|County Executive Mike Sanders
shakes hands with new County
Legislator Theresa Galvin.
THURSDAY, JANUARY 8, 2015
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.
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.
|Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders delivers the 2013 State of the County address.
| The completion of the Truman Courthouse renovations was
one of the county's biggest achievements in 2013. The
historic landmark reopened as a "working courthouse" in
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 15, 2013
Good afternoon, everybody. Thanks for coming here today. Thanks for coming out on what I know is a busy Friday for so many people.
I want to start out by thanking a few of my friends that are here with us today. How about starting out thanking the boss, U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill. Thank you so much for being here today. I don't know why she hired me in 1994, but she did, and she still remains the best boss I ever had in my life.
Additionally, a great friend, a great colleague, Attorney General Chris Koster, one of the great public servants that we have in this state -- someone of whom we expect amazing things. Thank you, Chris, for being with us today.
And I going to start with Jackson County and Kansas City's own Jason Kander, our great Secretary of State who is doing an amazing job. Thank you for coming and being with us here today.
And truly one of the nice men in politics -- and, of course, everyone is nice in politics, right? -- our great Treasurer Clint Zweifel. Clint, thank you so much for coming here today.
Thanks to Jim [Hetter]. Thanks Roshann [Parris], who did a wonderful introduction. Thanks so much for your graciousness and having us here today in the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce.
Also, thanks to my family, my mother-in-law; my father-in-law; my father Bruce; my mother, Linda; as well as probably the greatest thing that ever happened to me -- she gets prettier every year -- my wonderful, wonderful wife, Georgia. Thank you very much. Thanks for marrying me.
So the reality is, as we settle here today in this room, we gather to remember our past accomplishments as a community and city, and to renew our commitment as we look to a new and brighter future for Jackson County.
As we stand here today, we are confronted, in so many ways, with two dramatically different and competing viewpoints regarding the way we ought to and need to move forward as a nation.
Now with the passing of Ike Skelton, I think it is important to pause and remember no one -- no one -- was more concerned about nation's future than the late Congressman, one of our community's and nation's great public servants, Ike Skelton. His unmatched devotion to our country, to our community and service to its people can shine a light on the times in which we live as well as the problems that we face.
During what has become a very poignant and dramatic farewell address on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives, Congressman Skelton expressed what he called at that time his anxiety about our country's future and direction, when he said to the nation, "In the past, this body has worked best after great debates, when men and women of strong principles have met and compromised on those difficult issues, which at the time could render us asunder. But through meeting in the center and solving the problems of the day, our country benefitted. It was able to progress."
Those who wish to deconstruct our government and choose to be a hindrance to the democratic process are in so many ways, as Ike said, missing what is the bigger picture, which requires that each of us compromise and embrace collaboration as a means to solving our nation's problems and achieving progress
History can lift our spirits, however, as we remember those who have led this nation during equally contentious times and chose to join the American people in a mutual dedication to what we believe is the common good.
In January of 1941, no president has faced a great circumstance than President Franklin Roosevelt when he delivered his third inaugural address. At that time, as we all know, our nation was also in the grip of a devastating economic collapse.
In the face of a very stark and uncertain future, President Roosevelt made the case for hope and for progress when in that speech he said, "Democracy is not dying….We know it because democracy alone has constructed an unlimited civilization capable of infinite progress in the improvement of human life….for it is the most humane, the most advanced and in the end the most unconquerable of all forms of human society."
Roosevelt knew then what all of us in this room know today. Our democracy can only function and our society can only progress and advance if all of us, regardless of ideology, regardless of station, regardless of circumstance, choose to come together to defend our freedom and create equal economic opportunity for all of us.
Nearly seven years ago, I stood before you as your new County Executive and I said that we should expect nothing less than excellence from ourselves, from each other, and from our Jackson County government.
That is what the citizens of Jackson County deserved then, it is what they deserve now, and it is what they should and can expect from all of us in the future.
Since that very, very cold -- those who were there remember -- a very cold January evening in 2007, we've worked to reform our county government by making the fundamental choice to be different as an organization.
We have done this by staying true to our core principles and our core values.
• Committing ourselves to open and transparent government in new ways.
• Committing ourselves to fiscal discipline.
• And facing our challenges by working together without making excuses.
Now, together, let me share with you where our county government has been, where we are now, and where we believe we must go in the future.
Our most basic responsibility now is providing our citizens an assurance that their tax dollars are being spent wisely, efficiently and prudently.
Since 2007, we've faced some of the biggest financial challenges our county has ever seen -- really seen since the Great Depression. And we’ve done so in the open. We've done it transparently. We don’t shun the light of transparency in Jackson County government. We welcome it.
The public always knows how much we spend, why we spend it, and what progress we are making.
And so now, let me report to you some of the great progress we have made, together working with our Legislature, regarding the county's finances.
First, upon all of us taking office, we were met with substantial budgetary disarray, resulting in serious shortfalls -- the inability to even make payroll the week we took office.
We adopted the motto, therefore, in the county of doing more with less -- and making sure we did more with less. We chose innovation and efficiency rather than higher taxes to answer the problems that faced us that day and continue to face us in the future. Instead of asking for more and asking the community for more, we simply went about the hard work of doing more. And because of the decisions we made in 2007 and beyond, I can proudly state that our county tax levy -- the levy for our citizens in this community -- is now over 1 percent lower today than the day we took office in 2007.
We have redesigned our financial processes as well. County contracts are all now competitively bid, a novel concept new to the county. This important reform was made permanent after the citizens overwhelmingly approved a revised County Charter in August of 2010.
Furthermore, we have established a 3 percent voluntary contingency reserve fund to make sure each of our major funds will solvent and viable for the future of Jackson County.
Also, we are proud to announce that this year, as we did last year, we once again received for the county the highest possible standard in accounting on our independent annual audit. So, congratulations to the Finance Department.
Finally, our Double-A bond rating remains one of the strongest and highest in the State of Missouri, and, once again, this year, we will have a balanced budget without a tax increase for our citizens.
Despite this progress, however, we are in the midst of what is for all of us a new reality. We continue to live in what we all know are uncertain economic times and because of unprecedented gridlock in Jefferson City and our nation's capital, we can no longer count on the financial support we have obviously received in the past.
However, as we have always done, we will respond to this new reality, these new challenges by seeking meaningful reforms, rather than making excuses for inaction, and in doing so, we will continue our commitment to the basic and necessary services that our citizens continue to need and rely upon every day.
This permanent redesign of the county's finances has put us in the position to strategically reinvest in the infrastructure of our county. Our most significant example recently, as we showed in the video, was returning the Historic Truman Courthouse, first opened in 1933, to the citizens of Jackson County.
Many of us have read the Truman biography. Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David McCollough, who wrote one of truly great presidential biographies in American history, had this say to about the history that has occurred within the shadow of that very courthouse so many of us have been to: "I can't think of another piece of landscape of similar size where so many things have happened that have been of significance in the story of America."
The westward expansion of our nation began here, the Civil War was fought here, and the remarkable legacy of one of our nation's greatest presidents and leaders began and ended here.
But just a few years ago, the only question that remained about the Historic Truman Courthouse was how much longer would this building continue to stand as the foundation deteriorated year after year. Decades of neglect had rendered that building in the condition that it was in.
In 2009, we were told that we might lose portions of this building forever, due, once again, to decades of neglect. Our administration immediately declared the building a public emergency in order to save the building by repairing its very foundation.
