Editorials

Playing politics in Jackson County: Term limits and needed reforms won’t be on August ballot

Jackson County Executive Frank White and four of his top staffers are defendants in a lawsuit filed by the county’s former deputy finance director, who claims he was fired for refusing to make illegal payments out the county’s COMBAT fund last year.
Jackson County Executive Frank White and four of his top staffers are defendants in a lawsuit filed by the county’s former deputy finance director, who claims he was fired for refusing to make illegal payments out the county’s COMBAT fund last year. File photo

Powerful opposition to true reform in Jackson County government remains entrenched, to the public’s detriment.

On Friday, Jackson County Executive Frank White vetoed an ordinance calling for an August vote on several changes to the county charter.

The veto was expected. Among the proposed changes were charter amendments that would reduce the authority of the county executive. A priority for any elected official is to protect his or her power, and White is no different.

But the veto also appears to doom an August vote on important reforms, including imposing term limits on county officials and giving the sheriff control of the dysfunctional jail.

The Jackson County Legislature could override the veto Monday, but that’s unlikely. White’s veto letter says sponsor Greg Grounds asked for the veto because of “unintended” structural errors in the ballot proposal.

If Grounds upholds the veto, an override will likely fail. That means voters would lose the chance to weigh in on county reform in August.

While that may come as a relief to incumbents seeking re-election, it should worry every taxpayer.

With the recent allegations against Sheriff Mike Sharp, Jackson County's list of scandals continues to grow.

No one in Jackson County should doubt the need for reform at the courthouse. The former county executive is a felon, as is his former chief of staff. The sheriff just quit amid scandal.

A grand jury has reinforced urgent concerns about the jail, as long-serving thumbs twiddle. The culture of lifetime service at the county plays at least some part in these scandals and others.

This need not be difficult. If White’s veto is sustained, legislators should begin work immediately on clean ballot proposals for November. An eight-year, two-term, immediate limit for legislators should be a single question for voters to consider.

Similar limits for the prosecutor and the sheriff should be separate issues.

Extraneous issues such as pay raises should also be separate questions, or dropped entirely. Oh, and this: Ballot ordinances should not be subject to veto.

We’re not asking the county legislature to pursue these changes on their own. Rather, officials should put the reforms on the ballot so voters can decide.

It should be simple for legislators approaching this project in good faith to find simple language for voters to consider. In November.

If not — if somehow, stunningly, the legislature runs out of time to put something on the November ballot — voters will know their county representatives are far more interested in playing politics than in doing the people’s work.

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