Former Kansas City Royals great Frank White seldom whiffed during his playing career, but as Jackson County executive he’s been striking out more and more lately.
Monday was such a day. As expected, the county legislature overrode what even White recognized as a futile veto of an Oct. 25 ordinance creating three well-paid jobs that duplicate duties already performed by White’s staff.
But perhaps more important, legislators quietly began laying the groundwork for stripping White of his power to appoint the director of an agency that dispenses more than $20 million in anti-drug sales tax money each year.
Under the proposal, the county prosecutor would appoint the COMBAT director, returning the arrangement to what existed before White’s predecessor, Mike Sanders, becoming county executive in 2007.
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Legislator Dan Tarwater introduced the surprise ordinance late in the meeting without describing the changes it would make. And when Legislator Tony Miller asked for an explanation, Legislator Dennis Waits cut him off and said it would be discussed at an upcoming committee meeting.
But the language in the draft ordinance makes clear that, like the move to create the three jobs, it could be seen as another attempt to minimize the power of whoever is serving as county executive now or in the future. Recently, the legislature rejected White’s pick to replace longtime COMBAT director Stacey Daniels-Young because of how he handled the selection process.
Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker complained that she and other members of law enforcement were not consulted on the pick.
White was not at Monday’s meeting and his spokeswoman, Marshanna Hester, said the administration will need to study the proposal before making any comment.
White did not hold back, however, in his veto letter.
He accused the 7-2 majority of profligate spending for creating the three positions. Salaries for two of them — budget/financial analyst and special projects analyst — range from $87,800 to $147,754. The “public liaison” position pays from $52,450 to $86,550.
The more than $500,000 a year the new positions would cost in salaries and benefits, he said, would be better spent on the county’s many unmet needs.
“I cannot in good conscience support such an expenditure of taxpayer dollars,” White wrote, “for the creation of three additional highly-compensated, poorly defined, and quite simply, unnecessary positions at a time of such immense need in our county.”
But in voting to create the positions, legislators said that they needed their own staff to help assemble and evaluate the county budget, make plans for a new jail and make their positions known on issues, rather than rely on the staff of a county executive with whom they are increasingly at odds.
One precursor for Waits’ proposal to add the new positions was White’s firing of the county finance director just weeks before public discussions of the proposed 2018 budget. Also, a number of legislators have expressed frustration that White and his staff have shown insufficient urgency in planning how to replace a Jackson County Detention Center that consultants and law enforcement officials say is unsafe, falling apart and does not meet current standards.
“I’d particularly like to have someone working on all sorts of jail research right now,” chairman Scott Burnett said on the day of the vote.
Strike two came the following week when the legislature gave itself the power to pay for those positions without White’s approval, followed by strike three in the form of veto override, which, at 7-1, was more than the two-thirds vote required.
But in his veto message, dated Friday, White criticized the legislature for having a fat budget for itself already when compared to similar legislative bodies. At $3.7 million a year for staff and other expenditures, he said, Jackson County’s legislative budget is $1.7 million higher than the budget for the St. Louis County council and $2.9 million more than the St. Charles County council’s budget.
He said the difference between the budgets of those governing bodies and the Jackson County Legislature’s would be better spent on increasing pay for jail guards and other needs at the detention center, or for funding the debt service on a possible $50 million bond issue to make repairs at the jail, courthouse and other county buildings.