Day 100 of the Jackson County Ethics Blackout

It’s now been over a hundred days since Jackson County has had functioning Ethical Home Rule. A hundred days for people like Henry Rizzo, James Tindall and Dan Tarwater to thank their lucky stars that no local authority exists to examine what they are doing with millions of dollars of COMBAT funds. A hundred days of a broken ethics system.

This is how they like it. They think they’re winning.

By exempting themselves from Ethical Home Rule, the Jackson County legislators have abandoned one of the key tenets of Jackson County government. As wise commentators here have pointed out, principles of statutory construction probably make their monarchic attempts to place their ethics beyond scrutiny legally ineffective – but, until we have a panel of brave citizens with the courage to fight the kind of fight that Rizzo and Burnett and the rest of the anti-Ethical legislators will fight to free themselves from scrutiny, it looks like we will have no functioning Ethical Home Rule in Jackson County.

Have they really won, though? In reality, they have lost more than they know.

First, almost all of them will face vigorous challenges in the 2010 elections. Rizzo will lose his election. Tarwater will lose his election. Tindall will lose his election. Burnett, Spence and Waits will face stronger challenges than they’ve ever seen, and two of them will lose their seats in races defined by ethical issues. Arbanas will attempt to handpick a successor, but his seat will go to an experienced politico running on a pro-Ethical Home Rule platform.

Second, they may well lose the COMBAT tax in the next reapproval election. By funneling all the money through a committee with a majority actually found guilty of financial crimes, they have undercut confidence in the administration of the COMBAT tax. It’s a terrible shame, because the COMBAT tax accomplishes much good in our community, but, even if we weren’t in the midst of an economic crisis, nobody can expect Jackson Countians to ignore the potential of massive corruption coupled with a refusal to accept Ethical Home Rule.

Third, they will lose the Ethical Home Rule battle anyhow, but not until they have destroyed their own credibility and electability in the process. Whether it’s through the work of a few brave legislators who could bring this issue up for a reconsideration, or through a brave Ethics Commission taking on the battle of standing up for the Jackson County Home Rule Charter, or through a revision of the Charter to make it even more explicit that our legislators do not get to prevent their own ethical oversight, or even through an initiative petition, Ethical Home Rule will be restored in Jackson County.

Finally, the scrutiny is not going to stop. Now that we’ve hit day 100, I will be scaling back my Jackson County Ethics Blackout coverage to weekly updates on the misdeeds of the Jackson County legislature. There’s plenty of material to do a daily piece, but there are other topics I want to cover in this blog, as well. By doing a weekly piece, bolstered by more time to do a few Sunshine Law requests and some insider interviewing, I’m hoping that less will be more.

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