After those emergency repairs were complete, we then laid out a detailed long-range plan to fully restore the building to once again be the working courthouse the public wanted it to be. The goal was not only to return the courthouse to its original design, but also to open it once again to the citizens of Jackson County as a working courthouse.
We also made a commitment to undertake this project so that it would be done without asking the taxpayers, whether state, federal or local, for any additional dollars. So, beginning in 2010, we at the county with our legislature began setting aside, every year in the county budgets, dollars so that this $5.6 million project could move forward. We were also able to provide men and women who work in our community in the building trades industry an opportunity to get back to work in difficult economic times.
Today, we can take great pride in the fact that the Truman Courthouse has been reopened and is once again a working courthouse on our historic square. It was reopened without any additional taxpayer expense, and just as Truman did in 1933 -- 80 years ago this September -- it was reopened on time and on budget, a promise that we made to the taxpayers and a promise that we as a government kept.
Now our focus turns to another courthouse in Jackson County, which is also in desperate need of repairs and redesign. The Jackson County Courthouse Annex, which is just a couple of blocks away from the Historic Truman Courthouse, is vital to our criminal justice system within this community. However, this building has not been renovated since 1972 and is outdated and, as the judges will tell, is operationally obsolete -- and has been so for over a decade.
Because of the population growth and boom we continue to see in eastern Jackson County, they're simply aren't enough courtrooms for our judges to hear the cases necessary to keep the public safe. Our citizen's basic right of access to the courts in a timely fashion is too often blocked and too often in jeopardy.
Consequently, our administration is working with Presiding Judge Roldan of the 16th Judicial Circuit and his staff to redesign, renovate and modernize this building for the next generation by building four new courtrooms and modernizing the jury room in order to meet the needs of our 21st Century criminal justice system.
Now, as public officials, we must embrace the responsibility of making sure that all of our citizens, no matter where they live, feel safe in our community.
When it comes to fighting the unacceptable levels of violent crime in any community, certainly in our community, there are no easy answers, and law enforcement cannot be asked to solve them alone. However, progress, by working together, is possible through innovation, a commitment to working together, and listening to the specific needs and preferences of our citizens.
Jackson County's COMBAT, Community Backed Anti-Drug Tax, has always enjoyed strong support because of its innovative approach to drug treatment, prevention and crime fighting.
But the citizens of our community also know that drug abuse and violent crime, as we so often see, go simply hand in hand. So, when COMBAT was renewed by county voters overwhelmingly in 2009, they also voted overwhelmingly to expand its mission to include a focus on anti-violence for the first time.
This past February, we took an important step towards this new expected and much needed emphasis by joining with our friends, Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker and Sheriff Mike Sharp and local police throughout this region, in launching a new and unified effort with our citizens to stand up to the criminals who prey upon our neighborhoods.
The "Don't Look the Other Way" campaign encouraged citizens to call the COMBAT hotline when they see or hear about crime occurring wherever it may occur.
Throughout the summer, we walked together, we went door to door together, we asked our friends, we asked our neighbors to step up and speak up to take back our community. This program, through Mike and Jean's leadership, has yielded extremely positive results.
The COMBAT hotline has received four times the number of calls since April of this year than it did in all of 2012. Those phone calls have led directly to eight arrests and 32 new cases are now under investigation. Thank you for your leadership.
The work of reforming our county government is never complete.
President Truman understood this concept. He believed finding solutions when problems arise is an absolutely essential and crucial part of the democratic process. He once noted that "no goal is perfect. One of the chief virtues of democracy, however, is that its defects are always visible and under democratic processes can be pointed out and, therefore, corrected."
Every two years, as required by Missouri State Law, Jackson County assesses the value of real estate property in our community. Assessment is a core function of county government and one that we demand be done right.
Upon taking office in 2007, we reviewed our county's assessment procedures to see and assure our citizens were being treated fairly and equitably in this process. We formed, collectively with the legislature, a bipartisan Assessment Review Commission, tasked with evaluating our appraisal procedures, as well as looking for new strategies, with an emphasis on protecting families and seniors, so they would not be forced from their homes because of higher property tax bills.
We all remember in 2007, 2008 the national crisis we saw.
This commission recommended three significant reforms all of which were adopted.
• Establishing a standardized process for assessing values.
• Providing additional opportunities for our citizens to appeal their property values.
• And establishing a new installment payment plan, such as our Senior Quad Payment Plan, which gives senior citizens the option of paying their property tax bill in four installments, without penalty, rather than all at once.
But the challenges provided by each and this year's reassessment cycle show us that there is always more work to be done and we can always do it better.
The employees, the men and women of our Assessment Department deserve our recognition for their efforts. They worked days, they worked nights, they worked weekends and holidays to accomplish the goals that were set before them.
My gratitude also goes to our County Legislature. Each of you met with and listened to our citizens to assure that each of our citizens received the service they deserved and required. Thank you for your leadership.
This process provides for us another opportunity for permanent reform.
Given the substantial and unfortunately continuing funding reductions that we see annually from the State of Missouri, we must find a 21st Century solution to a process which has become increasingly archaic and unworkable.
In order to accomplish this, we with the legislature, have charged our Assessment Department with finding new ways to integrate technology and other innovative strategies into the appraisal procedures, so that citizens can continue to have the very reasonable expectation of a fair and equitable assessment.
But the dream of owning a home is too often beyond the reach of many of our citizens.
Now, as we know, there are rare moments when someone's life can be immediately touched and changed for the better.
I want to talk you just briefly about Jackson County’s Constructing Futures program and how it provides some people and many people in our community that opportunity.
This unique initiative, the brainchild of Calvin Williford, brings government, non-profits and private businesses together to focus on three perpetual problems that any community has.
• One, repairing vacant or abandoned homes that have become havens for criminal activity.
• Two, providing job training to previously incarcerated individuals who need new skills to turn their lives around and be productive members of our society.
• And, three, providing a newly rehabilitated family home to what was a homeless family.
As you saw in the video, Barbara Nelson and her two young daughters, were the first to benefit from this unique program. The Nelsons are an example of honest, hard-working, dedicated citizens who do things the right way, but simply need a little bit of a hand up.
Since then, two other families, the Smiths and the Scotts, have
also been given that hand up.
And we are proud to say that the work on each of these houses was completed by people who were previously incarcerated and are now product members of Jackson County.
Through collaboration with the non-profit organizations, organizations like Connections to Success, 22 people have received critical life and job-training skills, so they are given a chance to become responsible, law-abiding citizens of Jackson County.
Today, I can report to you for the first time, that two more homes, as we sit here today, are currently under construction, and by the end of this year, two more families who are currently homeless will have a place to call their own as we work to change their lives.
When government acts as an honorable enterprise, it not only invests in infrastructure or sound finances. Its most important investment can be in people.
Nowhere is this more true than in our criminal justice system.
Each year, more and more of our young people find their way into the criminal justice system. Many are guilty of what is seriously irresponsible, but ultimately correctable behavior. Experts in the field tell us that exposing young people to the criminal justice system can many times sadly do more harm than it does good.
This past April, the Jackson County Family Court, the nationally recognized Family Court, launched a program geared to those who have simply broken the law, but have not made crime or illegal activity a permanent life choice.
