Archive for the ‘2010 Elections’ Category

Good News and a Good Example on Jackson County Ethics – Day 65 of the Jackson County Ethics Blackout

Tuesday, February 10th, 2009

Go look at the Jackson County Ethics Selection Committee’s website’s “Process” page. Notice what’s missing?

No longer is the Selection Committee promising to keep applications confidential.

I had a very pleasant conversation with someone deeply involved in the selection process yesterday, and he had a forthright explanation for the bogus promise of confidentiality – they hadn’t really thought about it. As soon as they saw my objection, coupled with local attorney and sunshine law expert Jean Maneke’s excellent legal analysis, they realized their mistake and fixed it.

What a remarkable example of good leadership!

Too bad the Jackson County Legislature is bereft of such leadership. I recall, back in the early days of the Jackson County Ethics Blackout, before Christmas, having a conversation with one of the legislators and discussing the crisis with him. I know and trust the guy, and it turned out that he was honestly confused. He genuinely thought that the Missouri Ethics Commission would enforce whatever the Jackson County legislature passed, and he thought that having both entities enforcing the same code was “double jeopardy”.

He was completely wrong on both counts, but I am 100% willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and believe that those were simple, good faith mistakes. I don’t expect perfection from my politicians, and I don’t blame him for being wrong at first.

But now the Missouri Ethics Commission has stated quite clearly that they will not be enforcing the Jackson County Code, and the “Double Jeopardy” argument has been demolished. There’s a big difference between being mistaken and being pigheadedly mistaken, and the Jackson County legislature has crossed over to the latter.

I’ve talked to a lot of insiders who promise me that “this problem will be fixed” after we get a new Ethics Commission appointed. I admire their optimism, but I think the legislators are making a terrible mistake in waiting. I’m supposed to meet a candidate for Henry Rizzo’s seat soon, and one of Dan Tarwater’s more well-known constituents has spoken with me about an urge to run. Once people get in the race, they aren’t going to back out, and the incumbents are going to answer the voters’ questions about why they allowed themselves to be wrong about ethics for 6 months, or whatever amount of time passes in the Jackson County Ethics Blackout.

Why can’t the Jackson County Legislature simply admit it made a mistake and fix it? That’s what the Selection Committee did. That’s what grown-ups do.

Government in the Dark – Day 64 of the Jackson County Ethics Blackout

Monday, February 9th, 2009

Knowledge is power, and it appears that Jackson County Government doesn’t want to spread the power very widely. Unlike the City of Kansas City and the State of Missouri, Jackson County does not maintain a searchable database of its laws. Instead, Jackson County tells you to contact the County Clerk if you want to know what the law is, or download the chapters you want in pdf form.

And, in case you’re looking for the famous Jackson County Ethics Code, which the Legislature imposed on everyone else but still refuses to bring itself under, don’t bother looking on the Code page. Instead, you need to go back through the journals of the legislative meetings and track it down that way.

Personally, I think that’s a shame, and that the citizens of Jackson County ought to have easier access to the law that the Jackson County Legislature fears. So, here is a pdf version of the law. And, if you want to see how the legislature’s refusal to allow the Jackson County Ethics Commission violates the Charter, here’s a pdf of the Jackson County Charter. Look at pages 25 and 26 for the provisions that the Jackson County Legislator is violating.

Why is it that a mere blogger makes these laws more available to the public than the Jackson County Government?

Who’s benefiting from the secrecy? In 2010, we can have a solid slate of candidates who accept the Charter and support ethics to run against each incumbent on the Jackson County legislature.

Is "Sometime Soon" Good Enough? – Day 60 of the Jackson County Ethics Crisis

Thursday, February 5th, 2009

Rumors are swirling in the Jackson County Courthouse that the majority of the Legislators know they’re in deep trouble with their exclusion from the Ethics Code, and that they will fix the problem in a few months after a new Ethics Commission is appointed. Then, they believe, everything will be fine and dandy, and they won’t get clobbered with the ethics issue on the campaign trail. I’ve heard that from 4 sources with good connections to the legislators.

If I can get a handshake on that from someone in a position to make it happen, should I drop this “Day XX of the Jackson County Ethics Crisis” series?

