This Just In: Elections Have Consequences

Fully 55.2 percent of Jackson Countians complaining about property-tax hikes are getting exactly what they voted for.

By Jack Cashill

On Feb. 26, the Circuit Court of Jackson County took just about everyone drawing a county paycheck to the village pond for a well-deserved, Puritan-style, public dunking. Applauding pond-side, sad to say, were the people who deserved a good dunk of their own: the voters.

The court said out loud, and literally in bold type, what savvy county residents had sensed all along: “The manner in which Jackson County conducted biennial assessments in 2019 and 2023 under the leadership of Director Gail McCann Beatty, the County Legislature, and County Executive Frank White Jr. appear to this Court to demonstrate a clear disregard for the rights of Jackson Countians, a disregard for the budget process that taxing jurisdictions must undertake each fiscal year, and gross incompetence.” 


The case in question goes by the name, “State of Missouri ex rel. City of Independence, Missouri and City of Blue Springs, Missouri v. Jackson County, Missouri.” Before congratulating themselves, county citizens need to ask themselves two questions: How is that they re-elected Frank White in 2022? And why, in the name of all things holy, did they elect him in the first place? George Brett, I’d get. But Frank White? He wasn’t that good a second baseman!

The 2022 election is a real head-scratcher. As early as September 2020, the county administrator for Jackson County, Troy Schulte, was telling Independence City Manager Zach Walker to expect assessed valuations in the 2023 biennial reassessment to increase in the 50 to 100 percent or so. 

The word spread. By 2021, attentive taxpayers throughout the county were sharpening their pitchforks. Knowing there would be a record number of appeals, a prudent county executive would have prepared his staff to handle them, but prudence has never been White’s strong suit. And that brings us to White’s unseemly rise to power.

In a surprise move, on Jan. 5, 2016, Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders abruptly stepped down. A week later, county legislators named White county executive. A few months later, White was driving to a golf tournament in Branson when he got a phone call, a rather urgent one: “Yo, Frank, your house is going to be sold on the courthouse steps tomorrow.” Don’t you hate those kind of calls? 

Understandably, White skipped the golf tournament and headed back to KC. Equally understandable, if a good deal murkier, is the meeting White took with Sanders and his legal counsel. At the time, Sanders had problems of his own. In September 2018, those problems would coalesce in a 27-month prison sentence for orchestrating a sleazy kickback scheme that channeled thousands in campaign funds to satisfy Sanders’ pet vices. 

At the time Sanders met with White in 2016, only he knew the depths of his problems. The meeting apparently went well. White’s debt was erased, and he was allowed to keep his Lee’s Summit home. In November 2016, voters overwhelmingly chose White to finish the final two years of Sanders’ term.

At the time of his 2018 sentencing, the judge called Sanders’ scheme one “rooted in public corruption.” Corruption was something of a county tradition. The spirit of Tom Pendergast has been animating county politics since “Boss Tom” seized party machinery a century before White’s first election.

White was not one to break with tradition. In a 2017 article, The Kansas City Star went into some detail discussing White’s quid pro quo. Before it became part of the problem, The Star did what newspapers used to do, namely journalism. 

By the time White ran for his first four-year term in 2018, the newspaper’s readers knew all they needed to know about White’s fiscal dexterity. In 2014, when he first ran for the state’s General Assembly, White owed the IRS $80,000 in back taxes. He owed  $5,000 more in state taxes. 

From the jump, White showed genuine political promise in his ability to make excuses. According to associates, White blamed the Royals for screwing him out of a public-relations job and forcing him into three years of unemployment. Said one friend, “He went from $300,000 a year to zip.” 

As The Star pointed out, in White’s world “zip” meant something different than it does to the average county voter. He was still receiving $9,000 a month or so in pension from the Major Leagues and had a few other gigs on the side. Plus, in his final years as a player, he was making more than $3 million a year in 2024 dollars. An apparent disbeliever in climate change, White saw no rainy days in his future.

The county exec job paid $145,000 a year. That apparently was not enough to keep White out of foreclosure. Incredibly, in May 2018, he faced still another auction on the county steps—his third!—not a good look for a county executive in any county not named “Jackson.” 

The Star reported all these shenanigans, but Democratic voters didn’t much care. They gave him 68 percent of the vote in the August 2018 Democratic primary and carried him to a 72 percent victory in the November general election. 

In November 2022, despite a rebuff from the Democrat-friendly Star and the public brouhaha over the bollixed assessment process, 55.2 percent of those who voted gave White their vote. 

Sorry voters, but the courts aren’t about to bail us out. In an admirable display of judicial restraint, the court has conceded that it “could not provide relief” to the plaintiffs in this case. It lacked the authority to mandate a schedule for pending appeals. 

This ruling leaves the taxing jurisdictions in Jackson County fretful about how much tax revenue they’ll get to spend, and taxpayers worried about how much revenue they’ll have to fork over.

I’d feel better knowing that “granny farming” and other vote harvesting techniques put White over the top. Fraud can be rooted out; democracy, Jackson County-style, is a tougher fix.

About the author

Jack Cashill is Ingram's Senior Editor and has been affiliated with the magazine for more than 30 years. He can be reached at jackcashill@yahoo.com. The views expressed in this column are the writer's own and do not necessarily reflect those of Ingram's Magazine.

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