Candidates for the Jackson County Legislature in District 3 and District 3 at-large met Tuesday night at the Mid-Continent Public Library’s North Independence branch to discuss voter concerns and questions.
Democrat Paul Wrabec and Republican Brice Stewart, both running for the District 3 seat, and Tony Miller, a Democrat and incumbent candidate running for District 3 at-large, attended the forum. Democrats District 3 runners Lois McDonald and Charlie Franklin did not attend, nor did Democratic at-large candidate Roberta Gough.
The panel, hosted by League of Women Voters, started with a discussion of six proposed County Charter changes. The suggested changes include salary increases for county legislators, the county executive, the sheriff and the prosecuting attorney. They would also shift the Combat program to be under the prosecutor’s control and the Corrections Department under the control of the sheriff.
Wrabec took the most adamant stance against the proposals, calling them “a real scam.” He says if the voters adopt these policies, officials’ pensions will rise $2,000 each month, which he deems unfair.
Stewart said he approved of the changes to the chain of command, but not salary increases.
Miller argued for increased compensation for the prosecuting attorney, but expressed disapproval of all other proposed changes.
The charter discussion broadened into a conversation about overall corruption in the district and in the Jackson County Courthouse.
Wrabec cited that as the motivation behind his run.
“If you would’ve asked me one year ago, I wouldn’t have run. Then, I saw so much news about Jackson County and the corruption,” Wrabec recalled. “I had to step up to the plate; otherwise no one else would.”
“Money is not being spent in the right places,” Stewart added. “I decided it’s time to pull the trigger and make a positive change.”
Miller alluded to corruption he’s witnessed in his last four years in the legislature, specifying that he has held “no confidence” in the budget for the last three years.
“The public is really kept in the dark,” Miller said. “We need to be more open and transparent.”
When asked what they would do to fix this corruption, all candidates spoke out against no-bid contracts and deals made based on legislative connections. In addition, Miller advocated for more meetings at night, to increase transparency for working citizens.
For community members in attendance, the county jail stood out as a prime example of this corruption, becoming the subject of several questions.
All candidates disagreed with the low salaries for jail guards, acknowledged the jail as having a “personnel problem” and expressed a desire for added police staff. Similarly, all three agreed that the jail should be under sheriff leadership.
Stewart advocated fixing these problems before considering a new facility, while Wrabec and Miller concentrated on the immediate need for a new jail.
Jail funding also presented a diversion. Stewart and Wrabec both focused on the need for a dedicated tax increase – though Stewart expressed reluctance due to his fiscally conservative beliefs. Meanwhile, Miller insisted the necessary funds are already available, but not properly prioritized.
Wrabec, McDonald and Franklin will compete for the District 3 Democratic nomination in an Aug. 7 election, with the winner facing Republican Stewart in November. Miller and Gough will also compete for the at-large position in August.
District 3 includes Sugar Creek and Independence north of Interstate 70, stretching from Interstate 435 to the Little Blue River. Incumbent Democrat Dennis Waits is retiring.
District 3 at-large covers roughly the southern one-third of the county: Lee’s Summit, Unity Village, Greenwood, Raytown, Grandview and the western edge of south Kansas City. All Jackson County voters vote to elect the three at-large legislators. Miller is seeking a second four-year term.