'We AreTodayBuilding A Brighter Future'

2015 Inaugural Address

January 8, 2015 - This speech was written for Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders' third inaugural ceremony held at the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library.

Good evening. Thank you for being here tonight. And thank you to the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum staff for serving as our gracious hosts.

The lives of children born decades after Truman’s time have been affected by the decisions he made—the paths down which he chose to lead this great nation. Those words behind the president’s statue here at the library say it succinctly: “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 the government had work to do and elected leaders are duty-bound to get that work done. He once said, “In periods where there is no leadership, society stands still. Progress occurs when courageous, skillful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better.”

 

Setting Goals For The Next Generation

As we gather here tonight, just eight days into the new year, what course do we want to set for our community as we move further into the 21st Century? Without a doubt, the actions we take today will definitely shape tomorrow.

Jackson County is moving in the right direction.

Forward.

The key question, before us, is how best to keep Jackson County on the right path, not just moving forward through 2015 or even the end of this decade, but for the next generation?

Citizen Soldier author Aida Donald 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.”

We must likewise be farseeing. We must continually ask ourselves, “How can we change things for the better?”

A solid foundation has been laid over the last few years—a foundation upon which we must continue to build, for our community, for our children, and for their children, a solid future.
 

Exceeding Expectations

The future is now.

Let’s commit ourselves to keeping Jackson County government working and exceeding expectations. Our jobs are not to maintain the status quo, but to, as Truman said, “make things better.”

From our historic roots at Fort Osage, established when this was America’s western frontier, to celebrating a Royal Blue October at “The K,” with the Kansas City skyline as a backdrop, Jackson County has always been a wonderful place to grow up and grow old—to live a full and rewarding life.

Forging New Partnerships

As your County Executive, I have been privileged to serve alongside County Legislators dedicated to making Jackson County government work—committed public servants like Scott Burnett, Greg Grounds, Dan Tarwater, Dennis Waits and Crystal Williams. Moving forward, I am eager to forge new partnerships with our newly sworn-in legislators, Theresa Galvin, Alfred Jordan, Tony Miller, and Frank White.

Our success rests in our shared fundamental principles: keeping taxes low, being accountable for every tax dollar spent, balancing the budget, and pursuing every chance to raise efficiency.

While always striving to improve life in our community.

On behalf of the citizens of Jackson County, we say, “Thank you”—to Bob Spence, Theresa Garza Ruiz, Ken Bacchus, James Tindall, and, the last of the original Jackson County Legislators, himself, Fred Arbanas. During your service on the County Legislature you were guided by these principles, and you helped keep Jackson County pointed in the right direction.

This is a historic night.

Four of our nine County Legislators, who have now taken their oaths, are embarking on their first terms in office.

Have we ever witnessed this much Legislative change at one time before? Not in this century. In fact, only twice before—in 1999 and 1995—has the County Legislature—since becoming a nine-member panel in 1987—welcomed four new members.

We are fortunate to live in a community where so many outstanding individuals want to step forward and serve. We are eager to continue working together for the betterment of all whom we serve.

Together, we can make change plus opportunity equal progress.

 

Much Has Been AccomplishStill More To Do

We have come a long way, but there is still so much more left to do. Truly, we are in a marathon—with no finish line. We must continue on, one stride at a time.

We should be confident as we go forward. Look at the steep hills we’ve climbed—the tremendous distance we’ve already gone. We have momentum.

We’ve balanced our budget year in and year out, while making progress and making things better—without once raising county taxes.

  • 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.” Truman would have it be no other way.

    On the exact same date that 80 years earlier Truman rededicated the same courthouse, we gathered on the Square and celebrated as the doors to that national landmark—a direct link to our local history dating back to the 1820s—swung open again.

    We got the job done by re-establishing beneath the Truman Courthouse, a solid foundation. Then we worked our way up, fixing the iconic clock on top—getting it ticking again.

    Pause a moment and think about it:

    More than 80 years after Harry Truman got Jackson County back on its feet—after the Great Depression dropped America to its knees—we are still driving on the county roads he paved and across the bridges he built. The courthouse he constructed in Kansas City is still serving the people. And—with a little help from our generation—the courthouse on Independence Square, where Truman presided over county government, is back in business.
     

