Jackson County voters could be looking at substantial changes in how elected officials operate, including term limits and reduced powers of the county executive, under plans being floated by outgoing Legislator Greg Grounds of Blue Springs.
“I’m only one of nine, and I realize my views might not be shared by my colleagues,” Grounds said at Monday’s County Legislature meeting.
Grounds stressed that he’s trying to keep a conversation going among legislators and that some give and take is needed in the coming weeks. He’d like to see this go to the voters in August, and legislators would have a May 29 deadline to place it on that ballot. Among the changes:
• Reducing the Legislature from nine members to eight, eliminating one of the three at-large positions.
• Limiting legislators and the county executive to two terms of four years each, starting in January 2019. That means current legislators, several of whom have filed to run again this year, could serve two more terms.
• Putting the jail under control of the sheriff rather than the executive.
• Giving county legislators a substantial raise, paying them the same as Kansas City Council members. The prosecutor would be paid the same as a mayor of Kansas City, which would be amount to a pay cut for the prosecutor.
• Giving the Legislature more power to review professional services contracts and the power to say no to interim department directors and other officials appointed by the executive. Contracts entered into by the sheriff and prosecutor would be reviewable by the Legislature, not the executive.
• Giving the Legislature the power to name the county counselor from among three people nominated by the executive. Currently the executive names that person, and some officials have suggested that creates some confusion about who that office works for. County Counselor W. Stephen Nixon has firmly stated that the office is independent, calling issues as it sees them and favoring neither the executive nor the Legislature.
Some expressed concerns about Grounds’ ideas.
“I’m worried about the timeline – like really worried about the timeline,” said Legislator Crystal Williams, D-Kansas City. She said officials need to take the time to hear from the public before settling on a plan to present to voters.
“One of my biggest fears,” Ground said, “is that it gets drug out.”
Legislator Tony Miller, D-Lee’s Summit, asked about going through the charter review process, but Grounds pointed to the ongoing jail task force that has already taken months.
Williams also had a concern about eliminating an at-large legislative position.
“Frankly, it disenfranchises Democratic voters in Jackson County,” she said. She said she’s been getting calls about that concern.
Democrats have long held control of the Legislature and currently have seven seats to the Republicans’ two, including Grounds.
Grounds stressed that he’s flexible on these proposals and said he might give ground on cutting the one legislative seat.
He also added, “I would hate to see this devolve into party politics.”
County Executive Frank White Jr. said there are concerns, including moving the jail to the sheriff’s control and restricting his ability to name interim directors.
“You’ve got to be able to do business,” he said.
He wouldn’t commit to supporting or opposing term limits.
“We’re going to sit down with Greg at some point and discuss this,” White said.