By Don Bradley
The winner of the Jackson County Executive race will oversee spending at least a half-billion dollars, maybe much more, for a couple of big-ticket projects.
In addition to a new 1,200-bed detention center and some kind of high-dollar fix for an outdated downtown courthouse, the future of the Chiefs and Royals could also come into play in the next four years.
Voters will want to get this one right.
And could this be the year that a Republican breaks the Democrats’ hold on the office since it was created in the early 1970s?
Frank White, Jr., the Democratic incumbent seeking a third win, sure hopes not.
Republican Theresa Cass Galvin says it’s about time.
History favors White. It’s a Democrat county. George Lehr became the first county executive in 1973 and no Republican has broken the Democrats’ string.
But after a controversial property reassessment, clashes with other county officials and a stinging state audit, White narrowly won the August primary over a young, largely unknown opponent who had little money to spend on the race.
Galvin hopes to capitalize on what she sees as dissatisfaction with White within his own party.
“I’m going to win and I think he knows it,” Galvin said.
White, the former Royals all-star second baseman, exudes confidence.
“Once re-elected I will continue focusing on these priorities which make Jackson County a great place to live, work, and raise a family,” he said.
White, the grandson of sharecroppers, has held the job since 2016 when he was appointed after legal troubles forced Mike Sanders to resign. In 2016 White won election outright and in 2018 was re-elected to a full 4-year term.
White touts the county’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Fund to combat drug abuse and the renewal of the anti-violence effort COMBAT among accomplishments. But it was COMBAT that led to allegations of mismanagement and the state audit. The issue also caused bad blood between White and Prosecuting Attorney Jean Peters Baker.
During the primary campaign, challenger Stacy Lake hammered White over what she called a botched property reassessment which saw tax bills jump amid cries for fairness.
White said the issue has been addressed.
“The county assessor and county administrator have been actively working to improve the assessment process,” he said.
Galvin, a member of the county legislature since 2014 and served two years as chairperson, said some tax bills went up 300 percent and White had the power to stop the unfairness at the time but did nothing. She uses the reassessment mess to make the case that White cannot be trusted to oversee a $260 million detention center. The county broke ground on the 400,000-square-foot facility in September.
Still to be worked out are cost-sharing partnerships for jail beds with cities, specifically Kansas City.
White said the new jail would provide safe conditions for workers, visitors and the incarcerated while offering educational resources and social programs aimed at fighting relapse.
“The Jackson County Sheriff’s Department oversees jail operations and we continue to work with Sheriff Darryl Forté in our discussions with Kansas City,” White said.
Galvin agrees the new jail offers the county a great opportunity to improve relapse and recidivism numbers by offering intervention programs.
She also stresses partnering with cities as a means to share the jail’s operating expenses.
“Kansas City might need a hundred beds, a smaller city might need 10, but this should be a regional facility,” Galvin said.
Whoever wins in November must also address the Downtown courthouse, which went up when Harry Truman was doing county business.
Consensus seems to be the 1933 building needs replaced or extensive improvements. Galvin said costs for the two options are about the same, roughly $250 million. She says her chairmanship of the county’s budget committee would help in the courthouse and jail projects.
White said there are a lot of questions regarding stadiums for the area’s two major sports teams.
“What it would cost, who would pay for it, and most importantly, what would be the tangible benefits to the communities surrounding a new stadium,” White said. “The county continues to keep open lines of communication with the Royals’ and the Chiefs’ organizations.
“As for the Chiefs moving to Johnson County, we will continue to work with them to ensure that doesn’t happen.”
Galvin said she will fight for both teams. She will oppose a Downtown stadium for the Royals “if taxpayers have to pay for it.”
As for the Chiefs and Johnson County talk, “They can’t have our Chiefs.”