After a good deal of reflection, the answer is not just “No”, but “Hell No”. I’m going to keep digging and posting until the Legislators accept enforcement of the Ethics Code, or they are driven from office. I intend to help recruit candidates and expose the misdeeds of incumbents until this thing is resolved.

Here are my reasons for refusing such a handshake deal:

1. I don’t trust the legislature enough to rely on a handshake. There are 3 people I truly admire out of the group of 9, and that’s not a majority. When it comes to dirty political dealing, I know I’m in way over my head, so I don’t think it’s safe to stop the heat until the problem is solved. Even if one of the legislators I admire promises to fix this problem, I won’t believe that Henry Rizzo will allow it to happen until I see it with my own eyes.

2. Good people are already getting misled. Right now, as we speak, good, ethical people are submitting applications to the Jackson County Ethics Selection Committee under the impression that they won’t be dragged into the public eye unless they are finalists. The Selection Committee’s website promises “Every effort will be made to maintain the confidentiality of applications, but the applications of those selected as finalists may become public. Finalists will be notified prior to their information being made public.” However, under the Sunshine Law, those applications are public, and anybody can go look at them. Promising to make “every effort” to keep something secret when you know you are legally barred from making any effort to do so is simply dishonest, and far beneath the standard of ethics we should expect from anyone connected in any way to the Ethics Commission.

3. I don’t want to foster the backroom atmosphere of Jackson County Government. Simply stated, if I reach a secret agreement to accomplish what I want, I would be part of the problem, not part of the solution.

4. There’s so much to write about! Every day I post something about the Jackson County Legislature, I get more information sent to me. There are a lot of people in the Jackson County Courthouse with information they want to share, and they know I can be trusted to keep them confidential. (If you’re one of them, email me at dan(at symbol)gonemild.com.)

5. We need some turnover on the legislature, and this effort is going to help. The ethics crisis WILL be a millstone around the neck of each and every incumbent legislator in 2010. If the Ethics Crisis is still going on, it will be the dominant theme of the race. Even if they vote in mid-2009 to reverse themselves, I’ve already talked to at least one consultant who assures me that we can “rebrand” this “Jackson County Ethics Crisis” into the “Jackson County Ethics Blackout” and force the legislators to explain why they supported a 6 month blackout on their own ethical oversight. There’s no good way out of this issue for them. There are three legislators I would truly hate to see lose their next race, but I’m confident that at least two of those three will survive the election.

Jackson County 2nd At-Large District – Day 53 of the Jackson County Ethics Crisis

Thursday, January 29th, 2009

I’m an optimistic person, and I believe that the Jackson County legislature will reverse itself on its misguided attempt to exempt itself from the Jackson County Ethics Code. I hope we won’t need to attempt an initiative campaign, or recruit candidates to run against the incumbents.

All that said, now is the time for people to start thinking about running in 2010, and I want to encourage that thought by posting profiles of various districts. Today, I’ll talk about the district that ought to be most “in play” of all the districts – Henry Rizzo’s 2nd at-large district. I’m choosing that one because, even though I live in his district, Henry Rizzo failed to respond to my polite email seeking information about his vote on the ethics ordinance. Non-responsive politicians are a pet peeve of mine.

Here’s a map of the district – it covers a huge swath of Kansas City’s most politically active and wealthiest section. It includes almost all of the County inside the 435 loop south of the river, including the Ward Parkway corridor. There are lots of people in that geographic zone with serious political insight, good connections, and experience running in elections. Certainly someone out there who ran for Mayor, who has termed out of another office, who ran for State Rep, or who has always wanted to get involved with elected public service, would be willing to step up and put his or her name into contention to run against Henry Rizzo, especially in light of his insistence that the Jackson County legislators should not be overseen by the Jackson County Ethics Commission.

Rizzo is vulnerable for a whole bunch of reasons beyond his rejection of ethics. He was behind the recent fireworks legislation, which is already attracting some scrutiny regarding who is really profiting. He’s also pleaded guilty to a charge of providing a false statement to a financial institution, a federal offense. I could list more, but the clear message is that Henry Rizzo would face a difficult time running against a fresh face with a concern for ethics.

