When Kansas City voters arrive at their polling place on Aug. 2, their ballots will show five Jackson County primary races for their county government. These include the county executive, their district’s legislator and three at-large legislators.
After Crystal Williams, who represents the 2nd At-Large District, decided not to run for reelection this year, a competitive race has emerged among five candidates seeking to replace her. These include three Democrats and two Republicans.
Although the 2nd At-Large District legislator is elected by voters countywide, candidates must live in this district, which includes most of Kansas City north of 78th Street, as well as Raytown.
Democrats running in the 2nd At-Large District primary are:
- Zac Sweets, the chief of staff for former Missouri Sen. Jason Holsman and the Missouri public policy director for the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce.
- Donna Peyton, a member of the Raytown School Board.
- Ryan Meyer, a marketing consultant with a background in organizing campaigns and causes.
Republicans running in the 2nd At-Large District primary are:
- Bob Stringfield, a former Jackson County legislator who served from 2003–2006. During his term, he was arrested after he was involved in an altercation on the floor of the legislature. He declined to comment on this altercation.
- John J. Murphy, an executive who has worked in the energy, logistics and banking industries.
The Beacon sent all five candidates a list of five questions about what they hope to accomplish as a Jackson County legislator.
Responses have been edited for clarity, length and Associated Press style.
Click on a question to jump ahead:
- What new perspectives will you bring to the legislature?
- What will be the most important factors for you when making yearly budget decisions?
- How will you make yourself available to your constituents throughout your term?
- If elected, what are two or three specific things you plan to recommend to improve the county government?
- How has the legislature been successful in the past, and how do you think it can improve?
What new perspectives will you bring to the legislature?
Zac Sweets: Having worked in public policy at the state and local level, I didn’t always see working families being included when talking about moving the community forward. And as someone who grew up in a working-class community with a single parent, I understand the daily challenges facing too many in the region. I look to lean on both my firsthand government experience as well as my personal life experiences to be the best advocate for everyday Jackson County residents.
Donna Peyton: My voice and my commitment to serve all residents of Jackson County are my top two perspectives. I will work to develop a [tax bill] payment plan for residents. Currently, there is a payment plan for those 65+. I would like to expand that to ensure those on fixed incomes and/or lower income residents will have payment options. I will get in front of the 2023 assessments by providing updates to our residents. I will work to have a more transparent legislature by changing our meeting times to better suit those that work and keeping a virtual viewing option available.
Ryan Meyer: As a veteran of public policy and campaign organizing, I’ll hit the ground running and pull together various stakeholders to push for a more streamlined and effective county government. As a millennial, my generation is shaped by experiences of being down and out and pulling each other up by the bootstraps. I remember 9/11, I left college at the deepest point of the Great Recession and I’ve lived through a pandemic. It’s time for this experience to take greater leadership of our government.
Bob Stringfield: Resume: Chairman of the operations committee Bi-State Commission. Treasurer of the Kansas/Missouri Bi-State Commission. 1st At-Large District Jackson County legislator, 2003-2006. Commissioner at the Mid-America Regional Council. Member of the board of directors of the Kansas City School Board. Command sergeant major at the U.S. Army Reserves. Member of the board of directors at Western Electric Credit Union. Executive vice president of communications at Workers of America Local 6395. Treasurer and communications at Workers of America Local 6395. Manager of production at Western Electric/AT&T and Lucent Technologies Bell Labs.
John J. Murphy: The perspective I will bring to the legislature is that of an unimpressed taxpayer. The county’s primary two functions are to assess your property’s value and collect taxes based on that assessed value. Over the last 15 years, I’ve seen numerous botched attempts by the county to do this. I’m actively involved with my homeowners association, and over the years I’ve met with numerous residents, most of whom are on a fixed income, who have had terrible assessments accompanied by unaffordable billing of outrageous property tax hikes. This needs to stop.
What will be the most important factors for you when making yearly budget decisions?
Zac Sweets: Top of mind will be the residents of Jackson County, and in particular, working families. This means ensuring that everyday people are at the heart of decision-making when making investments in the community. Also, strengthening the county’s long-term financial health so we can be ready for future growth and development throughout the region.
Donna Peyton: Keeping in line with the county’s development plan is essential in keeping focused on where we are going as a county and what we want to achieve. Budget items should be directly in line with the county goals and strategies. There are plenty of great ideas. However, if we lose sight of what is essential to our county’s success, spending may become haphazard and nonproductive. Oversight of the new detention center is crucial.
Ryan Meyer: The first consideration is whether or not the distribution of limited funds is equitable and serves to provide solutions where the need is greatest. The second consideration is making sure that we have a bias towards local businesses that treat their workers with dignity and that businesses in underserved or marginalized communities have a seat at the table and their voice is heard so they can share in the growth and prosperity we are going to generate.
Bob Stringfield: What’s in the interest of the Jackson County taxpayers is to include a voice for the citizens of Jackson County. For example, as a legislator I voted against giving county legislators pensions and pay increases — an item that should have come before the constituents and not the legislators who would benefit. In the past, the budget came before you in October, which became a rubber stamp for approval unless legislators attended the budget committee and reviewed line items. During my term, departments were questioned on their budget requests because I attended all budget meetings.
John J. Murphy: The most important factor in making budget decisions is the understanding by elected officials that budget numbers are not just numbers — they are actual dollars that come out of the taxpayer’s pocket. Every dollar taken from the taxpayer’s pocket means he or she cannot spend that money on their families. The second most important factor is how to bring better value to the taxpayer. That is questioning, “How does this program help the taxpayer? Can we find a better, more efficient way to run this program, all while understanding that the struggling taxpayer is funding this program?”
