Archive for the ‘jackson county Ethics Crisis’ Category

Day 100 of the Jackson County Ethics Blackout

Wednesday, March 18th, 2009

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.

Jackson County Legislature Extraordinary Secrecy, Without Ethics – Day 99 of the Jackson County Ethics Blackout

Tuesday, March 17th, 2009

When a legislative body sttempts to exempt itself from an Ethics Code, and to deny the Charter-granted right of its citizens to oversee its ethics, the wisest course of action is to start with the assumption that they are up to something untoward. No benefit of the doubt goes to those who insist they are above the scrutiny and accountability they would impose on others.

In that light, yesterday’s hijinks at the Jackson County Legislature ought to be raising eyebrows. Chair Scott Burnett introduced a last-minute resolution calling for a closed meeting, excluding the press and citizens from knowing what the Legislature is up to. Typically, such resolutions are introduced at the meeting preceding such an extraordinary action, but this one was introduced and acted upon without normal notice. The exception to the Sunshine Law relied upon by the Legislature was RSMo 610.021(1) – “Legal actions, causes of action or litigation involving a public governmental body and any confidential or privileged communications between a public governmental body or its representatives and its attorneys.”

The Jackson County legislature is lawyering up again? What is it this time? Is somebody trying to explain in simple terms to Henry Rizzo that the City is under no legal obligation to spend $2,000,000 on public safety rather than entertainment for suburbanites? Are Tarwater and Tindall fighting it out over the disputed chairmanship of the Anti-Drug Committee? Is yet another federal investigation for corruption focusing on the Jackson County Legislature – a fresh chapter in the rich history of Jackson County crime and corruption?

We can only guess at what went on behind those closed doors. We can be certain, however, that the Jackson County legislature has exempted itself from Ethical Home Rule, and now it feels the need to have emergency meetings about secrets.

Is that the type of government Jackson County deserves?

Tarwater’s Tape Exposes Rizzo – Day 98 of the Jackson County Ethics Blackout

Monday, March 16th, 2009

As promised earlier, a videotape of Dan Tarwater grandstanding on the stadium issue may be found here. In watching the performance again, it’s hilarious to see Henry Rizzo spring into action and attempt to nail down the legal obligation of the City to make a donation to cover Jackson County’s commitment of funds. Rizzo flails away, asking awkward question after awkward question, until, finally, Tarwater admits that there is no legal obligation for the City to divert two million dollars from public safety into suburban entertainment.

Even the County Counselor was dodging Rizzo’s questions, not wanting to make him look like a fool in front of everyone. Nice try, but when Rizzo gets on a roll, there’s no stopping him.

Sadly, truth may have emerged on the tape when a legislator from outside of Kansas City pointed out that several Kansas City Council members are willing to join in the diversion of funds and sell out Kansas City. Any Council Member who votes to give away $2,000,000 during our budget crisis will demonstrate that s/he is on the side of Henry Rizzo and Dan Tarwater.

Who is Dan Tarwater Working for? – Day 95 of the Jackson County Ethics Blackout

Friday, March 13th, 2009

In the March 9 meeting of the Jackson County Legislature, Dan Tarwater usurped the role of Inter-Governmental committee members and abandoned the economic interests of his constituents. And he accomplished all this misbehavior in only 6 minutes.

An amateur video appeared in the comments of one of my prior posts, but I won’t embed the video here because its producer has marred it with a title which engages in childish name-calling.

In the video (I will link to the official video when it is available), Dan Tarwater goes off on a rant about the Mayor’s position on stadium financing. While it’s kind of disturbing that he has his facts wrong, I wouldn’t expect straight talk from someone who has sought to avoid Ethical Home Rule. Sadly, the dishonesty of my County Legislator is neither interesting nor surprising.

