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ICON Awards 2022: Michael T. White, Rouse Frets White Goss Gentile Rhodes

Michael T. WhiteEvery politician has nail-biting moments but Michael T. White’s first bid for public office as a Jackson County legislator was on another level of suspense altogether.

He amassed 14,321 votes. His opponent got 14,320.

“I hold the record for the closest election in the history of the state,” he said proudly.

The idea that one person really can make a difference didn’t just win him an election. It also drove a great deal of his career and he feels that others can benefit from getting involved in government.

“It is not necessarily that you have to run for office,” he said, “but get out there and get involved in a campaign and see how it really works from the inside out. It would strengthen our democracy if everybody had a little taste of how government works on a local level.”

White got that taste. The 81-year-old Brookfield native eventually went on to serve a term as Jackson County executive before returning to private practice. He did so at Polsinelli which, at the time, had a considerably smaller staff of lawyers.

“I was number eight,” White said. “Today, I think they have over 900.”

He left in 2000 with several others who were forming their own firm, the forerunner of Rouse Frets Goss White Gentile Rhodes.

Having initiated a landmark case validating the constitutionality of tax increment financing in Missouri while at Polsinelli, White served as the first general counsel for Kansas City’s TIF commission and successfully argued the issue before the state’s highest court.

“Mike is also principally responsible for another landmark Missouri Supreme Court case which was one of the first cases to interpret the tax lid ‘Hancock Amendment’ of the Missouri Constitution, which prohibits counties from raising taxes without an authorized vote of the people,” writes his nominator.

Named a 2019 Baron of the Boardroom by the KCMBA, White’s clients have included the Kansas City Star, Harley-Davidson and the International Speedway. He also serves as general counsel to the Jackson County Sports Complex Authority which houses the Royals and Chiefs.

“While making groundbreaking contributions to economic development and land use laws in the Kansas City region, Mike has remained a performing musician and has created four jazz albums…” writes his nominator who noted that he also once owned The Levee, a local music establishment.

Most of his career wasn’t spent in politics. But White still found the experience valuable and expressed disappointment that so many have a negative perception of public servants.

“Most people have a very jaded view,” he said. “If you look at polls, elected officials rank very low in people’s estimation but frankly most of the people that I dealt with in government were very honest and dedicated people.”

ICON Awards 2022