Jackson County legislators on Monday are likely to try to override County Executive Frank White Jr.’s veto of plans to reduce the executive’s authority and overhaul county government. If the pattern of recent months holds, they will have enough votes for an override, sending the issue to voters in November.
The changes, listed in seven separate ballot questions to amend the County Charter, would impose term limits, hand operations of the jail to the sheriff, hand the Combat anti-drug program to the county prosecutor, restrict the executive’s power over the budget, place limits on the county counselor’s office and give raises to all 12 elected county officials – the executive, sheriff, prosecutor and all nine legislators.
Legislators approved that on a 6-3 vote last week. That would be just enough votes for an override.
White vetoed the proposed changes on Thursday. He was unavailable for comment Friday, but in his veto message he says the Legislature’s action would “dramatically increase the salary of elected officials, submits misleading and unfair questions to the voters, and ultimately fails to include an enforceable term limit for any elected office.”
Among his criticisms is what the courts have called “doubleness” – two or more issues on the same ballot question. For instance, Question 1 makes eight changes, including limiting legislators to two four-year terms but also giving them raises. Voters would have to approve the one to get the other.
White wrote, “The Missouri Supreme Court has held that the ‘vice of “doubleness” in submissions at elections is universally condemned. It is regarded as a species of legal fraud because it may compel the voter, in order to get what he earnestly wants, to vote for something which he does not want.’”
All of the raises are part of ballot questions that include other issues as well. For legislators, salaries would rise from $25,920 a year to about $49,000, a figure tied to the salary of Circuit Court judges. The salaries of the executive, sheriff and prosecutor would rise to that of a Missouri Court of Appeals judge, $158,848. That compares with current figures of $84,330 for sheriff, $108,436 for the prosecutor and $108,000 for the executive.
White also argues that term limits, as adopted by the Legislature, have a loophole. The ordinance says, “No member may serve more than two consecutive full terms …” That would take effect in January 2019.
White argues that a person could run and win twice but not be barred from running a third time. That person could win a third term and resign shortly before the end of the second term – free to reassume office, White contends.
Legislators meet at 2:30 p.m. Monday downstairs at the Eastern Jackson County Courthouse, 308 W. Kansas Ave., just off the Independence Square. If they want to override White’s veto, they need to act quickly. The deadline to get on the Nov. 6 ballot is Tuesday.