What is surprising, though, is that he uses his tirade to attack the interests of his own constituents. Dan Tarwater’s district covers a large number of Kansas Citians, who are bearing the burden of double taxation (actually, triple if you count the State money) for the Sports Complex. Those of us in Kansas City pay both as Jackson Countians and as Kansas Citians, to support the same cause.

As a representative of Kansas Citians, Dan Tarwater owes us a full measure of representation. Instead, he abandoned us and got caught up in an inter-governmental spat between the city and the county. In an “us” versus “them” battle, Tarwater foolishly believes that he is on the side of the County as an entity, when, in fact, he should be representing the interests of his constituents. I can understand that as a Jackson County legislator, Tarwater would prefer not having to face the struggle of having to replace the $2,000,000 that the County signed a contract for (but not the City), but not at the cost of having his constituents facing double taxation.

Dan Tarwater should be representing his constituents, not the Legislature.

It’s easy to see how someone without intellectual rigor could miss this point, and perhaps that is why Tarwater was not chosen to serve on the Inter-governmental Affairs Committee, and ought not to be injecting himself into that committee’s role, anyhow.

SHUT UP! County Blocks Gone Mild? – Day 92 of the Jackson County Ethics Blackout

Tuesday, March 10th, 2009

A funny thing happened with my hit counter yesterday. I had my highest count in a month, thanks to links from Tony’s Kansas City and the Prime Buzz Blog Watch, but there were no hits at all from the Jackson County Courthouse. It seems I’ve been blocked!

I’ve always had my fans at the Jackson County Courthouse, and I have never NOT had hits from there on a workday since – heck, I don’t know. 2005?

I must have gotten under somebody’s skin, I suppose. Fortunately, they haven’t blocked me from access to their site, so I can still get access to their agendas and keep an eye on who’s lying about what committee he’s not chairing. For the moment, they are free of local ethical oversight, and heaven knows the Star refuses to do an adequate job of covering County issues, but others are starting to pay attention.

Personally, I think it’s a waste of time to block websites. When City Hall blocked Tony’s site, they used the excuse of his penchant for pictures of scantily clad women as an excuse, but everyone knows it was a ham-handed and failed attempt to reduce his influence. I don’t know what excuse the County may be using to block Gone Mild, but it can’t be bikini models . . .

Dave Helling Beyond Satire

Tuesday, March 10th, 2009

I’ve made sport of Dave Hellings’ inability to do simple math and everyone agrees that his hilarious hand-wringing about the demise of the Democratic Party after a triumphal primary season was an unintentional masterpiece of cluelessness.

Dave Helling doesn’t produce much copy anymore, but when he does publish something, it often carries that special glow of obtuseness that makes real political observers stop in their tracks and say “Huh?”.

Yesterday’s gem was this – Kansas City should raid its general revenue to support the stadiums because that is the same as Johnson County giving money. This is the actual title of Hellings’ piece – and, no, I haven’t altered it to make it seem more ridiculous – “End of $2 million stadium subsidy could let JoCo off the hook for ballparks”.

Because Johnson Countians pay a portion of the earnings tax. Which goes into general revenue.

Absolutely incredible. The Kansas City Star actually published that analysis.

By the same analysis, the City can bestow the benefits of Bistate funding anywhere it redirects general revenue by laying off enough police officers and cutting enough basic services.

It’s genius! If Kansas City uses every nickel of its money to support things that suburbanites like, a new Age of Aquarius will dawn, and regionalism will reign over the unpatrolled and unpaved streets of Kansas City. That’s the way things work in Hellings’ world.

Who’s Chairing the Anti-Drug Committee? – Day 91 of the Jackson County Ethics Blackout

Monday, March 9th, 2009

According to every official document I have seen, Dan Tarwater chairs the Anti-Drug Committee, a powerful committee that controls the $21 million COMBAT tax. As the only member of the committee who does not have a rap sheet for financial crimes, he is probably the least inappropriate person of that committee to be in charge.

