more than 1,000 men and women come to work for Jackson County. Some have dedicated decades to serving the people of Jackson County.

Our associates are invested in getting things done and getting them done right. Our associates are the very people whose time and talents make this business possible. And I have and will continue to make it one of my highest priorities as County Executive to make sure Jackson County improves the quality of life for our associates.

Our 2017 budget includes a 2 percent merit pool for our associates. Our administration has been working to lower our associates’ health insurance premiums, which also benefits the county. With the new lower health coverage premiums, county associates will save a combined total of one-half million dollars this year, which averages out to a savings of nearly $500 per associate annually. Thank you to the Jackson County Legislature for its support of these efforts.

As I stated earlier, the associates who work for Jackson County are the foundation of all we do.

I’d like to share just one example of the type of people you have working for Jackson County: Melinda Taylor, an associate in Assessment who was our March 2016 Associate of the Month. 

Melinda Taylor
Melinda Taylor looks forward each day to serving Jackson County.

Melinda said, “Each day I look forward to the challenge and opportunities to work and serve the citizens of Jackson County internally and externally. And the beauty of it all is that we’re all associates — in the same dugout, on the same field, swinging the same bat, trying to hit the ball to make the home run. But this happens when we continue to work together as a team. So, Mr. White, let’s go play ball.”

Associates like Melinda are the people whose time and talents make our success possible. I couldn’t be more proud of our associates at Jackson County.

Strong Bonds With Community Partners

Jackson County has been dedicated in recent years to strengthening our bonds with all our community partners and other local governments. We are all committed to serving the people, and to provide the vital city and county services they depend on. I am committed to expanding and strengthening these partnerships.

There are many people here today that I’d like to recognize — too many to name individually.  I’d like to introduce my nine partners on the Jackson County Legislature and ask them to stand. They are:  

2017 County Legislative Chair Scott Burnett, 1st District
2017 Vice Chairman Alfred Jordan, 2nd District
Garry Baker, 1st District-At-Large
Crystal Williams, 2nd District-At-Large
Dennis Waits, 3rd District
Tony Miller, 3rd District-At-Large 
Dan Tarwater, 4th District
Greg Grounds, 5th District; and
Theresa Galvin, 6th District.

I’d like to thank Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker and Jackson County Sheriff Mike Sharp, for their dedicated service to our community — for striving each day to make our community safer. 

For our community to be the best possible partner we can be, those of us honored to have been elected to county office must continue working together. I believe we can bring people with different viewpoints together to solve problems. Our approach is one of teamwork on behalf of the citizens of Jackson County. They expect — and deserve —  our very best cooperative spirit. 

Taking Action To Save Lives

Additionally, I’d like to especially recognize 2016 County Legislative Chair Crystal Williams for her leadership toward establishing a Prescription Drug Monitoring Program for Jackson County. Crystal’s efforts were supported by County Legislator Dan Tarwater, the rest of the legislature and my administration. Together we didn’t wait for the state to do something. We took action that will ultimately save lives.

PDMP Agreement Signed
County Executive Frank White, Jr. signs agreement creating Prescription Drug Monitoring Program in Jackson County.

Helping to ensure that all Jackson County residents have equal access to employment, I have worked to “ban the box,” which allows people who have criminal records to be considered fairly for county jobs. I’d like to recognize County Legislative Vice Chair Alfred Jordan for his leadership on this issue.

Support For COMBAT Stronger Than Ever

Next, I would like to thank the voters of Jackson County, who have long recognized that drug addiction, drug-related crimes and violent crimes are problems not easily solved. That is why they have voted consistently for more than 25 years to support COMBAT.

And with last fall’s election, the people of Jackson County showed that their support for COMBAT is stronger than ever before. In the 2016 election, we asked for an additional two years of COMBAT funding. This measure passed by a margin of three to one — the highest margin of victory in the 25-year history of COMBAT. 

Voters Step Up To Help Children In Need

Last year, the County Legislature worked to place an initiative on the November ballot that would establish a Community Children’s Services Fund. And then the voters of Jackson County approved a new one-eighth cent tax initiative to create this fund. They stepped up to give children in need a hand up. 

Many of those who voted “yes” to create this fund, no doubt, are parents providing their children loving homes. Their kids are happy, healthy and thriving. Yet, they still voted “yes.” By voting to help those in need, these voters demonstrated that we are all neighbors in Jackson County.

I’m proud to announce that Jackson County has now joined seven other Missouri counties to create a fund to support social services. These services will provide for kids who are homeless, for kids who are suffering from abuse and neglect and for kids who need mental health treatment and other care.

The new Children’s Services Fund is going to save lives and brighten our community’s future.

‘A Lot Done In 2016’

Before I close today, I want to summarize the most important accomplishments of 2016. These are things that were achieved by my administration, working with the County Legislature and with support of Jackson County citizens to create a healthier, safer and stronger community.

We are going to be healthier because of the Children’s Services Fund, the establishment of the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, and the passage of the Tobacco 21 ordinance. 

We will be safer and stronger because of the renewal of COMBAT, bringing kids to our parks, which will inspire people and raise awareness in our community; approval of the vehicle sales tax; ban the box; and the acquisition of the Rock Island Rail Corridor.

As you can see, we got a lot done in 2016.

‘Filled With Optimism’ For 2017 & Beyond

As I look ahead to 2017 and beyond, I’m filled with optimism. Problems can be solved. Progress will be made. And our county associates will continue to put the citizens of Jackson County first.

I started today by mentioning how blessed I am to have a great family, especially my wife, Teresa, and I will continue to follow my guiding principle of making the right decisions at the right time for the right situation. I believe in the people of Jackson County. We are living and working each day to make our community an even better place to live.

Our success will be measured by the way we touch the lives of the people in Jackson County. Everything we consider valuable in life begins and ends with people. 

In closing, I’d like to share some thoughts from Bob Chapman, author of the book Everybody Matters. We share the same thoughts and ideas about the value of people. He wrote, “Only people can surprise you with quantum leaps…. Only people can do 10 times whatever they thought they could do…. Only people can exceed your wildest dreams…. Only people can make you feel great at the end of the day.”

Everything we consider valuable in life begins and ends with people. 

These are the values I have mind every day when I walk up the steps to our county court house.

So, join me in continuing to make things happen in Jackson County. 

Thank you, and God Bless You.