  • A few blocks from Independence Square, we are now renovating the Eastern Jackson County Courthouse, creating five new courtrooms to accommodate a court docket that includes an ever-increasing number of cases being filed in Eastern Jackson County. This project is not just about updating a facility last remodeled in 1972; it’s about meeting our obligation to keep our justice system running effectively and efficiently.

    Public safety is dependent upon it.
     

  • For years—if not decades—much was said about improving public safety through opening a Jackson County Regional Correctional Center. The idea got bandied about frequently. Lots of talking was done, but little action was taken.

    Until early 2008… when Jackson County and the City of Kansas City acted. We negotiated an agreement and opened a new facility—the Regional Correctional Center—to house Kansas City municipal inmates, right next door to the Jackson County Detention Center. The two facilities use the same inmate processing center. That’s more cost-effective. That also allows for clear communications—at all levels of the judicial system (the Corrections Department, Courts, police department, and the City) regarding the status of inmates.

    Taxpayers are no longer paying the city and the county for duplicate correctional services. And they’ve saved millions, starting with the $5 million the City saved by closing, rather than renovating its municipal jail.

    And now we’ve taken one last step to complete the Regional Correctional Center.

    Two months ago, Jackson County and the Kansas City Police Department announced an agreement putting the final piece of the regionalization puzzle in place. The county will now begin housing KCPD detainees in the Regional Correctional Center, as well. That means we have further streamlined the costs and processes associated with holding inmates—further improving public safety and saving more money.

    The old facility, in which the police department used to hold its detainees, would have required millions of dollars in upgrades to remain open.
     

  • Our construction projects are not just about bricks and mortar and making major capital improvements. They’re also about people and improving their circumstances.

    The homes we’ve remodeled through our innovative Constructing Futures program might be small in comparison to our courthouses or the Regional Correctional Center, but each has made a big difference:

    A difference in the lives of a homeless family…

    A difference in our entire community through taking a vacant house, remodeling it, putting a good family in it, and returning it to our property tax rolls…

    And a difference in bolstering public safety through providing former inmates on-the-job training, so that they can become productive citizens rather than repeat offenders…
     

  • COMBAT, likewise, continues to have a far-reaching—and positive influence—on improving public safety. In Jackson County. And across the metropolitan region.
     

Public Safety

The Jackson County Drug Task Force is funded entirely through the anti-drug tax—a quarter-of-a-cent sales tax that has for a quarter-of-a-century been making things in our community better. Last May, the Task Force—acting on a citizen’s tip about suspicious activity in and around a house near a local school—seized 22 pounds of methamphetamine. The drugs had an estimated street value of $2 million.

Arrests like this take poison off our streets and again send a clear-cut message to drug dealers: Enter Jackson County at your own risk. We will put you out of business and behind bars.

COMBAT is getting the job done. Our voters recognize that this is a government program that works—one that they wanted to see expanded to include reducing violence. They renewed the county’s anti-drug tax with a record-high approval of more than 70 percent.

Our COMBAT staff has since developed and begun implementing the Anti-Violence Special Initiative, which provided funding this past year to 16 organizations on the front line in developing anti-violence programs. These programs engaged more than 3,000 clients, helping people, helping their neighborhoods.

Some of those programs work directly with students in our local schools, teaching non-violent conflict resolution. All of them are being closely monitored. We are measuring their effectiveness, through on-site visits and independent audits.

This year, we will invest in those programs that have demonstrated an ability to make a real difference.

COMBAT’s High-Risk Offender Initiative has certainly made a difference. The Initiative coordinates with police agencies all across the metro to build cases against those criminals whose criminal activities crisscross jurisdictional lines. The initiative targets the worst of the worst, the most violent of the violent.

A month ago, to identify a homicide victim’s known associates, an investigation, led by the office of Jackson County Sheriff Mike Sharp, found a wealth of information in a database the High-Risk Offender Initiative has been compiling—in cooperation with regional and federal law enforcement officials. Using that database set in motion a chain reaction resulting in one of those associates being arrested and charged.

The United States Department of Homeland Security has taken notice. This regional database is now being expanded nationally. It’ll be tied in with Homeland Security’s own databases as part of the ongoing attempt by law enforcement—at both the national and local level—to sever a crucial funding source for terrorism: drug money.

As Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker pointed out—when we had the honor of presenting the first-ever COMBAT awards this past October—COMBAT is getting real results for our community.

