Influence-Peddling and Failed Ethical Oversight – Day 123 of the Jackson County Ethics Blackout

Jackson County legislators have influence. With a few words, a handshake, or a backroom meeting, they can change the fortunes of a company, an individual, or a nonprofit organization. On a small scale, they do stuff like give a friend a thousand tax dollars to put a sticker on his car. It’s an expensive form of fondness, but they’re only spending our tax dollars, so who cares?

On a large scale – well, we don’t know how large a scale their corruption has achieved. We hear that close friends have been hired. We have money getting siphoned into expensive arts programs that employ friends and benefit few. All of this money gets divvied up in backrooms to “certain outside agencies” with only cryptic messages offered to the public. And please don’t forget that a majority of the committee that controls the COMBAT money has a criminal record, and one of the criminals on the committee is using county resources to falsely claim that he is the Chair of that committee.

Plainly stated, when you have shady dealings involving county money, legislators who are overstating their own influence and a complete absence of local ethics enforcement, the situation is ideal for influence peddling. This whole situation stinks to high heavens.

In a closely related development, press reports claim the FBI has been conducting an investigation into influence-peddling in Jefferson City. Apparently, the Missouri Ethics Commission, a “toothless” body that “takes too long to investigate complaints and announce its conclusion, and is too timid about fining lawmakers found to be in violation of ethics law”, has failed to keep a close eye on the legislators down the hall.

Believe it or not, this toothless, timid and ineffective oversight is exactly what the County wants for a watchdog
. The legislators, including Dan Tarwater, Henry Rizzo, Scott Burnett and Denny Waits, have loudly claimed that they don’t need Ethical Home Rule, because they are also supposedly “watched” by the MEC – a group that has allowed things to slip so badly that the FBI is stepping in.

Meanwhile, the Jackson County Legislature has exempted itself from the Jackson County Ethics Commission’s oversight, and, in the face of legislative hostility and probable litigation, the Jackson County Ethics Commission remains completely vacant.

It is hard to overstate the degree of danger Jackson County government faces. It really, truly has convicted criminals (Tindall and Rizzo) on its legislature, controlling millions of dollars. The legislature has exempted itself from local ethical oversight, in violation of the County Charter, and submits only to a toothless, ineffective and timid entity that is housed miles and miles away.

If influence-peddling is happening in Jefferson City, what do you think is going on in the halls of Jackson County Courthouse?

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