A new Juvenile Diversion Program is available to our youth in Jackson County, specifically for first-time offenders who have committed low-level non-violent crimes. This program focuses on working with both the child and their family to set specific goals to solve on-going problems, connect them with a what is a supportive community, and ultimately make sure that this child lives up to their responsibilities and to their commitments.
So far, this new program has had 159 young people enter the program and be given opportunity to make a positive change in their lives. By focusing on treatment rather than incarceration for these first-time offenders, the staff at the Family Court is working to steer many of our youth away from formal prosecution.
To Presiding Judge Roldan, Administrative Judge Del Muro and the rest of the 16th Judicial Circuit, thank you so much for your leadership and bringing to us what is a wonderful project. Thank you so very much.
And, last certainly not least, I want to end by discussing what is probably one of the biggest challenges facing our community here today -- a challenge that will not only determine the kind of community we live in as we sit here today, but the kind of community we hand over to the next generation.
From the first transcontinental railroad as they drove that spike in Ogden, Utah, to President Eisenhower's visionary interstate system, the progress of our country, its transportation system, our economy and our society have been linked and continue to go hand in hand.
That was also true when Harry Truman, while serving as Presiding Judge of Jackson County during the height of what was at that time the Great Depression, embarked upon and oversaw the development of a 300-mile county urban roads system, which permanently linked urban and suburban parts of Jackson County and Kansas City. Eight years, 80 years ago, it was built, and today we still drove those routes.
I challenge anyone who got here today without driving on the roads that were designed and thought through by Harry Truman in 1933.
It's that kind of generational investment we should look to.
In fact, if what to talk about what homer Harry Truman was when it comes to Jackson County, here it comes. Truman once boasted that in Jackson County "there is as fine scenery as lies outdoors and the land is as rich as the valley of the Nile." OK, the Nile delta and Jackson County. But that was Harry Truman. One of our own, right?
As you know, over the past five years, I and so many have spoken often about the need for our metropolitan area to develop a new and enhanced mass transportation system that connects us through an integrated network of trails, of buses, of trains.
While roads and bridges will always be important, always be necessary crucial to any community, and necessary investments, we must also focus on the transportation needs of the next generation because there is a growing paradigm shift we have to recognize in the way our citizens want to live and the way the younger generation wants to move.
With the tidal wave of social networking, people now have a choice between virtual contact and actual contact. This millennial generation feels more empowered than ever by their iPhones than by their cars. Think of this statistic: Less than half people under 17 nationwide are even seeking a driver's license.
Our future leaders, our future entrepreneurs, our future citizens want to live in a vibrant and progressive community where driving a car is a choice, not an absolute necessity.
However, this challenge is not simply about our future.
We also know that one of the major reasons right now for stubbornly high unemployment in our community is the lack of access to jobs through mass transit.
According to the Brookings Institute, Kansas City ranks 94th out of 100 cities in the country in terms of connecting our citizens to their jobs through public transit. Less than 20 percent of our residents have the ability to get to and from work in less than 90 minutes using public transit.
This is simply unacceptable for a major metropolitan area.
Frankly, it also puts us at a competitive disadvantage in the new global 21st Century economy. For us to progress as a community, it simply is imperative that all of our citizens, regardless of circumstance, regardless of location, are able to travel freely and safely throughout our community easily.
One of the things that should encourage us is that, by its nature, transportation is not a partisan issue.
In 1983, President Reagan signed a bill that increased the Federal gasoline tax and pumped literally hundreds of millions of dollars into the nation's infrastructure and the nation's mass transit systems all throughout the United States. Upon signing the bill, Reagan said, "The state of our transportation system affects our commerce, our economy and our future." Ronald Reagan.
For every dollar a community invests in public transit, they receive four dollars back in economic returns. That's a national average. Cities like Portland, cities like Dallas and like St. Louis highlight the economic potential that comes with wise investments in mass transit. Since 1997, the City of Portland has seen over 3 billion in private dollars invested along their tracks.
In Dallas, there has been more than $4 billion in private investments and development along their passenger rail lines.
Now, in rebuttal to the skeptics who say somehow Kansas City would be different, we see growing interest and increase in values along the tracks that are just now beginning to be planned just north of where we sit here today. We are beginning to see the same type of economic potential realized right here at home, with significant development already actively being planned along the streetcar system in downtown Kansas City.
In order to move Jackson County and our community forward in the future, in order to compete in the new global economy, and quite simply for the common good, we must join together in the cause of modernizing our public transportation system and, frankly, continuing to move the ball forward.
These generational investments never move as fast as we all want them to move. This has led many skeptics to falsely state that a new and modern transportation system in our community can, therefore, simply never happen. However, they underestimate our community's resolve because there is great value in our collective journey and our journey together.
As we have said before, our community is not committed to getting transit done fast, we are committed to getting transit done right.
Over the past three years, we have worked cooperatively and collaboratively with our partners throughout the entire community to overcome geographic and political challenges.
Our unprecedented dialogue includes:
• Working with the Mid-America Regional Council, the City of Kansas City as well as the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority to carefully study the future transportation possibilities in our region.
• Building strong relationships with the mayors and the city councils all throughout Jackson County, many of whom are with us here in this room today, so that they are and continue to be active partners and participants in this process, not merely witnesses.
• Collaborating with Kansas City officials, including great Mayor Sly James, so that a regional transit system is used to connect with the downtown streetcar system, which is now currently underway. Both projects work when they work together.
• And most importantly by engaging with the public, many of whom are represented here in this room today, to listen to what they need, to what they demand from a vibrant public transportation system.
Our progress and our promise would not be possible without the leadership and vision of our county mayors. Gentleman, thank you so much for your leadership. Mayor Rhoads, Mayor Dennis, Mayor Bower, Mayor Mallinson... Thank you so much for your leadership, gentleman. Thank you for everything you've done for all of us.
However, I think many of know, there will always be more obstacles, there will always be more skeptics, and there will always be plenty of tough decisions ahead.
But I ask you to join all of us here today in continuing our commitment to working towards the day when we are able to connect throughout all of Jackson, connect all of our citizens to their families, their friends, their neighbors, their jobs, realizing that our only enemy in this endeavor is our inaction.
We will not settle until our vision of a connected, thriving, vibrant, progressive community is complete.
And so, today, we renew our promise to leaving a stronger Jackson County for the next generation.
Few people in our history have had as transcendent an effect on the American story as President John F. Kennedy. A week from today sadly marks the 50th anniversary of his assassination in Dallas.
Just a few short months before his death in what was very poignant speech, President Kennedy gave what many people believe may have been one of his finest, most eloquent speeches -- in what was a string of eloquent speeches. In his remarkable commencement address at American University, he laid out his strongest case for achieving peace in the world by strengthening the common bonds which tie all of us together when he said, "And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet, we all breathe the same air, we all cherish our children's futures, and we are all mortal."
And so, as we leave here today, I ask you to join me in remembering President Kennedy's words as a guide to help us face what will be our future challenges together with confidence, with optimism and, most importantly, with hope.
So, finally, let us ask God for the grace we need to serve our citizens with honor, with dignity and with justice.
| Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders delivers the 2012
State of the County Address
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 2, 2012
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.
THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 3, 2011
i want to start out by thanking (Raytown Mayor) Dave Bower, the tallest man in local politics. If anyone is forming a basketball team of local politicians, I recommend you start with him.
