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Jackson County Legislature election: Get to know the 2022 at-large candidates

Left column: Jackson County Legislature 1st At-Large District candidates Jalen Anderson (top) and Bill E. Kidd (bottom). Middle column: 2nd At-Large District candidates John J. Murphy (top) and Donna Peyton (bottom). Right column: 3rd At-Large District candidates Lance Dillenschneider (top) and Megan Marshall (bottom).
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Kansas City Beacon
Left column: Jackson County Legislature 1st At-Large District candidates Jalen Anderson (top) and Bill E. Kidd (bottom). Middle column: 2nd At-Large District candidates John J. Murphy (top) and Donna Peyton (bottom). Right column: 3rd At-Large District candidates Lance Dillenschneider (top) and Megan Marshall (bottom).

The primary elections in Jackson County have already unseated an incumbent, and residents will see at least six fresh legislators after the general election. Find out more about the candidates for the three at-large districts.

After a primary election that already unseated an incumbent, Jackson County residents will see at least six new faces in the nine seats of their County Legislature. In the at-large races, six candidates are competing for three positions.

Although each at-large legislator is elected by voters in the entire county, candidates must live in their respective districts.

The 1st At-Large District includes Independence, Blue Springs and the northeastern corner of the county. The 2nd At-Large District includes most of Kansas City and Raytown north of 77th Street. The 3rd At-Large District includes Kansas City south of 77th Street, Grandview, Lee’s Summit and incorporated areas in the south of the county.

Republican primary winner Bill E. Kidd will face off against Democratic incumbent Jalen Anderson in the 1st At-Large District. Kidd is a current state representative from Buckner. Anderson has served in the Jackson County Legislature since 2019 and has worked at the Rockefeller Foundation and Ford Foundation.

In the 2nd At-Large District, Republican John J. Murphy is running against Democrat Donna Peyton. Peyton is a member of the Raytown School Board. Murphy is an executive who has worked in the energy, logistics and banking industries. Both candidates won competitive primaries.

Megan Marshall defeated incumbent Tony Miller in the 3rd At-Large District’s Democratic primary and will now face off against Republican Lance Dillenschneider. Dillenschneider has worked in the real estate industry for 30 years and served on the Jackson County Board of Equalization. Marshall is a member of the Lee’s Summit Board of Education and vice president of Lee’s Summit Cares, a mental and physical wellness organization for families.

The Beacon sent all six 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.

What new perspectives will you bring to the legislature?

Anderson: I will continue to bring my perspective that I have brought to the legislature since day one back in 2019. I’ve worked at foundations and in government positions that focused on oversight and finding out the truth.

Kidd: I bring the perspective of age and experience, with a background in financial planning and investments.

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.

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-plus. 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.

Dillenschneider: I spent six years on the Jackson County Board of Equalization, handling the appeals of citizens that had unjust assessments levied on their properties. I witnessed firsthand the frustration and despair that people faced when they presented their case. My real estate experience allowed me to help many of them, but our system should not be so complicated.

I also have a personal connection to the issue of fentanyl ravaging our streets, as it has directly impacted my family. I will do everything in my power to combat the issue so that no family has to experience the loss of a loved one like we have.

Marshall: The county government is responsible for a number of important functions. Foremost collecting taxes and ensuring a fiscally sound budget so county departments are adequately funded. When residents across our county are left in the dark, it breeds distrust. When representatives are not committed to listening to taxpayer concerns, their decisions lack proper responsiveness and instead worsen the lives of residents. I will continue listening to the concerns of taxpayers and work diligently to deliver meaningful change.

What will be the most important factors for you when making yearly budget decisions?

Anderson: My focus for the last four years has been that the budget be reflective of our entire Jackson County community as a whole. We are a diverse county, and our budget and investments in infrastructure, projects and funding must reflect that. We must have minority/women/veteran inclusion in the budget.

Kidd: I always remember that there is no such a thing as “government money.” Times are tough, inflation is running rampant and we can’t keep going back to the taxpayer asking for more money. Just like a struggling family, we need to make a plan and stick to it and diligently watch where each dollar is spent. Government can’t keep raising taxes.

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?”

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.

Dillenschneider: The most important factors for budget decisions would be collaborative feedback, transparency and fiscal responsibility. As a real estate construction and land developer, I have had years of experience working with significant budgets, and the biggest frustrations I’ve seen are when needs are not thoroughly evaluated and communicated, when there is hidden information and when money is not spent wisely. Jackson County legislators should be expected to be good stewards of our taxpayers’ money.