Take a second and look at this map. Think about some of the politically-involved people you know in that area. Next time you see them, ask them whether they might be interested in running for office . . .

Burning Houses, Severed Fingers, Blinded Children – Jackson County Wants More of These – Day 51 of the Jackson County Ethics Crisis

Tuesday, January 27th, 2009

Our Jackson County legislature has legalized the sale of fireworks in Jackson County. They claim that the reason they are doing so is to help nonprofits.

No, seriously, they are claiming that.

I attend a lot of nonprofit meetings, I read a lot of nonprofit publications, and I know a lot of nonprofit executives. Never once have I heard anybody propose that fireworks sales are the solution for the funding crisis faced by nonprofits. Not once.

And, really, Mr. Rizzo and Mr. Tarwater, if you want to help nonprofits increase revenues, why choose a seasonal item that causes fires, traumatic amputations and blindness? Nonprofits have funding needs all year, not just in July. Why not let nonprofits sell drugs, or run brothels? There’s a lot more money in those vices than you can get from the chump change people fork over for bottle rockets.

Perhaps I am mistaken. Perhaps Henry Rizzo and Dan Tarwater have been talking to the National Society for Blind Homeless Kids Missing Fingers.

Or, perhaps they have lined up some donations from people with ties to the wholesale fireworks industry.

It has now been 51 days since we have had a fully staffed Jackson County Ethics Commission with the power to investigate our Jackson County legislators. As long as the legislature exempts itself from local enforcement of the Jackson County Ethics Code, Jackson County voters should assume the absolute worst of legislators.

With characters like Rizzo and Tarwater helping out the fireworks industry, it’s hard to believe anything but the worst.

Day 50 of Jackson County Ethics Crisis – Will Citizens be Forced to Use Initiative Petitions to Get the Ethical Governance Promised in Our Charter?

Monday, January 26th, 2009

Jackson County Government has been in an ethics crisis for 50 days, and the crisis shows no sign of fading. Instead, it worsens.

Way back in the beginning of December, Sly James resigned from the Jackson County Ethics Commission. His resignation started a 30 day time frame for a new appointment by the ethics committee selection board. Unfortunately, that board failed to appoint a replacement in time, so, under the County Charter, Mike Sanders is now the only person with the authority to make that appointment. Similarly, the remaining ethics commissioners each resigned before Christmas, and the 30 day period for their replacement has passed, as well.

In the time when Jackson County has been without an Ethics Commission, the Jackson County Legislature has run amok. First, it passed an ordinance which illegally purports to rob the Commission of its role in overseeing Jackson County Ethics. As if to demonstrate its utter contempt for ethical standards, the County Legislature then selected as its Chair a member who has already been fined for a state-level ethics violation.

Why has Mike Sanders failed to appoint a new Ethics Commission? Probably because ethical citizens are hesitating to join a Commission which is directed by the Charter to do that which is barred by ordinance. It’s an untenable position, and I certainly understand why good people would not want to be a part of an atmosphere that is rapidly descending from unethical to actively anti-ethical.

Is there a solution to this ethical toxicity created by the Jackson County legislature? We have a completely empty Ethics Commission, and it appears that nobody will fill those seats. At this stage, even if Mike Sanders were able to find willing participants, what kind of credibility would they have? For all concerned, it might be best to leave the Commission vacant as a symbol of the Legislature’s disdain for ethical standards.

If the Jackson County Legislature persists in its rejection of local ethical oversight, citizens have two methods of fighting back for their Charter. As I’ve mentioned before, replacing the incumbents in 2010 may be relatively easy and bring a bunch of fresh faces to the legislative body.

The second method, and one that is becoming increasingly attractive, is an Initiative Petition. With under 7000 valid signatures on Petitions, we could force a vote in Jackson County about whether we want our Jackson County legislators to be subject to local ethical oversight and local ethical standards.

If we time this correctly, we can gather the signatures on spring weekends and get the issue on the ballot in August. It’s going to take a lot of work and a bit of money, but this is the sort of project that ought to catch fire. There are a lot of people who knocked on doors and organized successfully for the November elections, and new potential candidates for office should be eager to align themselves early with the pro-ethics side of Jackson County.

