Jackson County Executive Frank White Jr. on Friday called for the retraction of an audit sharply critical of how the county has spent anti-violence tax money, but the county prosecutor’s stood by the report and said the main figure White has seized upon as inaccurate is one his office provided.
The audit, released Wednesday, said millions in COMBAT money – the county’s sales tax for anti-drug and anti-violence efforts – has been spent for non-COMBAT purposes, or hadn’t gone through COMBAT staff, or both.
“I am asking that BKD immediately issue a public statement retracting the report, acknowledging that the report includes numerous errors and asking that the community and policy makers not rely upon its contents,” White wrote in a letter Friday to BKD, the Kansas City CPA that did the audit for the prosecutor’s office. He cited “numerous inaccuracies, omissions, and misleading statements within the report.”
White’s office had earlier criticized the report for an inaccurate figure, putting 2018 COMBAT revenues at $26.37 million. The correct figure is $24.63 million. The prosecutor’s office said BKD relied on White’s administration for those numbers.
In a statement issued late Friday after White’s letter, County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker and COMBAT Director Vince Ortega said “ … BKD confirmed that the only specific alleged inaccuracy identified by County Executive Frank White's office was information given to them by the County Executive's office. So any error would be the County Executive's error.”
White also expressed irritation at not seeing the report before it was released to the public.
The prosecutor’s office said there was a reason for that, too.
“It was important to the integrity of this report that other county departments were not given the opportunity to scrub, redact or delay this report, as has been practiced in some county departments,” the statement said. “You should be reminded that the County Executive's office heavily redacted a consultant's report on the poor conditions at the Jackson County Detention Center and sought to seal documents that supported a grand jury's report on conditions at the jail.”
Baker initiated the audit last year after the County Legislature removed COMBAT from White’s control and put it in Baker’s office. The 33-page audit says COMBAT funds went for pay and benefits for county employees who don’t work in the program, and more than $2 million went for jail doors without the knowledge of COMBAT management.
It says COMBAT revenues – first under former Executive Mike Sanders, then under White – where consistently underestimated in budgeting for much of this decade, creating excess funds the executive then spent at his discretion. That was as high as $2.85 million one year. In 2017, for instance, the average was $1.28 million but only $133,946 of that was spent in line with COMBAT’s funding formula, the audit said.
The audit said that of $33,945 the county spent for a 2016 Chevy Colorado for White’s chief of staff, Caleb Clifford, $4,869 was from COMBAT and “outside of the mission or purpose of COMBAT.”
The audit said some of the issues – particularly using COMBAT money for the salaries of those not connected with the program – have been addressed since Baker took over.