“America was not built on fear. America was built on courage, on imagination and an unbeatable determination to do the job at hand.” – Harry S. Truman
When quoting those words in his January 2007 inaugural address, Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders realized "the job at hand" would be difficult. He called on all who serve the County to join him in accepting nothing less than "excellence" while confronting every challenge head-on. He rightfully anticipated that Jackson County would soon be facing its most daunting challenges since the Great Depression.
Determined to hold the line on tax increases, Mr. Sanders has overseen major cuts to the County budget each year since voters overwhelmingly elected him County Executive on November 7, 2006. Nonetheless, he made "doing more with less" the unofficial County motto and has been able to push forward on several key reforms and special projects, including:
the passage of Jackson County's first-ever comprehensive Code of Ethics,
the reorganization of the COMBAT program,
the opening of the new Regional Correctional Center,
the completion of renovations essential to saving the Jackson County Historic Truman Courthouse,
and the adoption of an updated County Charter.
When Mr. Sanders again took the oath of office January 4, 2011, to begin his second term as County Executive, he stressed, "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."
He pledged to continue "raising the bar of expectations for County government."
Upon taking office in 2007, Mr. Sanders inherited a $6.3 million shortfall in the County's General Fund — a deficit that threatened to shut down County operations. Believing County government "must live within its means" like any household, he instructed all executive departments to trim their budgets by at least 11 percent. Those cuts and increased efficiency saw the County through that immediate crisis, but the national economic downturn also required more cuts to be made.
With each budget cycle, Mr. Sanders, in partnership with the County Legislature, has stressed "making each dollar count," focusing on long-term solutions rather than quick fixes to establish better fiscal policy for Jackson County. This approach has resulted in the County getting its finances in order, as reflected in an independent audit submitted to County Legislature in August of 2010.
Although decreased tax revenues arising from the recession and the plunge in the housing market necessitated cutting the County budget throughout his first term as County Executive, Mr. Sanders has seized this chance to make Jackson County government leaner and more efficient. The County Executive was again inspired by Truman, who once observed during the Great Depression that "a pessimist is one who makes difficulties of his opportunities, and an optimist is one who makes opportunities of his difficulties." Mr. Sanders has sought to put Jackson County in the best possible position to fully benefit from an economic recovery.
In his January 4, 2011, State of the County address, Mr. Sanders spelled out his agenda for a second term as Jackson County Executive:
He emphasized continuing to build on the reforms put in place through the Ethics Code and then "made permanent" via their inclusion in the new Charter. "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," he said.
Jackson County "continues 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," he added. He cited the Regional Correctional Center as an example of how the County and City of Kansas City worked together to save the tax dollars on detention services, and he called for other communities to join in partnership with the County to develop a central correctional center.
He further encouraged regional cooperation on expanding the area's system of trails and to create an integrated mass transit system that would serve the entire Greater Kansas City area.
"Regional cooperation is essential – essential – if our community is going to remain viable and competitive in the new millennium," Mr. Sanders said. "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."
As a former Jackson County Prosecutor, Mr. Sanders understands how essential public safety is to the County having livable communities, and helping to make our communities as safe as possible will remain a top priority in his second term. It has been a top priority literally from Day 1.
On his first day in office as County Executive, Mr. Sanders filed a legal motion to end the inmate release matrix system at the Jackson County Detention Center. Three months later, a Federal Court approved the motion. Now prosecutors, judges, law enforcement officers, public defenders and detention center staff work together to determine if, when and under which circumstances inmates should be release from (and who should remain incarcerated in) the Jackson County Detention Center.
Since assuming his responsibilities as County Executive, Mr. Sanders has made saving the Truman Courthouse on the Independence Square a top priority. In early 2009, he declared a public emergency to free up the funding necessary to renovate the landmark. The Jackson County Truman Courthouse has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1972 — the same year a retaining wall was erected around the building, trapping water within the courthouse grounds after nearly every rain or snow. With the foundation suffering water damage, Mr. Sanders understood that the retaining wall had to come down before the courthouse deteriorated to a point beyond repair.
At a cost lower than originally budgeted, the Truman Courthouse underwent extensive renovations in the summer of 2009, and the grounds were, within six months, restored to their historic 1933 appearance. Mr. Sanders pointed out in his 2011 State of the County address, however, that work to fully renovate the landmark and "make it a working courthouse once again" must continue.
On a less grand scale, in 2009 Jackson County also remodeled a vacant house in the core of Kansas City as part of Mr. Sanders' Constructing Futures initiative. He launched the program in November of 2008 to address three issues: 1) rehabbing vacant homes to reduce the possibility that they may be used for drug-related or other crimes; 2) creating on-the-job training opportunities for former offenders; 3) providing housing for homeless families. On August 16, 2010, Mr. Sanders presented the keys of the second Constructing Futures home to the Scott family who had endured being homeless.
The County Executive’s steady, innovative and assertive leadership has not gone unnoticed.
In late 2008, Mr. Sanders was selected as one of just 24 elected officials from across the nation to be a fellow of the Aspen Institute-Rodel Fellowships in Public Leadership program. Founded in 1950, the Aspen Institute is an international nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C. that fosters enlightened leadership and open-minded nonpartisan dialogue. The organization’s leadership program seeks to bring together the "nation’s most promising young political leaders."
Each of the 2008 fellows, the Aspen Institute noted in a news release, were selected "on their reputation for intellect, thoughtfulness and a bipartisan approach to governing."