It’s day 50 in Jackson County’s ethics crisis. In the coming days and weeks, I’ll be posting more about this problem. Stay tuned.

How to Help Bring Ethics to Jackson County

Thursday, January 22nd, 2009

I’ve been on a bit of a roll lately, directing attention to the false arguments and nasty implications of the Jackson County legislature’s refusal to submit to local ethics oversight. The attention is having an impact – KKFI has done a show on the topic, the Star has condemned the bad behavior, and, for the first time ever, the Jackson County Courthouse has climbed into my Top 10 sources of visitors! Folks, that’s a lot of hits from one location, and I can’t help but wonder if they’re reading my coverage of their lack of ethics, or if they’re checking out my “99 Bottles of Beer on the Blog” series. Either way, welcome!

While that’s all been fun and good, a bunch of people have asked me in person and through email what they can do to help. People are sincerely angry that the Jackson County legislature is violating the County Charter and refusing to submit to local ethical oversight. By popular demand, here are a couple ways you can help in the effort to bring ethics to County government.

1. Write the legislators! This whole scandal stems from a belief that they could get away with this ugly subterfuge without anybody paying attention. They almost succeeded – if the members of the Jackson County Ethics Commission had not all resigned in response to the ethical shenanigans of the legislature, this whole issue might have escaped notice. Now, we need to let the legislators know we’re paying attention. Here are their email addresses:

Scott Burnett – sburnett@jacksongov.org
Theresa Garza Ruiz – tgarza@jacksongov.org
Henry Rizzo – hrizzo@jacksongov.org
Fred Arbanas – farbanas@jacksongov.org
James Tindall – jtindall@jacksongov.org
Dennis Waits – dwaits@jacksongov.org
Dan Tarwater – dtarwater@jacksongov.org
Greg Grounds – ggrounds@jacksongov.org
Bob Spence – bspence@jacksongov.org

If you would prefer to call their offices or use old fashioned mail, you can find their phone numbers and addresses by clicking on their names on this page. Please contact them and let them know that you want ethics in Jackson County.

2. Talk to them. If you see them out someplace, like in a store or at a neighborhood event, politely mention your concern to them. Most of them are quite nice people, and most are unlikely to take a swing at you if you are polite and sincere. Truly, they are (mostly) fine public servants who are doing this job for good reasons, so the tone to take is one of gratitude for the many good things they do, but concern about this uncharacteristically unethical move.

3. Educate yourself about the County. I’ve posted links to the Jackson County Charter, the Ethics Ordinance and the Missouri Ethics Commission site on this website already, and, if you want your own copies, email me and I’ll be happy to get them to you. The Jackson County Government does not get nearly the attention in the press that the City government gets, but it has a huge budget and impacts a broader geographical area.

4. Educate yourself about the Ethics issue. Unfortunately, if past behavior is a predictor of future performance, if you do contact one of our legislators about this issue, they will try to fool you with bad arguments, half-truths or outright lies. They may claim they are covered by the Code, or that the Missouri Ethics Commission has laws that apply to them. Ask them if they will be subject to ethics discipline if they show up to a meeting drunk, and that should stop them in their tracks.

5. Start talking to someone about running for the Jackson County Legislature. I mentioned above that the County doesn’t get much press scrutiny, and the flip side of that coin is that none of the Legislators is all that well-known or popular. On top of that, every single one of them signed onto a law that exempts them from local ethical oversight! How simple will it be to pound on that fact in an election? How many voters (and donors) will respond to a simple promise to support an amendment of our Ethics ordinance so that it will apply to the legislators? How will any of the incumbents get around the fact that they supported the exemption? If you know someone who ran for office, but didn’t make it, this is a grand opportunity for him or her to give it another try, with a built-in advantage. Call him or her and suggest this opportunity to run in 2010.

6. Write a letter to the editor. If you want to lift a line or an argument from this blog, have at it. The Star doesn’t have anyone assigned to cover the County fulltime, so, if this issue is going to make it into ink, the letters page is the most likely candidate.

7. Talk about the issue to everyone you know with an interest in politics. Right now, this issue is generating a fair amount of buzz in the political community, and a few things are rumored to be coming up soon to keep it there. That’s the kind of pressure that politicians respond to, so keep up the good work!