During the past few months, the talk surrounding Jackson County has largely been focused on this year’s state-mandated property reassessment process. This attention is understandable, as the issues related to reassessment impact every member of the community. However, as elected officials, we must never let news headlines distract us from the many other critical needs of the county.
In March of this year, I was proud to join with the county’s Legislative Chair Theresa Galvin and Sheriff Darryl Forté as we announced the creation of a jail working group to develop a new jail project. At our very first meeting, we agreed to seek proposals for an “owner’s representative” who would be tasked with managing the planning, design and construction of a new detention facility.
The county received numerous proposals, which were evaluated by a selection committee made up of representatives from the legislature, courts and the county executive, sheriff and prosecuting attorney’s offices. On Aug. 12, a resolution awarding the contract to the selection committee’s unanimous recommendation for the services of that owner’s representative was assigned to a legislative committee. The resolution was then held by the legislature for six weeks — until it was ultimately withdrawn without ever receiving a public hearing.
When we first announced the working group I stated, “There is only one way that this project can move forward and that is if we are all working together.” I believe that statement is still true today, and I want the community to know that I remain committed to cooperating with my fellow working group members and others to ensure that we do not allow this project to stall. However, we quite simply cannot move forward until county legislators agree to act on this issue. I encourage the legislature to immediately schedule a hearing on the recommended owner’s representative proposal and subsequently give a vote of approval.
Despite this hurdle, we must continue moving forward on other important matters. Since the February flood in the downtown courthouse’s basement, we have made significant upgrades to operating components of the building. But more work remains, including the repair and full modernization of the courthouse elevators.
The courthouse is an essential asset to our community. We have a responsibility to be good caregivers and provide the necessary improvements to ensure this historic structure is accessible and safe for everyone. In addition, the county needs to move into the digital age. We must invest in technology systems that will help our staff be more efficient and provide the best customer service experience possible.
The most valuable asset we have in the county is our staff members, and we need to continue to invest in them by paying fair and competitive wages. The county suffers from a large turnover rate throughout all its departments, as many people who work here find higher-paying jobs elsewhere after we have trained them. To ensure this does not continue, a compensation study is currently underway to show where our deficiencies exist, and to provide us a plan to correct them.
While this is a large investment, I believe it’s the right thing to do for the people employed by Jackson County. We must show them their worth and provide an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work. In doing so, we hope to retain talented professionals who can continue to provide their knowledge and services to those who do business with the county.
We have started many important projects that will benefit all of Jackson County. We wouldn’t be here without the legislature’s support, but we must continue to work together. I want to continue moving the county forward. I want to continue improving our infrastructure. I want to continue investing in our associates.
The time is now. I am committed to rolling up my sleeves and working with any legislator who is ready get things done and move Jackson County forward.
Frank White Jr. is Jackson County Executive.