It has been a historical last couple years for the Unified Government of Wyandotte County/Kansas City, KS (UG) after residents elected their first Black mayor, the appointment of the second Black police chief, and now the appointment of the first Black city administrator, albeit an interim appointment.
Kansas City, KS, is now clearly under the leadership of a group of dynamic Black professionals. Meet this team of leaders working to make positive change in Wyandotte County.
Mayor Tyrone Garner
If you were to ask the mayor what the last thing he read was, chances are, he’d tell you it was the city charter, the city’s legal document – similar to the US Constitution.
“Being the mayor/CEO is important to me,” said newly elected Mayor Tyrone Garner. “I want to make sure that I’m doing what this community elected me to do and carry out those responsibilities in a way that this community can be proud of.”
Garner has been in office for a little over a month now and has been busy making progress following his seven-point plan:
• Visionary Leadership: Fostering unity, opportunity, and hope
• Engaged Leadership: Putting people over politics
• Fiscal Responsibility: Streamlined government and real tax relief
• Equitable Development: Investing in the disinvested
• Equitable Public Safety: Enhanced safety and authentic reforms
• Infrastructure Improvements: Upgrades for bridges, roads, sidewalks, and parks
• COVID-19 Recovery: Focus on resident health, education, poverty, small businesses, and jobs
Garner defeated incumbent David Alvey in the Nov. 2 general election. He was officially inaugurated Dec. 13.
Previously, Garner worked for the Kansas City, Kansas Police Department for more than 30 years and climbed the ranks to deputy chief in 2015. He retired from KCKPD in 2019.
The Mayor’s Typical Day
Each day as mayor looks different for Garner. He wakes up every day at 4:30 a.m. to begin his routine. He usually arrives at his office at City Hall at 8 a.m. to begin meetings and briefings with his staff. Commissioners, community members and business owners come to him with concerns, requests and visions for the city.
Some concerned community members come to him with concerns about potholes, the parks or taxes, which Garner has prioritized to lower during his term. Some parts of his day are full of Zoom meetings, speaking or attending community events or chatting with residents.
As a very family-oriented person, Garner ensures he makes time to spend with family, including his mother, son and two grandchildren.
“Right now, my biggest focus is going to work for Wyandotte County,” Garner said. “My hobby is trying to be a good mayor.”
Mayor Garner’s Goals for KCK to Look Forward To
• Achieve a $15 minimum wage for local government employees.
• Reopen Parkwood Pool, which closed during the 2021 season because of the pandemic and staffing shortages.
• Just as Kansas City, MO, Mayor Quinton Lucas achieved in 2020, Garner is hoping to de-penalize marijuana possession in Wyandotte County.
• Relieve burdensome fees for residents, including records fees, park fees and permit fees. “When you talk about a 20% poverty rate in Wyandotte County and you talk about this being one of the most economically challenged counties in the state of Kansas, we’ve got to find a better way to streamline government, lower the tax burden on our residents and our businesses, and then really promote responsible developments that can broaden our tax base,” Garner said.
Interesting Facts About The Mayor
• He’s a Pisces. “Which means I have a creative mind,” Garner said.
• He’s Very family-oriented. He has a son who’s 27 years old and two grandkids.
• He’s a Christian, goes to Church of God in Christ.
• Last great movie he saw: Spider-man: No Way Home
Look Who Else is in Charge:
Interim City Administrator Cheryl Harrison-Lee
Harrison-Lee was appointed to her position on Jan. 7. The most recent member of the UG leadership team, she brings more than 35 years of professional experience as a nationally-recognized public and private sector executive. Harrison-Lee has previously served as chief executive officer of Gardner, KS, and was appointed by Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly to serve as the executive director for the Office of Recovery, which was responsible for the statewide distribution of federal coronavirus relief funds allocated to Kansas through the American Rescue Plan Act.
Harrison-Lee has a reputation for a more accountable approach to public management that is committed to sharing data to increase transparency and continually improve communities.
Chief of Staff Mildred Edwards
Edwards is an experienced leader, researcher, public speaker, trainer and community advocate. She brings a rich background implementing strategic plans as a manager at WestStar Energy and as executive director of the Kansas African American Affairs Commission. Mildred has served as a member of several highprofile boards including the Kansas Board of Regents and the US Commission on Civil Rights.
Edwards is an adjunct professor with the University of Kansas School of Public Management and an associate with the Kansas Leadership Center and holds a PhD in community psychology and a master’s of public health from Wichita State University.
KCKPD Police Chief Karl Oakman
Oakman began his role as UG police chief in June 2021. Oakman brings nearly three decades of experience with the Kansas City, MO, Police Department to the position. As a deputy chief, he successfully developed initiatives focused on inclusion, community policing, youth engagement, recruitment and officer wellness.
Oakman took over the department, which has a long-history of misconduct, after the forced resignation of former Chief Terry Ziegler.
Assistant County Administrator Bridgette Cobbins
Cobbins was appointed to this position on a permanent basis last August, after being appointed to the position on an interim basis when longtime Assistant Administrator Gordon Criswell retired. Cobbins is the only African American of the city’s four assistant administrators. She is a lifelong Wyandotte County resident, previously served as the UG’s city clerk and has served the community as a public employee for nearly 30 years.
District Attorney Mark Dupree
Dupree was sworn into office on Jan. 9, 2017, and reelected to a second four-year term this past November. The county’s first Black district attorney, Dupree has been focusing on equitably charging and prosecuting crime, being proactive, attacking violent crimes and crimes that affect the standard of living in the community. In his first term, he established a conviction integrity unit and established a hotline for citizens to call and report police misconduct.
KC Board of Public Utilities (BPU) General Manager Bill Johnson
Johnson heads the Unified Government’s utility company, which provides water to 53,000 customers and electricity to 65,000 customers in Wyandotte and Johnson Counties. The BPU is a not-for-profit municipal utility, and is an administrative arm of the Unified Government, but it is self-governed, with an elected six-member board of directors. Johnson ran on a platform to address the high rates and fees on BPU bills, which are often a source of complaints by BPU customers.
Other leaders at the UG:
• Director of Area Agency on Aging Ruth E. Jones
• Human Relations Director – Phyllis Wallace
• Director of Information Technology – Kevin Bibbs
• Director of Procurement & Contract Compliance – Sharon Reed
• Division Manager Parking Control Department – Rhonda Green
• Public Information Officer – Krystal McFeders
• Development Advisor and Business Liaison – LaVert Murray
Learn more about the Wyandotte Unified Government @ wycokck.org