Archive for the ‘jackson county Ethics Crisis’ Category

Nixon Makes a Mistake – Garza-Ruiz Got it Right – Give Guadalupe its Money

Thursday, January 13th, 2011

In one of his first acts as County Counselor, former Judge Steve Nixon faced the task of interpreting the long-delayed Jackson County Ethics Code and applying it to the County Legislature. In a memorandum issued last week, Nixon misinterpreted the statute and reached the wrong conclusion – an unfortunate mistake by a newbie to the job.

Here’s the background. The Guadalupe Center is a wonderful social service provider on the West Side that has been helping Latinos since 1919. It’s long been a shining star of Kansas City nonprofits, and the County has long provided funds for some of its programs because they are well-managed and cost-effective.

Guadalupe Center recently hired Genaro Ruiz from Congressman Cleaver’s office to serve as one of three Associate Directors. Genaro Ruiz is married to Theresa Garza Ruiz, a county legislator who fought hard against an attempt to exempt the legislature from the provisions of the Ethics Code.

When contracts between the County and Guadalupe Center came up for renewal, Garza-Ruiz immediately recused herself and filed an affidavit pledging to “not participate in any discussion, debate, deliberation, or other decision-making process with regard to possible County funding of this agency . . .”. This language mirrors precisely the language found in Section 908 of the Ethics Code, which provides: “Except as otherwise provided by law, no public servant shall, in such capacity, participate in the discussion, debate or deliberation, or otherwise take part in the decision-making process on any agenda item before the County Legislature in which the public servant or a partner in interest has a conflict of interest.”

Garza-Ruiz got it right, but Nixon thinks that more is required. His opinion is that the situation is ruled by Section 910, which provides “The County is prohibited from entering into any contract with a business in which a public servant or a public servant’s partner in interest has a controlling interest involving services or property of a value in excess of $1,000.00″. It’s an understandable mistake.

But it is a mistake. The general prohibition on contracting with public servants stands as the general rule, while the section on how a legislator is supposed to handle herself when a conflict arises governs the specific situation faced by Garza-Ruiz. The relevant principle is generalia specialibus non derogant, meaning that the specific controls over the general. Generally, contracts with legislators’ partners are forbidden, but, specifically, not when the provisions of disclosure and recusal are followed. Indeed, if not for the general prohibition, the specific instructions on how to deal with it would be useless. (As would the provisions of Section 109, which even allow the conflicted legislator to remain in the room during a consent agenda vote after disclosing a conflict.)

Conflicts of interest are serious matters, and I respect Nixon’s efforts to provide strict guidance to the legislature. The timing of his opinion is unclear in the newspaper reports, and it is entirely possible that he issued his opinion before knowing of Garza-Ruiz’s recusal, in which case his advice would have been technically correct.

This tempest in a teapot must have brought some glee to those who opposed Garza-Ruiz’s crusading in favor of ending the Jackson County Ethics Blackout, and I’m not blind to the irony inherent in using the ethics code to harass Genaro and Theresa, two of Kansas City’s most upstanding politicos.

The insiders have had their fun and laughs about this, but it’s time to grow up and stop the horse-play, before somebody gets hurt. There are people served by the Guadalupe Center who could lose important services, and the West Side of Kansas City could suffer as a result.

Sheriff Evicts Insiders – The First Victory in the Cleansing of Jackson County Legislature

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010

First, big kudos to Sheriff Mike Sharp, who has taken a stand against the literal insiders who have used courthouse access to unfairly gain early access to getting their name first on the ballots. In prior years, incumbents would use their courthouse passes to get in and file for themselves and friends while the hopes for reform sat outside in the cold.

Finally, Mike Sharp has put an end to that odious and unfair practice. Using his role as chief of security for the courthouse, he decided to take names at the courthouse door starting at 5:00 yesterday.

I had written about the unfairness of the prior system before, when Theresa Garza Ruiz proposed a simple and fair fix to the insider game. Greg Grounds joined her in seeking to eliminate cronyism.

Heny Rizzo voted for special insider privileges.

Dan Tarwater voted for special insider privileges.

James Tindall voted for special insider privileges.

Scott Burnett voted for special insider privileges.

Dennis Waits voted for special insider privileges.

Fred Arbanas voted for special insider privileges.

Bob Spence voted for special insider privileges.