Marshall: I believe the budget is reflective of what the government values. What government values should reflect what taxpayers value, because policymakers’ first obligation should always be to those they represent — not their own interests. The thousands of people I have had the opportunity to speak to … want property tax relief, reduced crime, greater access to mental health and drug recovery services, and most importantly, confidence that their county government is working for them.

How will you make yourself available to your constituents throughout your term?

Anderson: My constituents can reach out to me in several ways, by phone, mail or email. The COVID-19 pandemic didn’t allow for community meetings, but I will start to have monthly meetings throughout the county to hear directly from my constituents.

Kidd: Just like my current term as state representative, I will be involved in community activities and issues. My office is always instructed to return phone calls promptly and courteously.

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.

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.

Dillenschneider: I am active in the business community, and I am very accessible to the public. I would continue to keep my social media platform active and available for any member of our community to contact me.

I would also continue to be available for community groups and business forums so that we can increase the amount of communication about what is going on in our county. All legislators should be expected to be easy to contact so that they can truly hear the concerns of the community they serve.

Marshall: I’m committed to constituent engagement across Jackson County. Engagement and accessibility has not been a hallmark of county government and that must change. As part of my commitment to community engagement, I will organize public opportunities (town halls, panels, etc.) for face-to-face interaction between myself and residents.

There is a lot of diversity across our county. Not just cultural, racial and age diversity, but diversity of needs. At-large representatives have a greater responsibility to know the concerns facing residents all over our county and to bring that knowledge back to the legislature so that decisions are reflective of community needs.

If elected, what are two or three specific things you plan to recommend to improve the county government?

Anderson: I will, along with my colleagues, create a payment program like our neighboring counties to set a 12-month payment program for residents to pay towards their property taxes. This one-time payment at the end of the year is too much of a burden on our community.

I will work with the administration to get all of our roads, bridges and other infrastructure needs taken care of in a timely manner. Also the county must work together with our local municipalities to get our roads and bridges up to date.

Kidd: I would work to increase the online availability of information and automation. Open meetings, town halls and transparency in government, because people have a right to be seen, heard and hold elected officials accountable.

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.

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.

Dillenschneider: Our county has had a history of hiring expensive consultants from across the country. I want to make sure that if we have a need, we look to local businesses first. We also need to make sure that we are negotiating contract amounts for the best interest of the county.

Also, fentanyl has become the leading cause of death for 18-to-45-year-olds. I take this issue personally, as we lost our son to an overdose. We need to partner with the DEA, COMBAT, mental health providers, law enforcement and our prosecuting attorneys to get care for anyone addicted while also providing strong and swift punishment to dealers.

Marshall: It’s important that county legislative meetings be held at a time more conducive for public participation. Having meetings at 10 a.m. on Monday mornings ensures most working people are excluded. I’d like to see legislative meetings held in the evenings at least twice per month, while expanding the meeting location outside of just Kansas City and Independence.

How has the legislature been successful in the past, and how do you think it can improve?

Anderson: The legislature over the past four years has had longer sessions than they ever have had before. I look forward to having more conversations over the next four years. I believe what we must do is stop the Monday morning meetings and move the meeting to the late afternoon so that constituents can attend. Also we must have more than one legislative meeting during the week. With the new legislature coming in, I believe we should look to have three meetings a week.

Kidd: I believe it’s been a long time since the people of Jackson County have been proud of their county government. I would improve how the people’s money is spent. If you can’t fix the simple things like potholes, how are you going to fix the complicated issues?

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.

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.

Dillenschneider: The legislature has done a great job of working together to come to a consensus on issues whenever feasible. They are intentional about working together to find resolutions with as little conflict as possible.

There have been resolutions presented that failed to meet the needs of our community and made the sponsoring legislators seem out of touch with the small businesses and families that have been hurting since the start of the pandemic. We need to make sure that legislators not only listen to each other, but listen to all members of the community that they serve.

Marshall: The most significant successes by county government have always been achieved by policymakers using community needs to inform policy proposals. For example, COMBAT remains one of the greatest achievements in the history of Jackson County government. Millions of residents have benefited from COMBAT-funded programs since its inception. These programs to address violent crime, substance abuse and domestic violence have resulted in healthier communities. In the future, we can improve our government by incorporating the best efforts from the past into a forward-looking approach that centers community needs.

This story was originally published on the Kansas City Beacon, a fellow member of the KC Media Collective.

Josh Merchant is The Kansas City Beacon's local government reporter.
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