Additionally, Father Taranto, who loses no effort to take a jab at me. Thank you, Father. I appreciate that very much. I am told that Dutch Newman got him his first driver’s license, and I am also told that the streets of our city have not been safe since. So, thank you once again to Dutch and Father Taranto.
Additionally, thank you to Crosby Kemper. Thank you so much for providing us access to this absolutely phenomenal facility – this jewel in downtown Kansas City that we can all come to and enjoy.
But most importantly thank you to everyone for coming here today. Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedules to come down and listen to this presentation about the state of the county.
As we sit here today – as we sit and contemplate – we are here to begin a new day in a renewed county, with a newly reconstructed county government – one that has committed itself to a new spirit of collaboration throughout our entire community.
Raising The Bar of Expectations
When we took office nearly five years ago, we spoke of a journey that we would take and that we would begin together. We would use our collective energy and vision to raise the bar of expectations for your county government. The goals we laid out were simple and they were straightforward.
It was a time to set a new standard, both ethically and financially for your government. It was time to lift the veil of secrecy that shrouded and clouded the operations of county government for, frankly, generations.
But, additionally, it was time to limit the County Executive and Legislative power and commit to an increase in public oversight and transparency.
We were not just planning for the next year or the next election. We were beginning to plan for the next generation. This journey was about the challenge of a new beginning.
Now I decided, as we thought about how to begin my speech here today, to discuss a great American leader – a great American leader who unfortunately passed untimely but who inspired countless millions of people, not just locally but all over the globe. Steve Jobs, the late Apple CEO, possessed a global vision that met many challenges that confront us as humans. With a brilliant mind and an uncompromising set of values, his vision and his passion connected with everyday people and connected them with the power, the transformative power of new technology in the 21st Century.
He empowered ordinary people to do extraordinary things. And he did this simply by making them believe what they could do and what they could be was extraordinary. In his remarkable commencement address to Stanford in 2005, he revealed his definition of success for anyone when he said, “Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don't settle.”
And, so ladies and gentlemen, I can say to you today that since 2007, in honor of the words of Steve Jobs, we have not “settled” in Jackson County government. And we will not settle in the future.
We believe today and have always believed that working for the citizens of Jackson County is great work. It’s our goal that everyone living here benefit from a professional, ethical and efficient county government.
However, that job can not be done alone. I want to thank the people of Jackson County. All of you have helped us raise the bar of expectations for your government. A new standard has been set, and a new standard has been met. The people of Jackson County can once again be proud of the government that occupies your courthouse.
The reforms we have made have laid a foundation for successful county government. But we must continue to raise the bar and get better and better, as Mr. Jobs said, as the years roll on.
To borrow from the Greek philosopher Aristotle – every now and then you have to pull that out as a philosophy major – he said, “Excellence is not a gift from the gods. It’s a human trait and the thread that runs through every form of excellence is this: Above all else, excellence requires that we submit ourselves to a high standard of performance and strive to achieve it.”
So, let me begin by describing the progress we have made in adhering to the high standards that Aristotle laid before use several thousands of years ago.
Reforming Jackson County Government
Since the day I took the oath of office – since we took the oath of office – my administration has made a commitment to acting in the best interest of the public. We have acted to protect our citizens’ inherent right to know what their government was doing, why they were doing it and how they were doing it.
Included in this protection is each citizen’s right – basic right – to know how the government is spending their money. In the past, County Executives were given the unilateral power to award no bid contracts whenever and however they saw fit. Over the years, literally millions of dollars walked out of the courthouse doors without a shred of legal or legislative oversight.
Immediately upon taking office, our administration made it a priority to reign in the business of no bid contracts from the County Executive’s Office. In 2010, with the support of many of the people in this room, the voters of Jackson County approved permanent reforms to our County Charter. A new process has now been initiated which ensures competition and the best quality of service at the best price for all of our county citizens.
Transparent Process For Appointing New Prosecutor
This past April we were also given another historical opportunity to redesign and reform our government by doing things in a new way. Then County Prosecutor Jim Kanatzar was named to the 16th Judicial Circuit bench, leaving, therefore, an opening for one of the premier legal positions in the entire Midwest. Now given the importance of this legal position, we created a substantially new process.
We immediately named a six-person nominating committee of well-respected people from throughout our community. A public hearing was, for the first time, held so that we could find out what citizens wanted to see from their next prosecutor. Because we took an interest in the citizens of this community and what they wanted, the people took an interest in their government and this process.
For the first time ever, candidate interviews for this premier position were held in open, in transparency and in the public. These interviews were also videotaped and placed on our county website, so that Jackson County citizens anywhere and anyone else could see what those interviews were like and what had occurred.
Through this thorough and open process, we appointed the best candidate. And that is Jean Peters Baker who is currently serving in that office.
Moving forward, it is important, it is imperative that we always look for new ways to modernize the structure of county government. That is why, next year, we will finalize and we will formalize professional service contracts for the key administrative staff within the county and the County Executive’s Office, a step never before taken in Jackson County.
These contracts will clearly define the roles and responsibilities of the CAO, Chief Administrative Officer, and the COO, Chief Operating Officer, within the Executive Branch. This important and necessary step will protect both the employees and the integrity of our government and system. Through the reconstruction of how our county government functions, we are forming a path of success that our administration and administrations in the future will continue to follow.
One Of Only 4 Missouri Counties With 'Double A' Bond Rating
As all of us know in this room, our nation is currently facing an enormous economic challenge. However, this problem isn’t unique on a national stage or the Federal Government.
After taking office on January 1, 2007, my administration was faced with what we could only call budgetary chaos. We quickly discovered that the county was in financial freefall. Our budget was upside down, with revenues falling well short of expenses. Additionally, meager bookkeeping that has existed for decades made it nearly impossible to determine the county’s liabilities, let alone its assets. To simply keep the doors of the county courthouse open, we had to take the dramatic action within 30 days of immediately slashing over $2 million from our county budget. This dark period in our history was followed by the most challenging economic times, as we have seen, in several generations.
In the last five years, the county’s general fund has been cut by almost 20 percent. Additionally, that reduction was done with a backdrop of an extremely volatile national economy and unpredictable sales tax revenues. However, our county government – as we’ve said time and time – saw this economic volatility not as an excuse but rather as an opportunity. It was time to look at new ways, creative ways for generating revenues in ways that would not hurt the taxpayers of this county who were experiencing their own financial crisis.
So, I want to share with you quickly just some examples of our new commitment to be more financially efficient – and to the hard work and dedication of the employees of this great county.
In 2009, Jackson County partnered with the City of Kansas City on what is now called the Regional Correctional Center. What this has brought is improved efficiency to our criminal justice system. In its first two years of operation, this system has saved the taxpayers of this community over $5 million.
Additionally, these savings have also allowed for an improvement in transitional services for the inmates of our facilities. Services like the Bridges Program, which provide our inmates with much needed stability after they have served their sentences, by assisting them in finding steady work, a steady job and a place to live. It is important that we do all that we can to rehabilitate these individuals so they make the choice to become responsible, law-abiding members of our community and not repeat offenders. Through innovation and collaboration with our regional partners, we were able to provide better services while at the same time saving the taxpayers of this community millions of dollars.
Second, in 2007, I think as we all know, the county lacked sufficient funds to even make our payroll for the calendar year. To not repeat the mistakes of the past that lead to that, the county has, for the first time ever, established a well-funded contingency reserve – even in the teeth of this economy and downturn in revenues.