Not surprisingly, even under the new system, Henry Rizzo managed to find a way to use his position to engage in petty cheating. He loathes Theresa Garza Ruiz because she has consistently sought to bring openness and reform to the Jackson County legislature. With that in mind, he let Ruiz’s opponent cut in line to get his name on the ballot before her.

Can you believe that? Most people grow out of that kind of behavior in 1st grade, but Henry Rizzo and his friend apparently did not.

Let’s Talk Politics This Time

Friday, February 12th, 2010

Last year about this time, we discussed whether the City Council should make a $2,000,000 donation to the County, in the form of stadium subsidies. I opposed the decision, the Mayor opposed the decision, but the City Council voted 12-1 to give money away.

Since then, the Chiefs and Royals have had horrific seasons with terrible attendance, the City has not had sufficient money to clear streets, our murder rate remains high, a rapist roams Waldo, city employees have been laid off, remaining city workers have had their wages frozen, and we’ve installed Cathy Jolly’s odious red light cameras to generate revenues. All this, and nobody has had the cleverness to point out that the City Councilmembers who voted for the donation should be held accountable for their shocking priorities.

And now the issue is back again.

(As an aside, why don’t some of the crack reporters for the Star do an article about the FREE Royals and Chiefs tickets handed out to County and City politicians? Who’s sitting in those seats? Are they even being used? I’d be willing to bet there’s a story there – either the politicians are handing them out to donors, or they’re wasting the tickets. And, as another aside, why doesn’t the Star do a story on why, exactly, we even have a Jackson County Sports Authority? How much bureaucracy do we need to pay for simply to keep track of two tenants??)

This year, I’m not even going to bother arguing about the wisdom of stealing $2,000,000 from the city’s coffers. My opinion remains clear, but let’s look at a much smaller issue.

How do the politics of this debate work this year? Will Funkhouser’s suggestion that we end the exemption do him political harm or political good? Will it harm him by showing him (again) as out of step with the Council and willing to risk our sports franchises? Or will it help him by showing him (again) as out of step with the Council and being the only one who prefers to spend $2,000,000 on things like police protection, snow removal, and city workers rather than weak athletes?

I’m curious about what people think. A good friend emailed me when the news came out and said that this closes off Funkhouser’s path to reelection – “Voters won’t tolerate our Mayor screwing Chiefs and Royals, regardless of the budget shortfalls.” He may be right, or he may be wrong, and the decision could be a step on the path toward reelection. (I know a lot of you disagree with a lot of Funkhouser’s decisions, and believe that reelection is utterly impossible. That’s fine – but, if you can, try to analyze the politics of this one decision. I’d love to know what you think.)

(Update: A commenter claimed that city officials get tickets, but county officials don’t. The commenter is mistaken. Under the lease agreements, County officials get a suite and prime parking. See page 16, section 7.4. It’s offensive to think that the City Council would steal money from city priorities so that county officials can watch games from a suite.)

Thoughts from Last Night’s Ethics Forum

Friday, January 29th, 2010

The Committee for County Progress hosted an Ethics Forum last night. Micheal Mahoney served as moderator, with panelists Rep. Paul Levota, Rep. Jason Kander, and David Levinthal, the Communications Director for the Center for Responsive Politics in DC. The panel was great, the discussion was informative, and the crowd was a who’s who of up-and-coming politicos. I don’t have time to do one of my typically verbose descriptions of the event, but here are a few observations:

Paul Levota is funny. At one point, Mahoney was pressing Levota on the unlikelihood that the Missouri Senate will accept contribution limits. Mahoney pointed out that little will be accomplished by sticking to the issue accept to use it as a campaign weapon. “That’s the plan,” Levota deadpanned.

Transparency is crucial. One of the big problems in Missouri is that donors hide behind committees. When checks get funneled from “Missourians for Good Things” to “Missourians for Awesome Things” and then to “Missourians for Nice Things” and then finally to the candidate, it’s awfully hard to track the dollars back to the special interest pulling the strings.

Jason Kander is funny, too.
Commenting on a fellow representative’s $100,000 donor, Kander pointed out that the donor probably gets his calls returned faster than the representative’s children. (Maybe that isn’t funny.)

The Center for Responsive Politics is a tremendous resource. Levinthal was well-informed, completely balanced and thoughtful. The Center is non-partisan, and his straight-arrow style made clear that he is interested in good government, period.