COMBAT’s reach extends beyond our region, however. Local governments around the nation and even the world are using COMBAT as a role model, hoping to replicate, in their communities, the same results.

 

Holding The Line On Taxes

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 raising taxes.

The County Legislature and I understood that the economic downturn hit Jackson County families hard. We were adamant that their county government would not hit them again by raising the county tax levy.

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.

 

All Credit To The County's Employees

Let’s give credit where credit is due.

Our county government works—it is getting the job done—because of the outstanding men and women who are the backbone of Jackson County government: our county employees.

They are the reason we get to declare, without exception, that projects like the recent restoration of the stone arch bridge over Truman Road have been completed on time and on budget—if not ahead of schedule and under budget.

Our employees have been able to do more with less, and they have embodied the American can-do attitude.

 

Financial House In Order

Together, we have Jackson County’s financial house in order.

And it is not a house of cards that a gust of wind could easily bring down.

Our independent audits the last several years indicate that Jackson County routinely meets and often exceeds the highest accounting standards for any organization—whether that organization is a government agency or a private company. Like any successful business must, Jackson County is operating within our means, meeting all of our financial obligations, and making sound investments.

A great testament of how far we’ve come financially was the county’s ability this past fall to refinance more than $360 million in the bonds issued to renovate Kauffman and Arrowhead Stadiums. The savings to our taxpayers will amount to about $34 million.

In the midst of the World Series, we hit a grand slam.

We merely did what any homeowner would have done. We took advantage of lower interest rates and refinanced.

But we were only able to refinance our bonds because we re-established the county’s triple-A bond rating, through stabilizing our finances.

Bonds used to be relatively easy to refinance. They were insured. If the city or county or state issuing the bonds defaulted, the insurance company stepped in and paid them off.

Now bonds can, by law, no longer be insured. That means when a county seeks to refinance it bonds it has to do so on its own merit.

Jackson County had ample merit.

We have balanced our budget. We promptly overcame a $2 million shortfall and have now created a 3 percent contingency in each of our major funds. We have been able to pay cash for all major capital improvements, like our courthouse renovations. We now fund our pension plan at 83.5 percent and allow employees to credit up to five years in the military spent serving the country toward their years of service to the county.

In giving us their highest credit rating, Moody’s cited the strength of—and I quote— “[Jackson County’s] healthy financial operations supported by conservative budgetary practices.”

Today, Jackson County stands strong… on sound financial footing.

 

'Well Done... Better Than Well Said'

As we talk about the path we are on and the work we have to yet do, keep in mind Benjamin Franklin’s wise words: “Well done is better than well said.”

 

Regional Approach

Essential to getting us this far and moving us forward will be our ongoing regional approach.

The challenges we face and the opportunities we must pursue are not neatly defined along county lines, city limits or even the state border. To that end, I want to thank our mayors, city council members, state legislators, and Congressional representatives for being Jackson County’s partners in building a foundation for the future.

Individuals like those who are with us this evening.
 

We have reached a point in this region where local governments are sharing best practices, trying to help one another raise efficiencies and lower costs.

 

Understanding we can get more done pulling in the same direction, rather than each of us going our own separate way, is in the best interests of all of our citizens. 

We are leading the way into an era of cooperation in economic development—creating a win-win environment in which our communities are partners, not competitors pitted against one another. We are speaking with one voice to attract new businesses and help already existing businesses prosper. We are pooling our resources, well aware growth in one community will have benefits that extend to all of our communities.

Look at the success of COMBAT’s High-Risk Offender Initiative.

Look at the cost-savings generated through opening the Regional Correctional Center: Millions of dollars.

“Regional” works.

 

Public Transit Is An Investment That Pays Big Dividends

Emphasizing a need to develop parks, Harry Truman—as Jackson County Presiding Judge—spearheaded the Greater Kansas City Regional Plan Association. Beyond parks, that group focused on modernizing our entire region.

Eighty years later, we are again moving forward, as a region, on what is an essential basic service, any metropolitan region like ours, should be providing its citizens: public transportation.

We need to increase opportunity by developing a mass transit system that truly serves the masses.

It is an investment that pays big dividends.