As a result of our responsible budgeting efforts, Jackson County is now one of only four counties in the State of Missouri with a “Double A” bond rating.
Additionally, in August, we released the results of our annual audit. For the second consecutive year, Jackson County received the highest opinion – the highest auditing opinion – that can be given to any organization in America, whether public or private. So, congratulations to the financial staff.
Once again, in 2012, the county’s budget will be balanced. The proposed budget puts our county on solid financial footing both now and with an eye to the future.
We have done more and been more responsible with our citizens’ tax dollars. We have not and will not increase taxes, or cut vital services that our citizens crucially depend on. That is a promise that has been made, and that is a promise we have kept.
Following Truman's Lead
Mr. Chairman and members of the Legislature, I want to thank you for your partnership, thank you for your leadership, thank you for your vision during these unprecedented times in what has become and been difficult work. I look forward to continuing to work with all of you as partners as we craft a better future for the citizens we are honored to serve every day.
And while we will continue to be vigilant in terms of our spending, we will not ignore the need to enhance and improve our county infrastructure.
A little history…
In 1934, during the midst of our country’s Great Depression, then Jackson County Presiding Judge Harry Truman built the county courthouse in downtown Kansas City – that courthouse we still use to this very day. Truman did not shy away from the investments needed for his community. We will follow his example by making our own generational investments.
For example, we have refused to neglect the needs of our Historic Truman Courthouse. In 2009, emergency renovations were completed to save the foundation of this national historic landmark. However, as we know, there is more work that needs to be done. Next year, we will work toward renovating the interior of that historic structure, so future generations will be able to experience the rich tradition and history of our past.
Our courthouses are not just buildings. They are investments – generational investments. The county courthouse annex in Independence was last renovated in 1972. Since then, the population of eastern Jackson County has absolutely exploded. The shift in population has led to overcrowded court dockets for our judges and unnecessary burdens for our citizens seeking to access our justice system.
While less than one-third of our Circuit Judges work in Independence, they are responsible for hearing now more than half of the cases for the population of Jackson County. This includes nearly half of the county’s domestic and criminal trials. Additional courtrooms are needed so our citizens are given their basic right to access to courts in a timely fashion. To quote Gladstone’s aphorism, justice delayed is justice denied.
So, next year, we will move forward as a county in addressing these long-term needs. These are not band-aid fixes. These are generational investments that not only affect those of us here in this room today, but our children and grandchildren as well. They will benefit from these investments as we did from Mr. Truman’s investments.
Given the fragile state of our economy, we all know people who are out of work – in our families, among our friends. It is more important than ever that we make these investments, more important that we invest in these projects so we can put our fellow citizens, our brothers and sisters, back to work.
While we commit to investing in our county’s infrastructure, we will also make a commitment to our most important asset, the men and women who serve Jackson County every day. Their commitment to public service has helped to redefine what Jackson County government represents and the county government you have come to know.
That is why, for the second year in a row, we are announcing a proposal for a 3 percent pay raise merit pool for all county employees. This is important. As we keep building toward our future and building toward a better county government, we want to be sure we can provide for the best and the brightest of the employees who serve our citizens.
Getting Dangerous Criminals Off The Street Through Innovative Program
So, let’s talk about some the improvements we have made and what to do with regard to public safety.
As public officials, we have an incredible responsibility to never just stick with the status quo. Our citizens deserve a government that is energetic as well as innovative.
A little over a year ago, I sat down with COMBAT Deputy Director Vince Ortega to discuss the unacceptable levels of violent crime we saw permeating throughout our entire community and throughout Jackson County. As we know, crime fighting is difficult work that often takes imagination and cooperation and regional effort.
In that light, Vince proposed a regional approach to catching and prosecuting some of the most dangerous criminals in our community. This idea would need the support of our entire county government as well as law enforcement officials and agencies all throughout Jackson County. As we know, crime and criminals don’t stop at municipal boundaries. In fact, they rely upon them; they prey upon them. This effort would be a territorial reconstruction that would not allow criminals the luxury of finding a safe haven through jurisdictional boundaries.
After hearing the idea, it was pretty simple on my part. I said, “Vince, go do it.” And that’s what he did.
With decades of experience in law enforcement, Vince built a network of regional collaboration between all branches of the criminal justice system. And since this January, the “COMBAT High Risk Offender Collaborative” has targeted 14 of this region’s most violent, most dangerous criminals in Jackson County.
Today, because of this program, I am proud to announce that through his work, through those regional efforts, over 50 percent of those criminals have been taken off the street and into custody. So, Vince I want to thank you for your imagination and hard work on this issue. But I also want to mention Sheriff Mike Sharp. I also want to mention Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker and Presiding Judge Charles Atwell as well as the other members of law enforcement who are here today. Thank you for your cooperation and your efforts every day.
Additionally, I want to thank the police chiefs from throughout Jackson County, many of whom are in attendance here today. Thank you for coming.
Because we have chosen to work together, we have made our community a safer and better place.
I would like to describe another key effort the county is going to make in the new year with regard to public safety.
Upgrading Vital Equipment For Fraction Of Original Cost Estimate
All of us are, unfortunately, too aware of what can happen to our first responders if they are unable to communicate in what are, quietly frankly, often life and death situations.
The current county radio system that we rely upon and that they rely upon every day as they put their lives on the line was constructed in the 1960s. Let that sink in. Think about how far technology has advanced since the 1960s.
Since then, I don’t think it’s a shock to say that system has become obsolete and, frankly, dangerous to the first responders we have. The radio system that we have, to the extent that it works, is only moderately effective in about half of the 660 square miles that they have to patrol every day to keep us safe.
Deputies on duty are unable to communicate with the Missouri Highway Patrol and various police departments, including Kansas City, Lee’s Summit and Independence. This inability to communicate has put our Sheriff’s Deputies in harm’s way almost every day in what are life and death situations.
Just last night – and I wanted to be sure to mention this – I was talking with Sheriff Sharp about a recent car stop that occurred. Let this one sink in.
It was just roughly about a year ago that a sheriff’s deputy on 24 Highway was trying to apprehend to two felons at QuikTrip on 24 Highway. As he was trying to apprehend those two felons on 24 Highway, he realized that he couldn’t communicate for back-up. As a deputy, he’s got one set of handcuffs. One set of handcuffs goes on one felon. If there’s another felon there… one deputy with one gun two felons.
He tried using his radio system, but he couldn’t call for back-up. What he had to do… Think about this as a first responder, you are alone in the middle of the night, eyeing two felons. He had to call on a pay phone to call 9-1-1 to call the operator and get the operator to provide him back-up. Fortunately, that officer is still safe.
That alone call tell you have risky this service has been and why we need this investment.
So, we have known that a new communications system is absolutely necessary. We also realized the costs for such a system were just prohibitively high. Original estimates for the updated radio system were upwards of higher than $27 million for that investment. We didn’t’ take that has an excuse. What we did is what we’ve done on a number of items. We used our innovative and collaborative spirit within the county.
Jackson County will take a regional approach to solving what is a life-and-death problem.
Next year, through a partnership with the Missouri Highway Patrol, the Kansas City and Independence Police Departments, Jackson County will fully upgrade communication equipment for our Sheriff’s Deputies, law enforcement agencies, Corrections Officers and Park Rangers at a cost of only $6 million or less than 25 percent of the original estimate. This state of the art equipment will fix the fatal flaws in our current system that have hampered us for too long and allow our personnel to easily communicate with all other law enforcement agencies throughout the county.