The candidates are out to see and be seen. The crowd was peppered with candidates in up-coming races. I hate to mention names, because I don’t want to neglect anyone, but Crispin Rea was a welcome presence, along with his campaign treasurer Theresa Garza Ruiz. I finally met Jeremy Ploeger for the 51st district, and Geoff Gerling, candidate for the 46th District.

Where were the County Legislators? The only County Legislator in attendance was the always-wonderful Theresa Garza Ruiz. This came as a bit of a shock, given that it was a forum on Ethics sponsored by the Committee for COUNTY Progress. After the legislature’s embarrassing and anti-ethical attempt to avoid ethical home rule, it seems that more of them would have an interest in the topic. Fortunately, Henry Rizzo’s opposing candidate and likely replacement, Crystal Williams, was present.

Speaking of Theresa Garza Ruiz . . . I had a brief opportunity to speak with her about her sudden removal as Chair of the Justice & Law Enforcement committee. Despite her degree and experience in law enforcement, she was unceremoniously dumped from the committee, and the “dumper”, Henry Rizzo, didn’t even talk with her about it first, before awarding the committee Chair to a convicted felon. Theresa didn’t have much to offer by way of explanation of this baffling move, other than to point out that the claim that it’s part of a normal rotation of chairs is demonstrably false.

Micheal Mahoney knows his stuff. Mahoney did a great job of moderating the event, and the high point came when he ran factual rings around a loud audience member who was claiming that money is the be-all and end-all of politics. Mahoney pointed to the Carnahan/Talent race, and when the blustery but ill-informed talker pushed on, he pointed out that the Mayor was also not the leading fundraiser in his election. It was an amusing and deft evisceration of an anti-Funkhouser activist who seemed to be substituting volume for accuracy.

It’s wonderful that so many people care about ethics in Missouri.
On a Thursday evening, a healthy crowd of people came out to a mid-town law office to participate in a high-level forum on the topic of dollars and politics. That’s a pretty impressive level of interest, and the CCP deserves credit for putting on the forum.

If You’re in the Mood to Think Deeply About the Internet . . .

Saturday, January 23rd, 2010

McKay over at State of the Line puts into words a lot of the thoughts that have been going through my own mind. Here are a few excerpts, to give you the flavor, but the whole essay is well-crafted, thoughtful, and thought-provoking.


“What we don’t often discuss is whether or not a culture of instant satisfaction is even a desirable state of living. I’ll admit I’m as guilty of this mindset as anyone else: I feel lost without my phone, become anxious when I cannot check my email for several hours, and become consumed by news and market alerts from the Times and Journal — and that’s before I even start to revel in the abundance of information in my Google Reader feeds. But why do we need this? It’s hard to imagine that just ten years ago, we often had to place a call from a land line to a land line, leave a message, and wait for a response.”
. . .
“The mantra of Web 2.0 is always based around the supposed wisdom of crowds: if you let the aggregated genius of the assembled masses decide it, then you’re bound to get the best and most efficient result. Have we really taken the myth of the rational market this far?”
. . .

“But the releasing of the keys to the free-information demands of the online marketplace is not even the most troubling aspect of the internet’s total cultural penetration. That, I suggest, is the culture of hatred bred by anonymity. What’s most baffling about the trend toward online anonymity is exactly where it came from. When I watch the evening news, I’m not allowed — nor do I feel entitled — to appear in a picture-in-picture window offering sarcastic remarks, thinly veiled insults, and outright sadistic language about the anchors and the stories. So why do we feel this is a fundamental right online? Yes, the web is supposed to be a democratizing tool of great egalitarianism — I understand that. But just because one could say anything he wants doesn’t mean one should. There is something deeply troubling about citizens being able to hide behind online handles and lob verbal grenades toward anything they deem disagreeable, lame, or pointless. Aside from contributing nothing to our conversation, it weakens the intellectual capital of this allegedly revolutionary tool. Why should people bother posting information online when one commenter, emboldened by the freedom of anonymity and feeling empowered to voice his darkest thoughts because it will never be traced to him, can simply make a hateful or racist remark?”
. . .