Why, then, is James Tindall claiming to chair the Committee, and using County resources to publicize that claim? Is it an attempt to convince inattentive outsiders that he is more influential over the dollars than he truly is?

Of course, it’s probably just a mistake. But, with the County Legislature fighting hard against Ethical Home Rule, and with an Anti-Drug committee consisting of two people with financial rap sheets, it’s dangerous to assume that things are on the up-and-up.

Until the legislature accepts Ethical Home Rule, it does not deserve the benefit of any doubt.

Why is James Tindall using county resources to claim he is chairing the Anti-Drug committee?

Theresa Garza Ruiz WAY Ahead of the Game – Day 89 of the Jackson County Ethics Blackout

Saturday, March 7th, 2009

Yesterday, I wrote about Theresa Garza Ruiz standing up against the “old dogs” on the Jackson County Legislature in her latest newsletter. It’s an impressive act of political courage, and one which I believe will draw her favorable attention.

Perhaps even more impressive is that Theresa Garza Ruiz had the foresight to write about Ethical Home Rule months before the Jackson County Legislature decided to exempt itself from local ethical oversight. Way back in July of 2008, Theresa Garza Ruiz wrote a fascinating history of the development of Home Rule from the 18th Century up until present times. You should really go read it if you want proof that all our county legislators are not knuckleheads installed by dying political machines.

She also outlines the crux of the issue that consumes county-watchers during this Ethics Blackout:

The Ethics Commission is part of our county charter. In order to change any portion of our charter, it must come before the voters. The commission’s ability to thoroughly investigate a complaint is well within its power and is outlined in our home rule.

With that quotation, Garza Ruiz warned the legislature not to embark on its current path toward monarch. They ignored her, and now we are stuck without an Ethics Commission and with a public opinion of our legislators that has sunk to sewer level.

Why in the world is Theresa Garza Ruiz not the Chair of the Legislature? We would be in a far better position if she were . . .

(Honestly, I hadn’t intended to do a post today, and was planning on saving this piece until a weekday, but an old friend sent me a link to this awesome Cobra, so I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to use it.)

Theresa Garza Ruiz Gets It – Day 88 of the Jackson County Ethics Blackout

Friday, March 6th, 2009

Yesterday, I received an e-Newsletter from Theresa Garza Ruiz, the Jackson County legislator in the first district at-large seat. Her newsletter included the text of a column she wrote for The Examiner, expressing her feelings about her vote on abandoning Ethical Home Rule for Jackson County.

Theresa Garza Ruiz agrees that the Ethics Blackout is wrong, and she call on the “old dogs” to fix it. It’s a wonderful piece of writing, and signals hope that significant change will be coming to the dark underworld of the Jackson County legislature.

Ms. Garza Ruiz writes:

For far too long, Jackson County government and “ethics” have been somewhat of a running joke throughout the metro area. Honestly, when were these two items used in a good light in the same paragraph, let alone the same sentence?

In spite of the progress the county has achieved in the past few years, I can understand why critics are skeptical on whether our hearts are truly into overhauling the rules that govern us. In my book, the fact that a Jackson County ethics code was even passed speaks volumes, but then I’m optimistic.

When decent people are faced with having to compromise due to situational choices, then an ethical dilemma has been presented. Ethical dilemmas can involve right-versus-wrong situations or right-versus-right situations – also known as no-win situations.

So, there it is. The ethics code is not perfect.

In an of itself, the admission that the code is imperfect is what I would call “Praising with faint damn”. By excluding the legislature from Ethical Home Rule, the County Legislature has undercut the Jackson County Charter and established a arrogant, almost monarchic attitude toward ethics in Jackson County. “The ethics code is not perfect” is kind of like writing “The economy is not perfect” or “The intelligence on Iraq was not perfect.”