Extending The County's Trails System
I want to make sure we share another quick success story – a success story that is pretty near and dear to my heart and many people’s hearts in this room. In creating a better future for our county, we have to have an eye on our obligations to and connections to the past.
Trails are at the center of Jackson County’s history in many ways that are not always self-evident. Over 185 years ago, as pioneers found their way here in hopes of a more prosperous life not only for themselves but also for their children, our county was a key meeting point for literally thousands of people who were making their journey westward along the Santa Fe, the Oregon and the California Trails.
What is known to us today as the Little Blue Trace Trail became the first major route for settlers, connecting people all the way from Sibley to town of Raytown, now the city of Raytown and beyond.
Just as our citizens did in the 19th century, we seek opportunities to develop our county into one vibrant and energetic, integrated and connected community. By expanding our trails system, we are reconnecting with our historic pathways of the past.
This past summer, Jackson County, working with the City of Independence, completed a three-and-a-half mile extension of the Little Blue Trace Trail. Now spanning over nearly 15 miles, the Little Blue Trace is the spine of what will become a county-wide trails system that has the ability to connect with regional trails and municipalities all throughout our metropolitan area.
In 2012, a historic partnership with Kansas City and Jackson County will help us extend the Little Blue Trace another mile and then ultimately further beyond. This extension will connect the citizens of Independence and Kansas City just as the Little Blue connected the founders of Jackson County’s earliest cities.
Trails offer the chance for a healthier and fitter community. They provide fresh, open spaces and offer a redesign on how we live and we work together.
Trails can also serve a greater purpose. In the Hartman Heritage Center along the Little Blue Trace, you will find a recruiting office for the Army, Navy, and Marines. On a weekly basis, our local soldiers use the Little Blue Trace Trail as a training resource for physical training.
And finally ladies and gentlemen, we have a decision to make. We have a decision to make as a community. As I said in January, it is time for a new direction in how we live, work and move as a region. In order to create a tomorrow that is better than today, we must fulfill the transportation needs of the next generation.
Developing Mass Transit A Key To Competing Globally
Just as we have with trails, this region has a rich history with public transportation. In the 1950s and 1960s, as many of us are aware, people moved through this community by taking advantage of a then world-class transportation system that resided right here in the Greater Kansas City area. I am committed to bringing those advantages back to Jackson County and all of our citizens through the construction of a new, modern and efficient public transit system.
Unfortunately, mass transit is an issue that has fractured our community, literally for decades. In May, the Brookings Institute released a report on how well the top 100 communities of our nation worked, how their citizens were connected to jobs through public transportation. Sadly, Kansas City ranked in the bottom 10 of that matrix. This, for our community, is simply unacceptable.
Public transportation in St. Louis – and we’ve all seen what has occurred there – came up with a slogan a few years ago, which said, “Some of us ride. All of us need it.” It was simple, but it was also true. So, let’s think about it. Many of the people we depend on everyday depend on public transportation. It could be the cashier at your grocery store, the nurse at a local hospital who’s taking caring of your child this night or the secretary at a small business.
Regional mass transit has the ability to transform our community in much the same way as the Federal Highway System did in the 1950s and 1960s. To achieve this goal, Jackson County has built an historic collaboration throughout our entire metropolitan community over the past two years.
From Senators and Congressmen to Mayors and Chambers of Commerce all throughout our community, there is a united front committed to not doing business as usual. The 5,000-plus citizens we have spoken to on this issue share this commitment as well.
In the last year, Jackson County and our regional partners have won over $2 million in competitive federal grants to study regional transit, outcompeting larger communities with their own already established, more advanced, more effective mass transit systems.
To further our commitment, Jackson County has worked with our partners at the Regional Transit Alliance and now the Regional Rail Coalition, some members of whom are here with us. This group, consisting of citizens, civic leaders, community groups and elected officials, is taking on the task of educating and informing the public about the need to move transit forward in our community.
They understand that regional mass transit is essential if our community is going to compete in the 21st Century global economy. The next generation will not only be competing against Chicago, Boston, Indianapolis, and Seattle, but we need to provide them generationally the tools to compete with Paris, Shanghai, Dubai and London. We must embrace this new global paradigm. We have no choice.
So it is a simple question: What do we want to do, what can we do for the next generation? Do we want to sit and waste a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to transform our region? Or, do we want to leave a better world, a better Kansas City for our children and grandchildren?
And, so, today represents another chance for another new beginning for our community. We have re-imagined how our government operates. We have redesigned our financial commitment. We have recommitted to serving the people’s interest, rather than the politicians. Now I ask you to join us in our next journey together in building a new regional transit system.
The satisfying, even great work of building our future together will fill a large parts of our lives. We should not fear the future, but rather take pleasure in achieving our goals together in making a better city. In Jackson County, we will never settle for second best. And like any great county, we will be better and better as the years roll on.
Even though we know that the road ahead will be rough and the hills will often be steep, let’s together ask for God’s grace as we continue to serve the great citizens of this community and to serve them with honor, dignity and justice.
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.
THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 12, 2009
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.
THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 13, 2008
Mr. Chairman, members of the legislature, Mr. Kanatzar, Sheriff Phillips, Sheriff-elect Sharp, Presiding Judge Nixon, and distinguished guests, thank you for coming here today. Today I have the honor of reporting to you the state of the County.
So, let’s review together the progress of 2008 and set our sights on our goals for the future for 2009 and beyond.
As we meet here today, we must be mindful that it is one thing to govern during times of prosperity, when coffers are full and overflowing, and the economy is growing. But Jackson County, as we know, like many organizations and businesses all throughout our state and our nation, has not been spared from the economic struggles that have swept across our nation. We have, for better or worse, in less than 23 months in office and through three straight budget cycles—2007, 2008 and now 2009—struggled to balance a budget with declining revenues and equally increasing costs.
A man who once occupied these chambers, President Harry Truman, a man we are very familiar with, in his own equally historic times, during our nation’s Great Depression, said about that period, “A pessimist is one who makes difficulties of his opportunities, and an optimist is one who makes opportunities of his difficulties…..America was built on courage, on imagination and an unbeatable determination to do the job at hand.”
With the words of Truman in mind, we in Jackson County government went to work to balance our County’s budget: To present a budget that was balanced not with quick fixes, but by hard work, tough choices, and by critically examining every program and every department within the County, measuring their performance and demanding more from ourselves with unfortunately less. In short, like many people in this room, we had to begin to run the County like a business. Furthermore, this was done with a commitment not to fall back on the old governmental quick fix of simply raising taxes to avoid the necessary, but difficult choices about how to become more efficient as an organization. By going through the discipline of becoming more efficient today, we knew and we do know we are sowing the seeds of success of our future.
Today, I therefore present to you and the members of the Legislature, a 2009 budget that is balanced. A budget balanced by sound policies, tough choices and fiscal integrity, not by accounting slight-of-hand.
In a County as diverse as Jackson County, a budget with three straight years of declining revenue is not balanced without the hard work of many, many people. I want to recognize some of our partners here today:
First, I want to recognize the members of the Jackson County Legislature. Each of you has worked diligently with us over the past 12 months to help make County government more efficient and more responsive to the public we serve. I thank each of you for your hard work in helping to present a budget that is fiscally sound and grounded in good public policy.