On Human Connections & The Social Utility Of The Internet

January 22, 2010 by McKay

Since our denunciation of snark in late November, we’ve made an effort around here to post thoughtful, reflective pieces that take a step back from the hyperactive and hyperbolic mood of the blogosphere. I’ve been thinking quite a bit, though, about the very essence of that particular arena, and about the entire networked world that supports it. The internet (the noun seems to have reached a non-capitalization age, no?) is widely heralded by everyone from sociologists to Apple stockholders as the salvation of humanity — the thing that will bring everyone together, result in a technological Age of Aquarius, and connect open-minded people everywhere in a panoply of new ideas and information-sharing mechanisms. To see just how deeply this assumption has become ingrained in our society, just note the Luddite accusations that follow anyone who dares suggest the following: what if the internet’s deleterious effects outweigh its benefits?

The internet, I’d contend, is a technological success — nay, a marvel — but an undeniable failure as a tool of emotional connectivity. I take pains to say it’s not a failure as a tool of human connectivity; its power in allowing me to speak instantly to someone in Malaysia, or email a friend in Britain, is unsurpassed and unlike anything we’ve ever known. Its capability in the arena of communication is not here disputed. As a communication tool, it has revolutionized the way we operate — so much so that it becomes difficult for us to comprehend that letters and conversations once had to wait days while mail was delivered, or months while ships crossed the ocean. (Honestly, can we comprehend that? Or have we become so accustomed to instant responses that our brains can’t quite wrap themselves around it? Paleontologists often speak of the difficulty in communicating the sheer magnitude of time’s passage between dinosaurs and humans; our existences are so short that we truly cannot fathom a span like “millions of years” — is this sort of like that?) It has likewise reshaped the way we do business: the online market connects us to a marketplace of goods and services we never would’ve foreseen, all capable of being delivered in minimal time. All of this has created a culture of instant satisfaction, in which most of our communication and capitalist desires can be satisfied in ever-shorter durations.

What we don’t often discuss is whether or not a culture of instant satisfaction is even a desirable state of living. I’ll admit I’m as guilty of this mindset as anyone else: I feel lost without my phone, become anxious when I cannot check my email for several hours, and become consumed by news and market alerts from the Times and Journal — and that’s before I even start to revel in the abundance of information in my Google Reader feeds. But why do we need this? It’s hard to imagine that just ten years ago, we often had to place a call from a land line to a land line, leave a message, and wait for a response. Today it’s difficult to envision waiting for anything; most news and information is accessible by the click of a mouse or swipe of a touchscreen. However, this seems to have weakened our collective resolve. When everyone can access everything all of the time, the ill effects are two-pronged: first, it makes us spoiled and expectant, assuming that we can get anything as soon as we want it. Second, it weakens the inherent worth of pure waiting, which in turn depreciates the value of patience and appreciation of the final product or idea delivered. The reason patience is said to be a character-building virtue is because it helps us place more context and appreciation on the thing we finally receive; if I’ve not had to endure any kind of wait for something that’s important to me, how do I know to appreciate it? Especially when I can, presumably, receive another just like it in an equally short time span?

The problem spawned by a culture of instant satisfaction is that it somehow convinces us that we deserve things for free. Think about that for a second: the Times employs hundreds of reporters in its newsroom. Those people work to create what’s largely considered to be some of the best journalism in the country (not to mention agenda-setting; it’s often joked that if you want to know what NPR will talk about on Thursday, you should just read the Times on Wednesday). Where on earth did we get the notion that we deserve every ounce of that product completely free? The internet was supposed to connect us to the product, not deliver the product free of charge and render the cost of the effort worthless. Newspapers made a strategic blunder when they imagined they could provide free content and use advertising to support it, and now we’ve all become horribly accustomed to receiving things for free.

The mantra from the supposed gurus of the Web 2.0 revolution, of course, is that information wants to be free. This is patently absurd. The only people who want information to be free are those who can bank a profit from that information’s use: advertisers, online vendors, et al. If I’m the one paying a staff of hundreds to produce that information, what message am I sending to my employees by giving away the product of their work? It’s akin to Honda giving away cars and relying on rear-window advertising to make a profit — how would the legions of assembly line workers feel about placing a value of $0.00 on each car they produce? The mantra of Web 2.0 is always based around the supposed wisdom of crowds: if you let the aggregated genius of the assembled masses decide it, then you’re bound to get the best and most efficient result. Have we really taken the myth of the rational market this far? (There is, in the recession’s wake, a pretty serious backlash against that myth. Can we really assume that a stock’s price reflects all pieces of known information and is adjusted to meet that information? Are we really supposed to believe that human emotion, artificial inflation, and pure market chicanery never plays a role?) As web pioneer Jaron Lanier notes in his new book, crowdsourcing in pursuit of free information can be not just an ill-advised strategy, but a pernicious one; he notes that it leads content-producers “to treat the fruits of their intellects and imaginations as fragments to be given without pay to the hive mind.” While the tone is slightly alarmist, Lanier’s point is solid: when we assume we can get anything we want — news articles, images, digital music — for free online, we hurt, and perhaps destroy, the innate worth of what people are producing and sharing. Why should a musician who writes and produces a song, presumably at some expense, be expected to bestow it as a gift upon the world?