A study, The Economic Impact of Public Transportation Investment, published in 2009, concluded that for every $1 billion invested in public transportation operations the return is approximately the creation of 41,000 jobs. With those jobs comes an enormous influx of money into the local economy: $1.8 billion in additional income, $3.8 billion in increased business sales.

Polls show voters—across party lines—get it. The majority consider resources put into giving them more public transportation options a better investment than paving new roads.

More people overall, but especially those under 30—the millennial generation—want to live in a community where mass transit is a viable choice and having a car is not a necessity.

According to a National Association for Realtors poll, 62 percent of people ages 18 to 29—our future professionals, our future leaders—indicate easy and abundant access to trails and reliable public transportation will be one of the most important factors they consider, when deciding where to build their careers… where to live their lives.

That means we simply cannot, in 2015, consider it OK to have what the Brookings Institute rated the 90th best public transportation system in the United States. That would be 90th out of the nation’s 100 largest metropolitan regions. The Brookings Institute cited the fact “only 18 percent of the jobs in the [Kansas City] metro region are accessible to job seekers with less than a 90-minute commute on public transit.”

Mass transit... Good mass transit benefits us all, through alleviating traffic congestion and reducing fuel consumption.

And—I repeat—by pumping BILLIONS of dollars into the local economy.

And good public transportation raises a community’s standard of living—assuring no one is cut off from the world and left struggling to find a way to get to their job, go to school, visit friends and family, or to see a doctor.

We can do better than 90th out of 100.

Over the last several years, Jackson County has led the charge to reorganize the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority. We are tasking the Authority with improving services today through better coordination with the various bus systems currently operating throughout Greater KC. The notion transit service can abruptly end based on the lines on a map separating the metro’s cities, counties, and two states—rather than on where people need to go—has to change.

Developing a more extensive mass transit system to better serve the next generation who call our region home will require more regional teamwork. Everyone—in Missouri and Kansas—needs to get on board.

We have—in 2015—within our grasp an opportunity to do something tangible… 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 people will want to live.

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. We have already secured $10 million in federal funding to go toward the purchase of these lines, which run through Eastern Jackson County. We now have nine months to secure the remaining $49.9 million.

Nine months to make an investment now that will benefit future generations.

We may not get a second chance to take this giant leap forward. The moment is at hand, and this is an opportunity we must seize in 2015 with both hands.

We can redevelope these existing rail lines for commuter rail—which would be but one component of a multi-faceted 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.

But there’s more.

Through making this investment, we would be able to, along these rail lines, expand our biking and hiking trails. At long last, we could connect our region’s trails to the Katy Trail, creating one continuous trail all the way across Missouri. From St. Louis. To Kansas City.

Imagine being able to get on your bike in Raytown… Lee’s Summit… Blue Springs… Independence… and travel the length of our state using pedal power. It would be a trail more than 300 miles long—not quite the longest continuous east-west biking trail in the U.S., but not much shorter than the 380-mile John Wayne Pioneer Trail in Washington State.

This golden opportunity is at our fingertips.

More transit... More trails... More economic development... Let’s get this done.

The future IS now.

 

Being True JFK's Words & Truman's Legacy

We live in a region that is culturally diverse and economically vibrant—in large part metropolitan, but in other parts still what you might call “the countryside.”

I have always taken pride in calling this community my home. There is no other place I’d rather be. My wife and I are both Jackson County born and raised. We’ve been blessed with two wonderful sons—boys who will be young men before Georgia and I know it.

From our historic roots at Fort Osage, established when this was America’s western frontier, to celebrating a Royal Blue October at “The K,” with the Kansas City skyline as a backdrop, Jackson County has always been a wonderful place to grow up and grow old—to live a full and rewarding life.

We embark on 2015 filled with optimism.

Expanding our trails, developing a mass transit system worthy of an enterprising 21st Century city, increasing opportunities for young people... Moving forward we can make life in Jackson County and our entire region even better.

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 right now.

Remember President Kennedy challenged us to go to the moon when no one knew if it could be done. He confidently said, “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, asking God for the grace to serve our citizens with honor, with dignity, and with justice, I urge us to see clearly the opportunities that lie before us. Let’s be true to JFK’s words and to Harry Truman’s legacy: By building greatly. By changing things for the better.

We have a proud history. Together, we are—today—building a brighter future.


 

joeloudon@yahoo.com © Joseph Loudon