Second, I want to recognize Prosecutor Jim Kanatzar, Sheriff Tom Phillips and the Jackson County Circuit Court judges, once again all of whom worked together with us under what has been for all of very challenging and very difficult circumstances. Simply put, we would not have a balanced budget today without your hard work and commitment. I thank all of you for your dedication and commitment to the people of this community and county.
Third, it is great when you have a job like this, that you can stand at the microphone, and review the successes of 2008. However, the driving force behind all of this and balancing the budget has been my executive staff. So, I want to public thank, Fred Seims, Shelley Kneuvan, Calvin Williford, Anita Maltbia and Miriam Hennosy for all of your hard work. Thank you for all your dedication and service.
Last, but most importantly, I want to make sure that I thank our other partners, our most important partners, and that is the employees of this County. The two-year decline in revenues that we’ve had is not just measurable in accounting terms, in debits and in credits. Through this entire process, the executive staff and the people of this County have never lost sight of the human impact that tough budgets have real people who have real families. Through three straight budgets and two straight years, we are mindful of what it has meant to force our employees to continually do more with less—and, yet at the same time, to continue the same levels of service that the public has learned to depend and rely upon. Without their dedication, without their commitment, none of this would have been possible today. So, thank you to the employees of Jackson County for your service.
The challenges we were presented with also afford us some great opportunities. Within this very austere budget, we have also accomplished some very important objectives:
First, in just under two years, we will have reduced the County’s general fund expenditures by over $12 million. That accounts to 14.5% of our annual revenues. Crucially, this reduction was accomplished without sacrificing the important service levels the public relies upon.
Second, for the second straight year, County government’s expenditures are in line with its revenues. We are spending less than we. So, just like families all throughout this County, County government has finally learned to live within its means.
Third, we were able to negotiate the County’s MOU’s with its organized employees. They—and I want to thank them for continuing to work with us as partners looking for ways to make the County more efficient and more effective in the years ahead.
Fourth, even during austere budget times, we have continued our policy of saving for the future today by continuing our voluntary set-aside of 5% in all County funds for cash flow reserves for the future. All of this is in addition to the mandated 3% set-aside that we currently have.
Fifth, our staff in 2008 also created the first 5-year capital improvement plan that will help direct funding decisions both in this budget and in years ahead. Thoughtful and well-planned investments in the infrastructure of our County will pay big dividends for all of us in the future.
Finally, oftentimes, it is easy to take for granted the important work that the men and women of this County do every day—that they are entrusted with do every single day.
For example, we had our Assessment Review Task Force, and at one of those review hearings I was approached by a man, a senior citizen by the name of Jim who lives in Raytown. I told him I wouldn’t use his full name, but I think some of you know him. He told me that he and his family were afraid that, with his rising property taxes, with his fixed income, with the rise in the cost of his medication, the rise in the cost of food and, at the time, the rise in the cost of gas, that he was going to be unable to make his property tax payment in January. And that would obviously a problem. A home that his family has lived in for over 40 years. And he asked me at the hearing if he could just have until May, he thought if he could set aside just a little bit every single month, then he could make the payment and they wouldn’t lose their family home.
So, with his words in mind, we asked the staff to go to work and see if we could find a fix. So for Jim and the hundreds of Jims just like him throughout all our County, we asked our Assessment and Collection departments to go to work to find an answer, and as you know, they did. Through creativity and a little hard work, they formulated the County’s new Senior Quad payment program that allows seniors to spread their tax payments over four payment periods and not just. An example of how our employees, through brain power and through volunteering for a little extra hard work every single week, our employees have literally enabled people to stay in their family homes when otherwise they could not have been able to do so.
I wanted everyone to know I spoke with Jim last night and he wanted to make sure everyone knew they were invited over to his house for the Chiefs game so long as someone brought pizza. We wanted to make sure someone brings a sausage pizza.
As we look back, we can also look back at some of the other accomplishments of 2008—not just the budgetary accomplishments.
• We saw in 2008 the creation of the County’s TIF policy, which recognizes the delicate balance between the need for economic incentives and the public interest.
• We also conducted reviews of the County’s assessment process and pension board. The Pension review has allowed us, through making smart decisions in the months past, through what I think we all know has been a very volatile market, to shave over $11 million off the County’s unfunded liability in our defined pension plan from July 2007 to July of 2008. It’s a sound investment in the employees of this County.
• On the issue of property tax assessment we also enacted recommendations that make our process more transparent and more accessible to the community through the appeals process. We are continuing to work with our other partners, the school district and library boards, to look at the additional recommendations of the task force and will bring them forward in the weeks ahead.
• Also in 2008, we finalized the restructuring of the County’s anti-drug tax, COMBAT, which will see more money going to treatment programs than ever before in the history of this County by reducing the size and complexity of administration.
It is also my honor here… I also see present with us here today—and he did not expect me to do this—but we had one vacancy on the COMBAT commission. Mr. Brooks, if you would please stand, in that vacancy, I am announcing today that the chairman of our newly formed COMBAT commission is Mr. Alvin Brooks, a person who has been dedicated to service our community. Thank you Mr. Brooks.
We are very, very fortunate to have someone of Mr. Brooks caliber who is willing to serve.
• Also in 2008, we saw the continued oversight of the stadium construction at Arrowhead and Kauffman stadiums, the largest construction project in the County’s history. These renovations continue to be on time and under budget.
• In 2008, we also saw the National Association of Counties, for their annual conference, decide to come Jackson County and Kansas City. That brought with them over 3,500 people and $6.2 million invested into our local economy. Our ability to land this annual conference was the direct result of the work of our regional partners all throughout Missouri and all throughout Kansas who helped us bring us this great convention.
As we look back at 2008, we must also take time out to honor someone who has given his professional life to the service of the people in this community. After 30 years, after 30 years of service to the people of this County, Sheriff Tom Phillips is turning in his badge. Now an important point about Tom: He typifies the American dream. Here is a person who rose through the ranks, through every level of the Sheriff’s Department, the first person in our County’s history, to go from an entry level position all the way to the office of elected sheriff.
Tom, last year, I know you announced that you would be not be seeking re-election and would be hanging up your badge. On behalf of the citizens of our County, I want to thank you for your 30 years of dedicated and courageous service to the people of our community. Thank you so much for what you have done.
Now I believe we have aimed high, but we must continue to aim higher in County government. We must continue to raise the bar of public expectations about how our government operates and about what we and the County expect from ourselves.
The public expects, and should rightfully demand, that all of the County‘s business be conducted in the open and with the highest of ethical standards. To this end, I asked Professor Bill Eckhardt, professor of ethics at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, as well as Pat McInerney, an attorney with Husch Blackwell Sanders LLP, to chair an independent task force charged with drafting the first-ever comprehensive code of ethics for County government. After countless hours of work, which went unpaid by the way, I want to make sure I point out… After countless hours of work, this document, which they presented, is a crucial step forward in preserving the public’s trust and faith in the work that goes on inside this building every single day throughout the year. Therefore, today, I am announcing that I, by executive order, am adopting the first-ever comprehensive code of ethics, as presented by these gentlemen, that will govern all County business.
Professor Eckhardt, Mr. McInerney, if would not mind standing. We ought them a great round of applause for their many hours of dedication and service and work for the people of this community.