But the releasing of the keys to the free-information demands of the online marketplace is not even the most troubling aspect of the internet’s total cultural penetration. That, I suggest, is the culture of hatred bred by anonymity. What’s most baffling about the trend toward online anonymity is exactly where it came from. When I watch the evening news, I’m not allowed — nor do I feel entitled — to appear in a picture-in-picture window offering sarcastic remarks, thinly veiled insults, and outright sadistic language about the anchors and the stories. So why do we feel this is a fundamental right online? Yes, the web is supposed to be a democratizing tool of great egalitarianism — I understand that. But just because one could say anything he wants doesn’t mean one should. There is something deeply troubling about citizens being able to hide behind online handles and lob verbal grenades toward anything they deem disagreeable, lame, or pointless. Aside from contributing nothing to our conversation, it weakens the intellectual capital of this allegedly revolutionary tool. Why should people bother posting information online when one commenter, emboldened by the freedom of anonymity and feeling empowered to voice his darkest thoughts because it will never be traced to him, can simply make a hateful or racist remark?

The problem is that it doesn’t take any talent or creativity to make one of these remarks. All it takes is a detached aloofness, or a hatred of a certain political figure, and one can immediately take a reductio ad absurdum approach to online discussion. By insulting the author, or suggesting that the article or work is boring, or denigrating a particular race, one reduces the discussion to its most base and troubling elements. No talent is required to do this. And for what? So you can appear more world-weary than the next commenter? So you can hold yourself out as more sophisticated than the other readers, and thus more difficult to impress?

In case it’s not obvious by now, this post is a mea culpa of sorts. For the first nine months of this site’s existence, we committed some of the sins I’ve just listed. As anonymous writers, we felt a perverse freedom to say whatever we pleased without fear of repercussion. With no fear of exposure, we could mock, insult, and generally torment people like Mike Hendricks, Mayor Funkhouser, Jack Cashill, and various users of Ink’s web site. Why did we do this? Well, in some cases criticism was more than warranted. . . . But in most cases there was no point to this. . . . We poked fun at Star columnists — and indeed at the entire publication — because it was easy for us; we were not reporters caught up in the dwindling world of media, and so never had to worry about the actual work it took to produce a newspaper. Far easier it was for us to simply wait for them to do the work, and then sit back and comment anonymously. For a time, this worked marvelously. Our page views reached heights greater than anything we’d ever imagined, and we routinely received emails from people congratulating us on our snarky ascension. But it wasn’t right. It wasn’t the kind of thing that would make our parents beam with pride. Most importantly, it didn’t contribute anything of value to our citywide conversation. Being able to make someone laugh, or merely pointing out the absurdity of a column, doesn’t make you cultural critic. That takes analysis, reasoning, and reflection. For a distressingly long time, we lost sight of that.”
. . .
“Removing ourselves from the self-absorption of Web 2.0 is paramount if we are to recapture a reality based on tangible connections to nature and to each other. This starts with several actions. First, the scourge of web anonymity must end. For whatever reason, the nature of anonymity prompts us to give voice and life to our darkest sides. Second, we must understand that just because we are enabled to say something doesn’t mean we are compelled to say something. There may very well be a rumor swirling about a City Hall politico, but to give life to that rumor is to act irresponsibly. When one writes a post insulting that person or implying untoward things about him, it’s important to remember that people will read it and be affected by it. These are not mere words leaking out into an online ether where people are unaffected by harsh statements — they are mean-spirited and unnecessarily cruel aspersions that will no doubt alter the mood and spirit of the subject.”
. . .
“Jaded, world-weary affectation is a vacuous intellectual pursuit. It challenges nothing, contributes nothing, learns nothing. There is something larger, and that thing is a stroll on the lawn of the Nelson, or a sunset over a comically flat Kansas horizon, or a chat with a friend under the Plaza lights. These are not things to be blogged about or posted as status updates in 140 characters or fewer; they are things to be lived, to be experienced, and to be savored, all with an attitude of appreciation and civility toward your fellow citizen because it’s simply the right thing to do.”

