Jackson County legislators have hired outside legal counsel to try to work through a contentious standoff with the county executive over spending, staffing and control of some county programs.

Some legislators said Tuesday they hold out hope that they and County Executive Frank White Jr. can work out their differences in mediation next week, but they also said it’s still likely the dispute is headed for court.

“We need a bright line,” said Legislator Tony Miller, D-Lee’s Summit.

Despite the Legislature overriding White’s vetoes on five recent ordinances, legislators say White’s office continues to operate as if those hadn’t been passed.

“We’ve never had a county executive just ignore ordinances. This is new,” said Legislator Dan Tarwater, D-Kansas City.

Those vetoed ordinances shift the Combat anti-drug program to the prosecutor’s office, address the power to transfer county funds, and create a reserve fund that legislators say will allow them to better track spending by the executive, among other things.

White has hired outside counsel that has written opinions backing his position, and on Tuesday the Legislature held a special meeting – it lasted about three minutes – to hire Williams & Campo P.C. of Lee’s Summit at a cost of up to $25,000.

Legislative Chair Scott Burnett, D-Kansas City, said the county counselor’s office has to serve both the legislative and executive branches of county government, compromising its ability to resolve issues such as this.

“Under the charter, the county counselor is conflicted in almost everything,” Burnett said.

Legislators said a meeting to find some common ground has set for last Friday, with four legislators, Sheriff Mike Sharp, Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker and Legislative Auditor Crissy Wooderson, but neither White nor his chief of staff, Caleb Clifford, attended. A second such meeting, closed to the public, is set for Tuesday morning.