Jackson County officials are making a push for ethics reforms and limits on no-bid contracts, both part of County Charter changes that go to the voters five weeks from today.

Jackson County officials are making a push for ethics reforms and limits on no-bid contracts, both part of County Charter changes that go to the voters five weeks from today.

“These charter amendments are timely and necessary,” County Executive Mike Sanders said at press conference Monday morning to promote the changes. He said the changes would mean “real ethics reform” and would end the executive’s power to ignore the will of the County Legislature by awarding professional services contracts without review and without a dollar limit.

“No politician should have that full a power, and that should end,” he said. When he took office three and half years ago, Sanders placed tight limits on those contracts but points out that a future executive could go back to those abuses unless the voters write the changes into the charter.

Early in the year, Sanders appointed a task force, led by former Kansas City Mayor and former County Legislator Kay Barnes, to go over the charter line by line and consider changes Sanders had suggested. The task force wrapped up its work last month. The charter has been in effect since 1973, and officials describe the changes as the most significant since then. The major changes:

 A merger of the county’s Ethics Commission and Office of Human Relations and Citizen Complaints. Barnes said that will actually strengthen the Office of Human Relations because the commission will have a staff.


“We spent a great deal of time working on that particular provision of the charter,” she said.

 Limits on professional services contracts awarded by the executive.

 

 The Legislature approved putting all of the suggested changes on the Aug. 3 ballot except one: They stripped out a provision that would have given elected officials – legislators, the executive, the prosecutor and the sheriff – raises. Legislators, for example, are paid $25,920 for their part-time positions, and that would have risen to $28,916.


“We do not feel in these hard economic times that we should ask for a pay raise,” Legislature Chairman Henry Rizzo said Monday.

 Removing the charter requirement that the executive maintain specific departments and offices – such as an office of health and welfare – and instead outline the functions that need to occur and let the executive organize those as he sees fit. Sanders says that saves the taxpayers money. For many years, the county has not had some of the charter-mandated offices and, in theory, someone could sue the county and force it to follow the letter of the law – leading to a “creation of bureaucracies,” he said. Those functions continue to carried out, but the government structure to do that needs to be flexible, he said.


Barnes said the task force operated independently of Sanders and the Legislature, worked well, and came up with good changes.

“So I certainly feel good about the process I participated in,” she said.

Monday’s news conference was an attempt to give the changes some public attention. Sanders said he doesn’t anticipate any money being raised for a political push – “Charter reform doesn’t sound very sexy,” he said – and he doesn’t think there will be ads on TV to support the issue.

“I’ll give you the blunt answer: There’s no money in good government,” he said.

The drive to convince voters will consist of events such as Monday’s and visits with newspaper editorial boards, Barnes and Sanders said.