How will you make yourself available to your constituents throughout your term?
Zac Sweets: I commit myself to being present and accessible. If the Jackson County Legislature is going to be helpful to local municipalities, then it must be physically present to learn how best to assist. I’d work with my colleagues to make county participation an expectation. But I’d also use my office as a community resource — one that is able to help direct and connect constituents to resources in the region.
Donna Peyton: I will attend neighborhood meetings and special events throughout the county, and I will be open to accept calls and appointments, making myself accessible to all residents.
Ryan Meyer: I have always been a “neighborhood guy.” I frequent local small businesses and am never hard to find. I will also hold weekly coffees. I also frequent civic clubs and will continue but will schedule my appearances so constituents can come chat… or criticize. It’s important to have a close connection to various neighborhoods so you can gauge what is happening in each region. I have close connections to many parts of Jackson County, and I am excited to build relationships in the areas where I am unfamiliar.
Bob Stringfield: The same as I did during the 2003-2006 years. I am always available to my constituents throughout my term of office.
John J. Murphy: I will be available 24/7. My constituents — that is, all of Jackson County — can call me, email me or reach out to me in any fashion. I will attend meetings and hold town halls throughout the county.
If elected, what are two or three specific things you plan to recommend to improve the county government?
Zac Sweets: Rebuilding public trust by implementing a fair and transparent tax assessment process that protects homeowners and seniors. Jackson County residents deserve a modern government that is service-oriented and convenient. Transparency is critical to improving public trust and accessibility. Jackson County has an exciting future that will require anti-corruption policies that commit to proper oversight and community engagement. Looking ahead to 2030, a key piece to building the region will be accessible mass transit. By connecting communities and opportunities across Jackson County, the legislature can help reduce one daily hurdle for thousands of residents and businesses.
Donna Peyton: Contracts: The contract approval process should allow for two to three weeks for review. We need strict requirements that disallow nepotism. Contracts awarded should have a requirement that companies pay workers the prevailing wage. As much as possible, contracts should be awarded to local companies, including MWDBE companies.
Collaboration: Interjurisdictional discussions and collaboration are key to our entire county — in particular in regards to transportation, the stadiums and the well-being of our residents. We must build a platform to allow us to hear from our residents and allow the input of their valued voices.
Ryan Meyer: There must be a task force to study tax assessment. The debacle we experienced recently was not caused by the current staff or leadership, but it was a long-simmering problem that compounded until it burst. We cannot allow that to happen again. Trust and confidence in government starts at the local level.
A constituent of mine proposed having some of the legislature’s meetings in the evening so working people have greater access to observing or addressing it in person. Right now, it meets on Monday mornings. That kind of change to increase transparency has a lot of potential.
Bob Stringfield: Work with the Missouri State Tax Commission to protect seniors on fixed income by making recommendations to the Missouri legislature that any increases of tax assessments in Missouri should not be more than 10% for seniors. Take a look at getting the sheriff’s department to take over the supervision of the county jail. See if it is necessary to have at-large legislators in county government. Also changing “legislators” to “commissioners” whereby voters will understand that they are voting on commissioners and not state legislators like Clay and Platte counties.
John J. Murphy: When elected I will fight for the following. First, an absolute cap on property taxes for retired seniors. The year you retire your property tax gets locked in until you leave the property. Second, a 5% cap every assessment period for everyone else. If your home does greatly increase in value you will have time to figure things out, rather than getting hit with it all at once. Given the extremely high inflationary period we are currently in, this is important. Third, demand full transparency on county spending. A prime example is the county jail, which has had little to no transparency at all.
How has the legislature been successful in the past, and how do you think it can improve?
Zac Sweets: This outgoing legislature has gotten more done through coalition-building and engagement with other local governments than their predecessors. By improving cooperation with local municipalities, Jackson County can continue to identify opportunities for city-county development. The next legislature will have to engage with each city and be present to community needs in order to move the region forward. The outgoing legislature has also ended approval of contracts lasting longer than 12 months. Before this, contracts would not be brought back up for consideration for years on end. Continuing this transparency and good bookkeeping practice protects taxpayers while holding Jackson County leaders accountable.
Donna Peyton: Environmental protection is important to the well-being of our county. The county has key environmental programs currently in place and has been recognized on local and U.S. government levels. I will promote a process focusing on funding for the Blue River Parkway corridor, Rock Island corridor, Little Blue Trace corridor and Three Trails corridor.
Ryan Meyer: The purchase and development of the Rock Island Trail is a huge coup for the county. Our parks are among the crown jewels of our county. Recognition of the dire need for a new detention center and the swiftness at which the legislature moved forward in spite of daunting budgetary constraints is also impressive. Going forward, there must be an emphasis on oversight in order to avoid the pitfalls we have experienced in the past. Proper oversight will also make sure that programs are effective, cohesive and complementary, and get the biggest bang for our citizens’ bucks.
Bob Stringfield: Legislatures in the past have created and been successful for creating jobs for Democratic Party members. The way it can improve is to look at the purpose of county government when the charter was created in the ’70s and put most of the emphasis on the circuit court, tax assessments and the jails as the priority.
John J. Murphy: The county legislature, successful? Hmmm, I’ve been trying to figure that out. What the legislature needs is to be reminded that they serve the people, not vice versa. To that end, I will hold town halls over the course of my term to hear what our people need and deliver it.
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