I apologize to McKay for copying so much of what he wrote, but, trust me, the real essay goes deeper and further.

My post about Henry Rizzo appointing James Tindall to be chair of the Jackson County Legislature’s Justice and Law Committee needs to be rewritten.

Is Arbanas Stepping Down from Jackson County Legislature? Democracy or Backroom Deal?

Wednesday, July 8th, 2009

Fred Arbanas has served on the County Legislature since it was founded. That sounds like an exaggeration, but it’s not – he was elected in the first class of legislators under the Home Rule Charter in 1973, and has served ever since.

Among the County Legislators, however, he is the only one without an active campaign committee on file with the Secretary of State. His prior committee folded in 2003, a few years after the County Government took on the burden of cementing his name recognition and stature by naming a multi-million dollar golf course after him.

Since then, Arbanas has not faced a challenger in either a primary or general election.

The upcoming elections, though, present a vastly different picture. After the botched attempt to dismantle Ethical Home Rule brought shame to the Jackson County Legislature, and in the aftermath of the shot of adrenaline provided to young Jackson County Democrats by the election of President Obama, a lot of people are looking to run in 2010.

Change is in the air for the Jackson County legislature.

And, really, it can’t be much fun anymore for Arbanas. It doesn’t look like they are going to be naming any other public property after him, and he turned 70 in January. He hasn’t done the hard work of campaigning – dialing for dollars, door-to-door handshaking – in years, and I doubt he wants to work that hard. It’s tough to run an at-large campaign against spirited and ambitious competition.

The issue, though, is how the transition will be handled. My guess is that Mr. Arbanas has some deserving person (upper class white male would be my speculation) that he wants to hand his seat over to. My guess is that they would prefer to handle this on a backroom, handshake basis – Mr. Arbanas will not signal his intention to step down until moments before the filing deadline, in the hopes that nobody else will file to run against an incumbent golf course. At the last moment, his anointed successor will step into the unopposed election, and the winds of change will whistle past District 3.

But that’s all guesswork. My hope is that someone great, with progressive ideas and a willingness to battle the good-old-boy network of the Jackson County Legislature, will pay attention. My hope is that we could get someone else with the energy and intelligence of Theresa Garza Ruiz to make a difference.

Is the End Near? – Day 149 of the Jackson County Ethics Blackout

Tuesday, May 5th, 2009


Finally, after almost half a year in an ethical wasteland, the Jackson County legislature is reportedly prepared to accept Ethical Home Rule. Amusingly, Tarwater and Rizzo are pushing for the new deal. “We’re going to put ourselves under the ethics code,” Rizzo said in an interview. “But it will take a unanimous vote of the commission to eliminate one of us.”

The news of the yet-unwritten deal came (not coincidentally) on the same day that the Ethics Commission Selection Committee came forward with a panel of 5 new people to serve on the commission. Janet Blauvelt, Karen Graves, Fred Mills, Myron Sildon, Gwendolyn Washington will make up the new Ethics Commission, and it looks like the Selection Committee did a fantastic job of recruiting and choosing solid people. I know and admire two of the Commissioners.

It remains to be seen whether the entire Legislature will go along with the proposal. Early in the process, Scott Burnett drew a line in the sand over the false issue of “double jeopardy” by both the County Ethics Commission and the Missouri Ethics Commission. Most citizens accept the fact that they are subject to multiple levels of oversight, but Burnett somehow felt that he should be exempt. Fortunately, the rest of the Legislature disagrees with him on that point, and he apparently stands alone in his absurd claim that two levels of ethical oversight amount to “double jeopardy”.

Ultimately, this is a good day for Jackson County, though it’s a major loss for many of the members of the legislature. Rizzo and Tarwater will probably lose their seats over their efforts to eliminate Ethical Home Rule, and Scott Burnett’s term as Chair of the Legislature has been forever tainted by the half-year-long ethical blackout. If it hadn’t been for a few citizens who stood up to the good-old-boy network, they might have succeeded. In fact, they still could succeed – until the deal is passed by the legislature, only a fool would trust in their willingness or ability to do the right thing.