Part of moving forward, as we are doing, must include preserving the treasures of our past. The historic Truman Courthouse is a national treasure that brings people not only from all over this nation, but frankly from all over the world to visit our community. We must work and we will work in the weeks ahead to find a way to preserve that which has been entrusted to us in 2009.
We also must begin planning for the future today. 2010, by all estimates, is going to be as challenging as 2008 and as 2009. Our work must not stop. We must work with our partners to continue to move County government forward by working to become even more efficient than we are today.
Two projects that have already begun with an eye toward 2010 are audits of both the Kansas City Election and the Jackson County Election Board. But additionally our work the Circuit Court is continuing to make sure we are ending the duplication of services in our organizations.
Our fiscal discipline today, the decisions we make today, give us unsurpassed opportunities to address new challenges and chart a new course for this community. As we do, as we chart that new course, lets join with our nations new President-elect, Barak Obama, who asked us on the night of very his historic election to “summon a new spirit of patriotism—of service and responsibility where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves, but each other.”
Thank you. Thank you for coming here today, and let us together work with the grace to serve our Country and our Country with honor, dignity and justice.
Mike Sanders' Inaugural Address
January 2, 2007
Thank you all for joining us here today.
I am deeply humbled and honored to be entrusted with the stewardship of this office.
An election is about much more than just the selection of new leadership. It is about the endorsement of the policies and principles offered by an administration for a new direction, a change in course. It is a responsibility and a challenge that I, and the members of the legislature, face with great enthusiasm.
This great county covering over 600 square miles and home to more than 650,000 residents is a place filled with immense beauty and great people. We boast some of the nation’s best parks and attractions, as well as great homes, neighborhoods, and businesses – large and small. My wife Georgia and I feel truly privileged to live here with you.
I’m able to stand before you because of the work and sacrifices of those who came before me.
Whether it’s my father’s parents who struggled as orphans during the Great Depression, or my mother’s great grandparents that came to Missouri with only what they could haul in a covered wagon, all shared one ideal: the optimism that their struggle and sacrifice would make life better for future generations. My parents never shied away from hard work. The lessons I learned from them have prepared me to face the job ahead with optimism and the belief that by working together we can overcome any obstacle.
We are all here because of those who came before us. Who we are, and what we have become as a people flows directly from those past generations that toiled and sacrificed in the name of a better tomorrow.
Our democratic system relies upon each succeeding generation making a sacrifice in the name of service and a better tomorrow. This is the legacy we have been handed. Our time to act is today, but the impact of our actions will be felt by our children.
As we meet here today, I am mindful of the monument that rests just above us. It reminds us that it is one thing to live or govern during periods of tranquility, when coffers are overflowing, and everything is running smoothly. Ralph Applebaum who designed this wonderful museum said, “What it really brings alive are the voices, thoughts and ideas of everyday soldiers and citizens. And so you end up in a certain way hearing voices from the past that resonate so much with the voices we hear today.” This monument helps to remind us that the crucible that forges and reveals great people, is how they respond during moments of trial, testing and challenge.
One man whose voice rose to the challenge at just such a time, and was a decorated veteran of the war this monument honors, was President Harry S. Truman. In recognition of the legacy that our history bestows us, 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.”
Today, we gather to formally begin to accomplish the job at hand. And, Harry was right – it will require courage, imagination and determination. But, working together I know we can rise to the challenge and achieve our goals.
We cannot allow ourselves to forget the invaluable lessons of our past. Our nation, this state, our great county was built by a people that risked everything, and ventured eagerly into an uncertain new frontier, all in pursuit of a better future. This same spirit must define our new administration. We will not fear change, but rather will embrace the great opportunities that lay before us.
There are those that say that high ideals and Jackson County government can never go hand-in-hand. They, however, underestimate our resolve.
Today, it is truly time for change. It is time for a new beginning.
Last fall a clear message was sent through our county, and throughout our entire nation. We must change how our government does business. We will usher in that change, because it is the right thing to do and the public should expect nothing less of us.
At just such a time of needed change for our nation, President Teddy Roosevelt said at his inauguration in 1905.
“Much has been given us, and much will be rightfully expected from us. We have duties to others and duties to ourselves; and we can shirk from neither.”
Today, let’s pledge together that we will expect nothing less than excellence from ourselves, and from our county government. Anything less will be unacceptable.
It is no longer acceptable that we have a county government that spends more than it makes and relies on quick one-time budget fixes just to get through the year.
It is no longer acceptable that we have operated without a rigorous code of ethics.
It is no longer acceptable that a veil of secrecy has existed around how our government operates and spends our money.
And, it is no longer acceptable that some families in our community sit in their homes afraid to venture out for fear of violence. Also, we must act so that senior citizens no longer have to fear being forced from their homes because of the rising property tax burden.
To address these issues, today, I am announcing the following initiatives.
The time has come to get our fiscal house in order. It is time to balance the books, and to implement policies that will ensure the fiscal integrity of our great county. To do so, in the weeks ahead we must critically examine every program, measure its performance, and demand more from ourselves with less. We must do all of this without falling back to the old quick fix of raising taxes to avoid making the necessary touch choices. Raising taxes stifles county businesses, and takes money out of the pockets of working families. We will balance our books with sound policies, accountability and fiscal integrity.
Today, I am announcing that we will establish a Code of Ethics that will be presented to the County Legislature within the first 60 days of my administration. Our new code will apply to everyone who serves you, the citizens of this great county. And it will apply to me as your County Executive. You have the right to expect that this new standard of excellence will help restore your confidence in every aspect of Jackson County government.
I pledge to do everything in my power to lift the veil of secrecy surrounding business practices at the Courthouse. I will work to limit any and all no bid personal service contracts that were entered into without legislative input or oversight. By limiting my power I hope to send a clear message that from this day forward, Jackson County is open for business – but all of the people’s business will be open for public scrutiny.
I pledge to make public safety a priority throughout our county and ensure that all of our residents, no matter where they live, can be certain that government is fulfilling its key priority of keeping them safe.
To address this challenge, today, I am announcing that by the end of our first week, we will file a motion in Federal Court to end the “jail matrix.” This action will ensure that prosecutors, judges and law enforcement officers will decide who remains in our jail, and who does not.
We not only need to be safe in our homes we must be able to afford to stay in our homes. Therefore, I am announcing the creation of a bipartisan task force to examine the assessment and appraisal process so that all of us can feel confident in the way our most valuable asset is being taxed. Further, the task force will examine new strategies to ensure that our seniors are not forced from their homes. I promise you that I will work with all of my skills and energy to bring about the changes the voters resoundingly asked of us.
We must – you must – expect more from your elected officials. We must raise the bar of expectations about how your government operates, and I will do everything in my power to live up to those new expectations.
It is time to start planning for the next generation. All we need to do is to look into the eyes of our children, to remind us what our purpose must be. The people give us these offices not for the sole purpose of exercising power, but to aspire to and honor the highest ideals of our forbearers, to whom we owe so much.
Few American voices are as clear as the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. when he said:
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
So, ladies and gentlemen, when our work is done, let those who come after us say that we chose to do what was right over what was easy but wrong, and that today truly was a new beginning.
And finally I want each of you to know that I am confident that I possess the energy and the hope not to compromise the vision we have created here today.
Now, let us begin our journey together asking that God bless our work, protect our County and our beloved Country, and asking God the giver of every good gift to give us the grace to serve you all with honor, dignity and justice.