Jackson County exec candidates need to level with Kansas City on Truman Sports Complex

·3 min read

Jackson County residents face an extraordinarily important choice in November, one with major implications for taxpayers, the county and the region.

Incumbent Jackson County Executive Frank White, a Democrat, will face Theresa Galvin, a Republican, for the county’s top job. It’s a four-year term.

The winner will be busy. One of his or her most important jobs: a final decision about downtown baseball, the Chiefs in Missouri and the fate of the Truman Sports Complex.

The debate over the Royals and Chiefs must be settled in the next four years. The next Jackson County executive will play a major role in drafting new or amended leases with the teams; indeed, voters may be asked to contribute hundreds of millions of dollars for new or improved facilities.

Previous county executives — Bill Waris, Katheryn Shields — were the county’s primary negotiators with the two franchises. The next exec will play a similar role. The county executive, and to a lesser degree the county legislature, have far greater responsibility for downtown baseball than, say, Kansas City’s mayor.

So voters must demand, and the candidates must provide, a full understanding of their goals for the stadiums before the November election.

In an interview, Galvin said she generally supports keeping the stadiums intact for both teams. But she also said she lacks enough information to make a firm commitment.

“I have only had one conversation (with the Royals), and that was about a year and half ago,” she said. “I will tell you most of the people that I’ve spoken to want to keep the stadium right where it is, and keep the Chiefs and Royals together.”

White is recovering from COVID-19 and his office did not return an email seeking comment. In the past, he has issued general statements that reflect openness to a Royals move downtown.

He’s also committed to keeping the Chiefs in Missouri. “The county looks forward to working with all involved to ensure both teams remain in Jackson County for decades to come,” he said in a statement last March.

Today, vague statements from both candidates are probably acceptable. There is no indication the Royals want to go to voters this November, as was once suggested. The deadline for the November ballot is Aug. 30, just three weeks from now.

But we’ll need more specifics from both candidates before Election Day.

The teams’ current leases expire in early 2031. Those complicated documents must be renegotiated if the stadiums are renovated, or if the Royals are to move downtown. Voters will never approve additional taxes, nor should they, unless and until the teams agree to lease extensions well into the 2050s.

Those negotiations must take place soon, and undoubtedly within the next four years. There will also be talks with the state about potential funding, and local taxpayers will likely face a stadium funding decision in the coming county executive’s term.

The World Cup in 2026 further complicates the picture. Who pays for stadium improvements? At this date, no one is quite sure. The next county executive will have to help oversee that project.

Make no mistake: The next exec must fully understand these issues, and prepare to negotiate with the clubs, while protecting taxpayers. Voters have a right to know how White and Galvin plan to approach the talks, one way or another.

Transparency from the teams will also be helpful. Galvin, currently a member of the Jackson County Legislature, says she and her colleagues have often been kept in the dark about the stadiums.

Yes, other issues are important in the race. Mask mandates, property appraisals, the new jail, spending and taxes are also discussion items for the county executive candidates. Voters want that information, too.

But the next county executive will be at the center of talks that will shape Kansas City for decades. The teams and the Truman Sports Complex are on table, and voters need to know where the candidates stand.