Thanks and congratulations should go to Pat McInerney for his quiet and determined leadership on this issue.

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

Thursday, April 9th, 2009

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?

Join the Jackson County Ethics Commission – Day 112 of the Jackson County Ethics Blackout

Monday, March 30th, 2009

I recently spoke with one of the County legislators most resistant to Ethical Home Rule. Not only did he attack the concept of local oversight, he even had the gall to attack the future ethics commission. “Do you really think Sanders is going to appoint people he doesn’t control?”, he whined. That vile little attack on the process came from someone who agrees with the appointment of criminals to be a majority of the Anti-Drug Committee.

The fact is, Mike Sanders will appoint whichever 5 nominees that the Ethics Commission Selection Committee delivers to him. Mike Sanders has been above-board through this whole process, and is the prime mover behind the move to articulate the very Ethics Code that the Jackson County legislators are excluding themselves from. Unlike the Jackson County legislators, Mike Sanders is not foolish enough to maneuver himself into a battle against ethics. It takes a special kind of stupid to fight against Ethical Home Rule in Jackson County, and Sanders doesn’t suffer from that kind of stupid.

Unfortunately, the Jackson County Ethics Commission Selection Committee is facing a few problems in finding a properly balanced slate of candidates to submit to Mike Sanders for appointment. The application “deadline” has been extended from the end of February until whenever they can get a great slate of candidates they feel confident will carry out their duties impartially and diligently. Here is the application, and here are the qualifications. The application is a simple online form and the qualifications are minimal.

If you read this blog, and live in Jackson County, you probably qualify to be a member of the Jackson County Ethics Commission. Stepping up and serving now would give you a chance to learn more about how the County works. More importantly, you would be playing an important role in the return to Ethical Home Rule for Jackson County.

Hint – while the Charter requires that “no more than three commissioners must be from the same political party”, there is no restriction that you must belong to either of the major parties. Seems like this would be a great way for one of those third parties to get somebody involved in actual government . . .

Won’t you consider going online and filling out the short application? If you will not or cannot, do you know somebody who might be waiting for a call from you to get involved? Would you please make that call?

I promise to continue the fight to bring Ethical Home Rule back to Jackson County, but the fight is meaningless if we can’t find 5 citizens to serve on the Ethics Commission. The criminals on the Jackson County Legislature and their secretive colleagues are quite happy to allow the Ethics Commission to remain unfilled. They need our oversight.

Day 102 of the Jackson County Ethics Blackout – the CCP Calls for Ethics for All!

Friday, March 20th, 2009

Yesterday, over at Blog CCP, the Committee for County Progress issued the following press release:

COMMITTEE FOR COUNTY PROGRESS
P.O. Box 10462
Kansas City, Missouri 64171
info@committeeforcountyprogress.org

For immediate release:
March 18, 2009
CONTACT: Pat McInerney
(816) 983-8364
pat.mcinerney@huschblackwell.com

CCP Calls For Uniform Application of Jackson County Ethics Code

The Committee for County Progress, Jackson County’s oldest political organization, today called on the Jackson County Legislature – and all Jackson County elected officials – to make themselves subject to the Jackson County Ethics Code enacted earlier this year by County Executive Mike Sanders. Following enactment of the code by Sanders, the legislature passed the code as an ordinance but exempted themselves from its provisions. By executive order, the code currently applies only to the County Executive.

“It’s only right that every elected official should be bound by the new ethics code,” said CCP President Pat McInerney. “Because they set the ethical tone for the county, the idea that there is one set of rules for elected officials and another for everyone else really undermines the idea of having an ethics code at all. The new Ethics Commission should immediately review the Ethics Code and recommend whether it will apply across the board or just to some. The code may need other improvements, but exempting the people elected to represent us is not the way to start.”

McInerney said he expected the legislature to abide by the code and predicted that, once resolved, the ethics code issue would not be a campaign issue in 2010. CCP has been involved in previous Jackson County charter issues – urging and passing a measure reducing the number of legislators from 15 to 9 in 1985 – and has been a voice for progressive and open government since its inception in 1964.

That’s good news for those of us who care about good government.