But, thank goodness, Ms. Garza Ruiz was just getting warmed up. She next turns her focus on the wretched good-old-boys who have long viewed Jackson County Government as their fiefdom and family employment agency: “With no disrespect intended, as that old saying goes, ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.’ Not that it’s impossible, it just takes time.” So far, its been 88 days of time trying to get the old dogs on the Jackson County Legislature to learn the new trick of being ethical. Seems like Ms. Garza Ruiz is getting impatient in her role as the “dog whisperer” of ethics.

Finally, Ms. Garza Ruiz ends on two high notes:

The ability for any Ethics Commission to deal credibly and forthrightly with the issues that come before it depends on a governing body’s willingness to reform its own ethical rules and behavior. As I said before, greater scrutiny and public awareness can help set a higher standard and force change from our leaders and our governmental institutions. In the end, no matter what’s on the books, it still boils down to personal integrity.

As for the ethics commissioners who resigned, I was disappointed upon hearing the news. It was a good group of solid, decent, hardworking individuals dedicated to upholding the public interest.

In those two paragraphs, Ms. Garza Ruiz draws a line in the sand and dares her fellow county legislators to remain on the wrong side of it. Where Dan Tarwater attacked the citizens who served, and Dennis Waits accused them of playing politics, but Ms. Garza praises them. Old dogs snarl and bite when people want to look inside their doghouse, but friendly dogs welcome them.

More significantly, Ms. Garza Ruiz sets out the terms of the changes she seeks. By speaking of “a governing body’s willingness to reform its own ethical rules and behavior”, she is saying that the bogus reforms being bandied about by corrupt insiders that do not result in Ethical Home Rule will be insufficient.

It is wonderful to see an elected official embrace – even encourage – scrutiny of the Jackson County legislature designed to “force change from our leaders and our governmental institutions.” It’s going to happen, and Theresa Garza Ruiz is going to wind up on the right side of Jackson County history over this issue. Ethical Home Rule will return to the Jackson County Courthouse, and the smart legislators are getting on board.

Thank you, Theresa, for the leadership and encouragement. We’re glad you’re not joining of the pack of old dogs.

Cozy Cash Committees Closely Controlled – Day 87 of the Jackson County Ethics Blackout

Thursday, March 5th, 2009

Why are the “Big Money” Committees on the Jackson County Legislature controlled by only 5 legislators?

Why are 3 legislators (Theresa Garza Ruiz, Greg Grounds, and Fred Arbanas), excluded from the three committees (Anti-Drug, Finance & Audit, and Budget) that have the most financial influence on Jackson County (Anti-Drug, Finance & Audit, and Budget)?

Dan Tarwater serves on all three of the Big Money Committees. Theresa Garza Ruiz serves on none.

James Tindall (convicted of income tax evasion) serves on two of the Big Money Committees (Budget and Anti-Drug). Greg Grounds serves on none.

Henry Rizzo (convicted of providing false information to a financial institution) serves on two of the Big Money Committees (Budget and Anti-Drug). Fred Arbanas serves on none.

It can’t be based on experience, because Fred Arbanas has been on the County Legislature since it started.

It can’t be based on knowledge, because Theresa Garza Ruiz is completing a Master’s Degree in Public Administration with an emphasis on Government Business Relations and Public Management.

It can’t be based on qualifications, because Greg Grounds has over three decades of government and business experience, including a stint on the Jackson County COMBAT Commission.

It can’t be based on public trust, since two of the Financial Five (controlling 4 of the seven seats on the Budget and Anti-Drug committees) have criminal records for financial improprieties, while none of the other three have rap sheets.

It just doesn’t make sense. Any auditor knows “there is safety in numbers”, meaning that you should have as many people as possible involved in oversight of financial matters – a rule that would apply with special force where some of individuals involved have been caught and convicted of financial improprieties.

At the same time this bizarre and unsettling committee structure was being set up, the Jackson County Legislature decided (in violation of the Charter) that it should not have to answer to the Jackson County Ethics Commission anymore.

Why does the Jackson County Legislature oppose Ethical Home Rule? Is there Big Money involved?