"But I Know A Change Gonna Come" – Day 67 of the Jackson County Ethics Blackout

The title is, of course, a reference to Sam Cooke’s posthumously-released masterpiece. Unfortunately, from what the insiders have told me, a more appropriate selection would have been the Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again”. I recently heard from someone who knows a lot about these things that, after a new Ethics Commission is chosen, the legislature will try to make a few non-substantive changes to the code, but will seek to retain their own exemption from local oversight.

No change that continues the exemption from local oversight will be good enough.

Anything else is a sideshow, intended to distract attention from the empty center stage of Jackson County Legislative ethics. Until the Jackson County legislators accept the Charter-mandated oversight of the Jackson County Ethics Commission, the fight will continue.

It’s a foolish maneuver, destined to blow up in their faces. We’re not stupid, and we’re watching. When they try to make the cosmetic changes to the Code, all they will accomplish is to draw attention to their failure to make the real change that people expect. “Bring Ethics Home” is too easy a slogan to counter the legislative preference for hiding their ethical misdeeds behind closed doors in Jefferson City.

Here are five reasons that the Jackson County Legislature’s bogus attempt to ship its dirty laundry out of town just isn’t good enough:

1. The Jackson County Ethics Commission conducts its work in public, while the Missouri Ethics Commission closes its doors. Sunshine is the best governmental disinfectant, while cockroaches prefer the dark.

2. The Jackson County Ethics Commission gets appointed non-politically, while the Missouri Ethics Commission is all gubernatorial appointments divied up by parties and congressional districts.

3. Citizens and local press have the opportunity to watch our local commission, but not everyone can afford to take a field trip to Jefferson City every time one of our legislators pushes his or her luck too far.

4. The MEC has 6 people covering every elected official in the state, from the Governor’s election contributors down to the tiniest municipality’s copier contract. The Jackson County Ethics Commission has 5 people trying to keep up with just our local folks. I put my money on the hometeam.

5. It’s in the freaking Charter!! The Jackson County Charter puts the Jackson County Ethics Commission in charge of investigating ethics allegations involving our local crew of misfits. Why does the Jackson County legislature think it gets to write itself out of the Charter, which has been duly approved by the voters of Jackson County?

There are more reasons I could list, but these 5 ought to suffice for today.

Already, County Executive Mike Sanders and County Prosecutor Jim Kanatzar have undercut the legislature by agreeing to local ethics enforcement. At least some of our elected officials agree that we ought to be able to do our laundry at home, instead of sending it to Jefferson City.

If you’re talking to a Jackson County legislator, and he or she tries to assure you that they are going to make changes to the ethics ordinance in a few months, ask whether those changes will include local ethics enforcement over the Legislature. Really, the next time you see one of them in the grocery store or meeting or coffee shop, ask if they’re willing to go back to local ethics enforcement.

After they finish their answer, you’ll realize that I’m right. And you’ll see that this fight is going to continue long after their cosmetic changes have been made. Folks, it looks like the Jackson County Ethics Blackout won’t end until the majority loses their elections in 2010.

I know that the Jackson County Ethics Blackout is a tiny thing compared to the societal change that Sam Cooke was singing about, but I can’t help but be inspired by his final verse -


There been times that I thought I couldn’t last for long
But now I think I’m able to carry on
It’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will

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