A Brief History of Jackson County Home Rule – Day 74 of the Jackson County Ethics Blackout

Few people in Jackson County realize what a gift our Home Rule form of government is, or how recently the gift was given. As recently as 1972, Jackson Countians existed under a crude form of government derived from 1815 territorial government. Legislative and executive power were concentrated in the hands of three judges, and the “Public Administrator”, like a Roman tax collector, collected fees that made the Jackson County PA the highest paid public official in the state of Missouri.

A brief history of the process of creating a new form of government for Jackson County may be found here, in the papers of Judge John R. Gibson. It’s impressive to think that so recently, such a bipartisan group of great men and women worked together to create a new form of government for Jackson County.

We do not need to speculate about the motives of this group of civic-minded leaders. Fortunately, they set forth their goals quite clearly in the introduction to the Jackson County Home Rule Charter. They wanted Jackson County government to be controlled by Jackson County, not Jefferson City.

The Constitutional Home Rule Charter presents basic home rule for Jackson County, for it is a constitution prepared by residents of Jackson County for the operation of Jackson County’s government, and providing within it a method for amendment by residents of the county. The Charter places in the hands of the people of Jackson County the power to effectively operate its government without going to the State Legislature for changes.

The preamble to the Jackson County Home Rule Charter makes the point in eloquent fashion:

We, the people of Jackson County, Missouri, in order to perfect the structure and enlarge the powers of our county government, to insure that it is just, orderly, efficient, and fully responsible to the people, and to secure the benefits of home rule and self-government for Jackson County to the fullest extent possible under the Constitution of the State of Missouri, do adopt this Charter as the fundamental law for the government of this county.

Today, the Jackson County Legislature is trying to stymie this impulse toward self-government. In a recent ordinance, the Jackson County Legislature has sought to rob Jackson Countians of the right to oversee the ethics of their elected officials (as set forth in the Home Rule Charter itself), and outsource that job to Jefferson City’s Missouri Ethics Commission.

Back in 1970, over 60,000 citizens of Jackson County sought “to secure the benefits of home rule and self-government for Jackson County to the fullest extent possible under the Constitution of the State of Missouri”. In 2009, 9 legislators decided that Home Rule is too much supervision. They don’t want open meetings of Jackson Countians to look at their ethical lapses and corruption. If they want to hire an in-law into a cushy county job, or maybe take a tiny bribe, they don’t want anyone in Jackson County to call them to justice.

Instead of Home Rule, the Jackson County legislature yearns for the days of closed-door deals in hidden Jefferson City offices. A 6 member panel of people from all over the state is less likely to notice or care about Jackson County’s problems than a group of 5 local citizens focused on keeping Jackson County clean. Indeed, the Jefferson City panel refuses to even enforce the local standards that the Legislature imposes on everyone else in the county.

The principles of self-governance means something to Jackson County. It’s in our Charter, and it’s in our political heritage. The Jackson County legislature’s attempt to subvert those principles will come back to haunt them in 2010.

Leave a Reply