Seldom is there agreement these days between County Executive Frank White and the Jackson County Legislature.
On Wednesday alone, legislators swatted down White’s executive order for a countywide hiring freeze and rejected the appointment of his chief of staff to become acting economic development director. The same chief of staff, Caleb Clifford, who legislators tried to get rid of by zeroing out his salary, but who White has somehow managed to keep on the payroll.
Indeed, it can get confusing. But in the midst of all the recent discord, legislators Wednesday unanimously voiced approval for White’s surprise call for a state audit of county finances.
Both sides have in recent months accused the other of being fiscally irresponsible. So Missouri Auditor Nicole Galloway would become something of a referee, should she accept the challenge.
“Of particular interest,” White wrote Galloway, “this audit should include the role of the Legislature and Executive in the awarding of contracts and expenditures related to COMBAT, Rock Island Corridor, and the direct funding of outside agencies.”
However, the audit likely would not be limited to COMBAT — the county’s anti-drug and anti-violence effort that is funded through a dedicated sales tax — trail-building contracts along the abandoned Rock Island rail line or county handouts to local charities.
Legislators are also interested in getting an opinion on what they see as White’s inappropriate attempts to avoid legislative scrutiny when making major purchases. Anything costing $10,000 or more needs the legislature’s approval.
But the county’s own auditor, who works for the legislature, recently found a pattern of purchases being broken up into multiple appropriations of $9,999 or less.
One example, legislative chairman Scott Burnett said, was how White’s office paid for the county-owned Chevy pickup that Clifford drives. Instead of asking the legislature to approve the $33,945 purchase in 2016, White’s office paid for the truck with six fund transfers below the $10,000 threshold, which meant no public disclosure.
Purchases like that are not uncommon, legislators say.
“It seem like this is an effort to circumvent the will of the legislature,” legislator Dennis Waits said.
White has, likewise, been critical of the legislature’s effort to hire people for newly created positions that duplicate positions on his staff.
Should Galloway’s office accept the audit invitation, county taxpayers would pay whatever that bill amounts to.