Jackson County Executive Frank White on Thursday handed down the second veto of his nearly 2-year-old administration, setting up another likely override vote by the county legislature when it meets Monday.
In his latest veto message, White said an ordinance passed by the legislature last week violated state law when it gave legislators power to spend unbudgeted money without first getting approval from the county finance officer, who works for the county executive.
The intent of the ordinance was to give the legislature the ability to pay the salaries and benefits of three newly created positions that White says largely duplicate the duties of people who work for him.
He called it wasteful spending. Combined, the jobs would cost taxpayers an additional $500,000 a year in salary and benefits.
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But a majority of legislators say they need their own people to help draft next year’s county budget, plan for a new jail and represent their views through their own spokesperson. Currently, they rely on White and his staff, who lately haven’t always seen eye to eye with the legislative majority.
Both the creation of the positions and a separate funding mechanism passed 7-2 in recent weeks. Only six votes are needed to override White’s veto. Legislators on Monday voted 7-1 to override White’s veto of the ordinance creating the three jobs.
That means the jobs stay on the organizational chart. But they may stay open indefinitely.
While White based his first veto on personal objections, he said the ordinance funding the positions is invalid on statutory grounds and removes an important check on government spending.
“I’ve learned in this job that there are some tough decisions,” White said in a prepared statement, “but vetoing an ordinance that is a violation of state law is not one of those tough decisions.”
County Counselor W. Stephen Nixon said state law requires that certain budget transfers have the approval of the county’s budget officer. He also said the move to make transfers without that approval would hurt the county’s credit rating.
Scott Burnett, the legislature’s chairman, declined to comment other than to acknowledge that an override vote is likely.
Should that vote go against White, it could potentially set up a legal battle, which would be problematic. Nixon’s office represents both branches of county government.
Legislator Dennis Waits said that if it came to that, he’s confident the legislature would be able to hire its own lawyer.
“It’s unfortunate,” he said, but Waits thinks the legislature needs to have an experienced financial analyst on hand for upcoming budget deliberations because he’s not confident White’s administration is up to the task since the unexplained firing of chief financial officer Troy Thomas.