Is It Time to Give Up on Jackson County Ethics Legislation?

It’s been a little more than a month since the Jackson County Legislature violated the Jackson County Charter and passed ethics legislation that purports to exclude the Legislature from the jurisdiction of the Ethics Commission. It’s been weeks since the Ethics Commission responded to that “untouchable” approach by resigning, and sometime soon a committee (not the Legislature) will appoint a new committee (if they can find people willing to play along with an illegal sham of an Ethics Commission). It’s a New Year. We have a new Chair of the Legislature. Is it time to let bygones be bygones, and move forward?

Not just no, hell no!

This is a battle that is going to drag on, even if the bodies won’t hit the floor until 2010. The traditional media have started to pay attention to it. Rumor has it that at least a couple legislators are feeling like they were lied to when they were assured that it was legal, and that the Missouri Ethics Commission had the authority to enforce it. They don’t want to take the risk of drawing a strong challenge in their next election, having already tainted themselves with a permissive attitude toward unethical behavior.

Here’s the end game on this flap. I intend to focus on the Jackson County Legislature, its ethical shortcomings, and how to challenge each of the “Untouchables” until they reverse themselves on violating the Charter. I’ve talked to a couple well-connected people who share my disgust for what the Legislature has done, and they have promised to make a few calls to people who might be interested in running for the Legislature on a pro-Ethics platform. The next round of elections for the Jackson County Legislature is promising to be a battle between the Pro-Ethics candidates and the Untouchable Incumbents.

I won’t predict that each and every incumbent will lose in the next race. Based on what I’ve seen and heard, though, I will issue my prediction today that, unless the Jackson County Legislature submits to local ethical oversight, at least 4 and perhaps 5 will, in fact, be driven from office. There are some bright people out there inspired to get involved in politics, and the Jackson County Legislature provides the next golden opportunity to run for office on an anti-incumbent, pro-ethics platform.

Some entrenched incumbents are going to lose their seats, and almost every one of them will face a serious and very expensive challenge, unless they reverse themselves on the Ethics Legislation, and do it soon.

Here are my predictions on this matter. The furor about this will not fade away. Scott Burnett’s term as Chair of the Jackson County Legislature will be dogged by questions raised by the refusal to submit to local oversight, and the violation of the Charter. Several new members of the Ethics Commission will resign after questions are raised about whether it is ethical to serve on an Ethics Commission that is being barred from following the Charter that creates it. Other blogs and other media will join in the fun. Sometime over the next few months, someone will file an ethics complaint against one of the legislators, and the Ethics Commission will refuse to hear it, and will forward it to the Missouri Ethics Commission, which will also refuse to hear it. Regardless of the merits of the complaint, citizens will be outraged by the Untouchable legislators. A few of the legislators will develop a conscience and file legislation that will reestablish the oversight called for in the Charter. Rizzo, Burnett, Tarwater and a couple other “old school” will persist in arguing that they are above local oversight, and new candidates will start making their plans known. It will be a bloodbath.

And we WILL get a Jackson County legislature that respects ethics.

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