Politicians and area elites spent Tuesday gauging the fallout from Mike Sanders’ surprise decision to resign as Jackson County executive at the end of the year.
The short-term impact seemed clear: 3rd District Jackson County Legislator Dennis Waits will assume Sanders’ job on New Year’s Day and hold it for most of the rest of January.
After that, the picture gets cloudier. The county’s voters will pick a long-term replacement for Sanders next November, and several names were quickly floated as possible candidates.
First District at-Large Legislator Frank White was at the top of most lists. In an interview with The Star, he confirmed his interest in the post.
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“I think I’ve learned a lot in the year that I’ve been on the Legislature,” he said. “I’ve learned where I think we can improve. And I think I would be a good face for the county.”
The former Royals player would be the strong favorite if he decides to seek the job. In 2014, his first try for countywide public office, White received more votes than Sanders.
But he would probably face some opposition. Legislator Dan Tarwater has publicly expressed interest in the executive’s job, and several other county legislators are thought to be exploring their options.
Other names also were mentioned Tuesday, including former members of the Kansas City Council. Current and former state lawmakers were said to be considering the race. Other candidates from the legal and business communities might emerge, outside observers said.
Potential candidates will spend the next two weeks reviewing their options. Waits is expected to take office Jan. 1, and the Legislature will begin exploring its options after that.
Waits did not return calls seeking comment.
The post is drawing intense interest in part because it’s a good-paying job, almost $121,000 this year. There are no term limits for the county executive either, making it attractive for candidates with long-term ambitions.
And it has some clout.
“The county executive really has more raw power than the mayor,” said attorney Mike White, who once held the county job.
The county executive oversees an operating budget of more than $200 million a year. Responsibilities include operation of the county jail, the courts, law enforcement, parks, road construction, and property tax assessment and collection. Jackson County also oversees the Truman Sports Complex.
The county executive is not a voting member of the Legislature — unlike Kansas City’s mayor, who has a vote on the City Council. That independence has led to friction between the executive and the Legislature at times, but it also affords him or her leeway to pursue projects outside of normal legislative business.
Sanders pursued rail transit. Other executives have worked on stadium funding, emergency communications and the appraisal process.
Sanders dodged major controversies and scandals during his nine years in the job, although word of federal investigations into county contracts and the jail this year prompted jitters in the executive’s office.
Sanders insisted Monday that those problems played no role in his decision to quit. No credible evidence surfaced Tuesday of any reason for the departure other than Sanders’ stated desire to spend more time with his family.
“He has an extremely deep sense of family,” said longtime political operative Steve Glorioso. “The really good ones are that way. They have another life to live, and it’s not about ego or getting pushed out of the job.”
In a statement Tuesday, Mayor Sly James of Kansas City said Sanders made a tough decision.
“I consider Mike a friend,” James said. “I understand and admire the courage that it took to make that decision.”
Other Democrats gave Sanders high marks for resigning in time to allow the public to choose someone to fill out his term in 2017 and 2018. The primary is next August, with a general election in November.