With Garry Baker stepping down from the Jackson County Legislature at the end of his term, the 1st District at-large seat is open. With no Republican candidates, the winner of the Aug. 7 Democratic primary between Jalen Anderson and Sherwood Smith will take over in January.
Legislative terms are four years. At-large candidates run in one of three at-large districts but are elected by all Jackson County voters. The district includes Independence, Blue Springs, Grain Valley, Oak Grove, Buckner, Sibley, Levasy, Sugar Creek and portions of Kansas City east of Raytown.
Anderson is a consultant in Blue Springs and first-time candidate, and Smith,of Kansas City, is a firefighter union leader who previously challenged Frank White II, now the county executive, for the same seat several years ago. The Examiner asked the candidates a short series of questions:
Why are you running for this office, and what are the three biggest issues facing Jackson County?
Jalen Anderson: I am running because I believe it is time for the next generation to begin taking an active role in our government. I believe the biggest issues facing Jackson County are the discussion about the jail, county employee wages, and restoring the people’s trust in the county courthouse.
Sherwood Smith: I am running because I have an overwhelming sense to serve. For 40 years, my entire adult life, I have served the community of Jackson County in one capacity or another. Whether as a firefighter on a search-and-rescue unit, or the hazardous materials team, I have served others. As the chairman of the South Kansas City Alliance Neighborhoods Committee, which is a coalition dedicated to a unified vision for the Kansas City area south of the river, I have served and advocated for better and safer neighborhoods. As a union leader I have been the voice for those who may not have had a voice. I know firsthand what it takes to make a change for the better. And I feel my background and work ethic makes me the strongest candidate to implement the changes necessary in county government that would benefit every Jackson Countian.
The biggest issues facing Jackson County are:
• Property assessment: Fair, accurate and implementation of the county’s real estate and property tax assessment process. For a host of reasons, the county has been challenged with this issue and continues to not be able to get it right. It is obvious to me that the problem is systemic. The system needs a total reboot. Bring in the latest technology, best practices and the people who can put this apparatus to work, and hold them and whoever hired them accountable.
• Fair taxes for the elderly: I would champion a better avenue for the elderly, who meet certain criteria, to not have to worry about the raise in the value of their homes if they continue to occupy it as their primary residence. The rising value of your home has always been the American dream. But for some, this leads to a higher tax statement that they sometimes can’t afford. Causing them to choose between upkeep of the property or paying the tax bill is gentrification at its worse. I would make this a priority of my term in office.
• Diversity in government: I think that diversifying the county’s boards and commissions is an issue. Women make up more than half of the county’s population, but those numbers aren’t reflected in the county’s appointed body. Geographic diversity is also an issue that I would champion. We have a large county full of talented people. I would bring forth an ordinance to rectify this. Diversity is good for business and government, and I would fight to make sure it is reflected in Jackson County.
What is the best solution to the county's jail problem?
Anderson: I believe the issues with the jail to be numerous and are a stain on reputation of Jackson County. The state of the the corrections facility didn't happen overnight but is a result of a decade of neglect and mismanagement. The jail will not be fixed quickly. Improvements have been made and are continuing to be made, and I look forward to working with the legislature and Executive White to find a solution.
Smith: The county legislators, the county executive, and the sheriff’s office need to take a deep breath, then start from the ground up, looking at every concern we now have and looking holistically at the future of how to best safeguard our citizens, correction officers, and inmates. Obviously, stacked housing is an outdated method to house inmates. For short-term occupants, a segregated housing area makes sense, as opposed to housing them with those awaiting trial or transportation to other institutions. We also need to secure land for a single-story facility as close to the judicial hub of the county, as soon as possible, as land in the downtown area continues to escalate. Issuing bonds to cover the cost of the facility is also a major initiative that needs to be undertaken as soon as practical because of rising interest rates. Furthermore, we need to challenge the Missouri Department of Corrections about the reimbursements owed to Jackson County for inmate housing which may total at least in the hundreds of thousands, if not more, of dollars.
But, again, I would emphasize the need to look at the big picture, and to look to use all of the technology we have today, and any A.I. measures that may be coming online in the near future to make sure the taxpayers of Jackson County are not looking at spending their tax dollars on outdated mechanisms and ideas that would be termed irrelevant 10 to 15 years from now.
Do you support the County Charter changes likely to be on the November ballot?
Anderson: I do not support and will actively oppose the proposed changes to the Jackson County charter. These changes were drafted in the shadows and have not been given the proper public debate. We should give employees of the county a raise before we give politicians raises. Especially when we have county workers on food stamps.
Smith: As a whole, no. However, I am not beyond looking at our county governance system to see if there are tweaks that can lead to a more efficient and effective government, which we all expect and deserve. However, one of the things that I could never support is the idea of increasing the salary of the county legislators while the assistant prosecutors, deputy sheriffs and service workers are among the lowest-paid workers in the metropolitan area. The idea of raising the pay of politicians while the men and women who toil every day have gone years without their take-home actually increasing should be repulsive to anyone who really cares about their county and its government.
Anderson’s campaign has taken in $43,997.17 taken in, including $20,000 in loans to himself, and spent $30,432.32, according to his latest report to the Missouri Ethics Commisssion.
Top contributors included:
$3,500: Kelvin Walls, Kansas City physician.
$2,500: Sarah Starnes, Kansas City social worker; Tobie Anderson, Blue Springs.
$900: Keith and Sandra Querry, Independence.
$700: Lanna Ultican, Blue Springs.
Two county legislators seeking re-election, Crystal Williams and Tony Miller, made small donations.
Smith loaned his campaign $50,000, but finance records show no other contributions and no expenditures by his campaign.