Archive for the ‘Scott Burnett’ Category

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.

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.

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?

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.)

Gone Mild Election Results – Day 81 of the Jackson County Ethics Blackout

Thursday, February 26th, 2009

I asked, and got 110 responses, to my completely nonscientific poll on which Jackson County legislator is least likely to be retained in 2010. Here are the results:

Henry Rizzo 27.3% 30

Scott Burnett 16.4% 18

James Tindall 15.5% 17

Dan Tarwater 14.5% 16

Theresa Garza Ruiz 11.8% 13

Dennis Waits 10.9% 12

Fred Arbanas 1.8% 2

Greg Grounds 0.9% 1

Bob Spence 0.9% 1

Interesting results, and not entirely what I expected. I should note that 12 of the 13 votes for Garza Ruiz came in during a 10 minute span – I suspect someone was stuffing the ballot box against her, but that was the only voting irregularity I noticed.

One of the flaws in my method was that it only called for a vote on who is most likely to not be retained. Henry Rizzo, with his aggressive stand against Ethical Home Rule and a district that includes the politically-active Ward Parkway corridor, was a fairly obvious choice, especially in the absence of a specific opponent.

I was a little surprised to see how high Scott Burnett ranked in the poll. As Chair of the Legislature, he will be in the hot seat if the voters do not see a return to Ethical Home Rule, so perhaps the readers have a good point. Personally, I think Mr. Burnett has done enough outreach and has enough donor friends to make him hard to beat, but time will tell how much this Ethics Blackout will damage his “good guy” image.

A low surprise was Fred Arbanas. Only two voters chose him as least likely to be retained, but I think there’s a decent shot that he will decide to step aside at the last minute and try to handpick a successor to a seat that he has held since the very first County Legislature met. That’s kind of like having James Madison still sitting in Congress today. Look for Mr. Arbanas to act as if he’s running until the day of filing, to discourage any competition, and then for him to walk in with a “team player” to take his place. I think Arbanas’ seat is one of the most likely to become a pro-ethics seat, but only if someone bright and aggressive takes on the seemingly daunting task of pushing a rock up the mountain of Fred Arbanas’ county-sponsored popularity. Trust me, that mountain may suddenly become a molehill when Fred Arbanas puts a backroom hack on the ballot in his place.

Perhaps future polls ought to ask how many of the County Legislators will not be returning, and we can also test different names against some of the more vulnerable legislators. It’s going to be an interesting year and a half for the Jackson County legislators – perhaps the last year and a half in public office for several of them.

Hush, Hush, JaCo Legislators "Lawyer Up" – Day 78 of the Jackson County Ethics Blackout

Monday, February 23rd, 2009

At last week’s County Legislature meeting, Chair Scott Burnett introduced an ordinance authorizing the legislature to go into secret session during today’s meeting. Given the legislature’s penchant for doing things in private and avoiding public oversight, it’s tough not to speculate on what will be going on today.

Here’s the description of today’s secret meeting, as set forth in last week’s agenda:

A RESOLUTION authorizing the Jackson County Legislature to hold a closed meeting on Monday, February 23, 2009, for the purpose of conducting privileged and confidential communications between itself and the Jackson County Counselor under section 610.021(1) of the Revised Statutes of Missouri, and closing all records prepared for discussion at said meeting.

Wow, they’re talking to their lawyer!

What will the topic be? Will they be talking about their ethics ordinance, which illegally contradicts the Jackson County Home Rule Charter? Will they be talking about whether it was legal for them to name a public facility after Fred Arbanas, giving him an unfair advantage in the 2010 elections? What fresh outrage will the legislature be dreaming up today, behind closed doors?