Jackson County residents fill out their ballots at the World War I museum.
Voters in Jackson County fill out their ballots for the Aug. 2 primary election. (Zach Bauman/The Beacon)

Over the past seven years, Jackson County has seen three different county executives. After then-County Executive Mike Sanders resigned at the end of 2015 — and went to prison in 2018 for corruption — Fred Arbanas served for one week as interim executive until Frank White  Jr. was appointed to the role in January 2016.

Now, after being elected in November 2016 and again in 2018, White has served as Jackson County executive for six years, and he is up for reelection on Nov. 8 against current 6th District County Legislator Theresa Cass Galvin. In their campaigns, Galvin has focused on White’s performance, and White has focused on his accomplishments as Jackson County executive.

After White’s campaign declined a telephone interview, The Beacon emailed questions to each campaign. Galvin provided responses, but White’s campaign manager took issue with the questions that The Beacon sent and declined to participate. White’s campaign thought the questions focused too much on problems that arose during his time in office, the manager said.

Frank White Jr.

Incumbent Jackson County executive Frank White Jr. (Jackson County website)

Over the past six years, White has overseen dramatic change in Jackson County, including the COVID-19 pandemic response, a state audit of the budget that gave the county a “poor” rating and the property assessment debacle of 2019, when nearly 24,000 property owners saw their assessments double or more, with low-income neighborhoods hit especially hard.

White has drawn praise from some for his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, during which the Jackson County government extended public health measures at the same time the opposite was happening in some other cities and counties in the Midwest. In the same month when Sedgwick County, Kansas, rejected a mask mandate, Jackson County issued its own, in accordance with CDC recommendations.

But White’s handling of the assessments in 2019 left many residents angry, with many criticizing his administration’s lack of countywide action to correct assessment errors. Instead, property owners were left to appeal their assessments on their own.

White was also county executive when state Auditor Nicole Galloway released an audit that showed Jackson County had not selected contractors through a competitive process, as required by the county’s charter. These so-called “no-bid contracts” totaled $2.7 million, according to the report.

The Beacon asked whether White had made any changes to the county’s financial processes following this audit, but he did not respond.

Neither White’s personal campaign website nor his official county website lists an email address or phone number for his constituents to contact, unlike all other elected members of the county government. White’s campaign said that this was a decision made by the county and did not provide any further explanation prior to publication.

During the primary election, White did not show up to a primary forum hosted by the League of Women Voters, during which he would have discussed his candidacy opposite Stacy Lake, his competitor for the Democratic primary. White’s campaign manager told The Beacon that this was because he did not have the time and said the primary election was not competitive. White defeated Lake on Aug. 2 by a margin of 4,170 votes out of 63,844.

Theresa Cass Galvin

County executive candidate Theresa Cass Galvin. (Provided photo)

Galvin is the current legislator for the 6th District, which includes Lee’s Summit and unincorporated areas in the southeastern corner of Jackson County. She has served as the chairperson of the legislature and the budget committee.

Her campaign website highlights property assessment as one of the key issues she’s focusing on for this election. In her response to emailed questions, she told The Beacon that if she had been Jackson County executive during the 2019 assessment problems, she would have handled it differently.

“If I had been county executive in 2019, I would have worked on a plan to address the assessment errors, whether it be a five-year or 10-year plan,” she said. “I would have held public meetings with the residents of Jackson County throughout the county to discuss the situation we were in. I would not have blindly increased assessed values instantly.”

Since 2019, she said she has advocated for in-person assessments for properties that increased more than 15% in value, in accordance with state statute, and she has advocated for an updated software system.

Following Galloway’s 2020 audit, Galvin said she has ensured that the county holds public hearings whenever it receives transfers from undesignated fund balances or unanticipated additional funds, in line with Galloway’s recommendations. She also said she would request a state audit once every five years.

Galvin was chairperson of the legislature when COVID-19 first emerged, and during the pandemic she sponsored legislation twice to end the county’s mask mandate early, against the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control.

“I am not opposed to masks or vaccines, rather I’m opposed to taking away the voice of the people we are elected to represent,” she said. “In an effort to keep all safe, we should work with the people we represent, not against.”

She opposed an ordinance that would have codified the Jackson County Health Department’s ability to investigate disease outbreaks and implement mitigation protocols such as quarantines and isolations. This ordinance was proposed during the omicron wave in January but it would have applied to other diseases such as tuberculosis or Ebola.

Galvin is a Republican running to represent a largely Democratic county as its executive, but she said she doesn’t believe that elected county officials should behave in a partisan manner.

“Issues such as abortion rights, gun laws or right to work are decided at the state level,” she said. “For the last eight years I have honestly represented all the people of Jackson County and I will always represent the needs of my constituents as a whole.” 

Unlike many other Republicans across the country — including one of her opponents during the primary, who participated in the Jan. 6 riots — Galvin believes that Joe Biden is the elected president of the United States.

“The 2020 election has been decided and Joe Biden is our president. If investigators determine otherwise, that will be handled by the federal government,” she said. “I have full confidence in the integrity of both our Kansas City and Jackson County election boards.”

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Josh Merchant is The Kansas City Beacon's local government reporter. After graduating from Seattle University, Josh attended Columbia Journalism School, earning a master’s degree in investigative journalism....