Jackson County legislators are taking another look at plans for term limits and reducing the role of the county executive, although they are not of one mind and County Executive Frank White Jr. appears likely to oppose such changes. Voters could make the final decision later this year.
“My plan is to bring something back by mid-June,” said Legislator Greg Grounds, R-Blue Springs, who has spent months trying to reach a consensus in the nine-member Legislature.
Two weeks ago legislators voted 6-3 to put several changes to voters in August, but last week some errors and oversights in that language came to light and Grounds asked that White veto the measure. He did.
One example: The intent was to raise the pay of legislators and other elected county officials with the beginning of their next terms, but the approved language would have put those raises into effect immediately – in effect, sitting legislators voting on their current pay.
“That would have been inappropriate,” Grounds told his colleagues on Monday.
Legislators also want to place the County Detention Center under the “exclusive” control of the sheriff rather than the county executive, but the language approved two weeks ago would have left unclear who actually controls buildings, contracts and other things.
“It creates a tremendous amount of confusion,” said Caleb Clifford, White’s chief of staff.
So legislators plan to try again and aim for the November ballot.
“I think waiting 90 days is better than potential litigation,” Grounds said.
Added Clifford: “The best way to sort it out is before you put it before the voters.”
But legislators still have issues to iron out themselves. Grounds said altogether he was looking at 42 changes. Those were boiled down to six ballot questions legislators had approved, the first of which tied a popular issue with an unpopular one – term limits for elected officials and pay raises for them too. For legislators, salaries would rise from about $34,000 a year to about $52,000,
Legislator Crystal Williams, D-Kansas City, was one of the three who voted against the changes two weeks ago, and on Monday she indicated that she wants that issue discussed again. She’s running for a third term, and she indicated she opposes the raises – and she pointedly said it’s easy for Grounds to propose the two issues together because he’s not running again.
Another change that Clifford took issue with is central to how the county functions – the day-to-day administration of the $300-million-plus budget. Under one proposed change, legislators would have more control of the budget throughout the year, not just when they pass a budget once a year.
“It makes the budget subject to political games all year long,” Clifford said.
Legislators and White have argued sharply over the budget for the last two years.
Overall, Clifford said, legislators ought to follow a more open and public process rather than working out proposed changes among themselves. Issues put to the voters need to be “simple and clear and digestible,” he said.
In his veto message, White – also running for re-election – said the changes would “dramatically alter the administrative structure and authority within the County.” In addition to losing control of the jail, he would lose control of COMBAT, the quarter-cent sales tax that pays for programs to fight drugs and violence. That would move to the prosecutor’s office.
White and Clifford said they will continue to talk with Grounds and others, but they indicated they would oppose such broad changes.