Jackson County is set to pay a former employee $727,000 to settle a lawsuit in which that employee claims he was illegally suspended and then fired during a dispute two years ago over COMBAT funding.
County legislators met in closed session for less than 20 minutes Monday and then voted 8-1 for the settlement with former Deputy Director of Finance Scott Jacoby. Legislator Ronald Finley, D-Kansas City, voted no.
Jacoby’s claims in federal court include that the office of County Executive Frank White Jr. directed him to ignore the law and use COMBAT money – the county’s quarter-cent anti-drug and anti-violence sales tax – for purposes COMBAT isn’t authorized for. Those included covering parts of the salaries of White and several people in his administration.
This came in the midst of a dispute that played out for months. In December 2017, the County Legislature moved COMBAT out of White’s office and placed it under the control of County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker. The prosecutor is an elected official and does not answer to the county executive.
White fought against that change. He vetoed the transfer of COMBAT out of his office, but legislators overrode that veto. He took the matter the court, but lost the following August.
Even with the program under Baker’s control, Jacoby said in court papers that White’s staff “demanded that (he) violate the law with taxpayer money in December 2017 by seeking to illegally direct COMBAT funds without the approval of the Prosecuting Attorney and for purposes that were outside of COMBAT-approved purposes of fighting drugs and violence.”
The next month, White suspended Jacoby, who had raised concerns about “a hostile environment with fear of disciplinary action.” Jacoby says he was suspended for more than 200 days and then fired despite working for the county for almost 15 years – the last eight as a deputy director – and being an exemplary employee who got “the highest levels of praise” in his annual performance reviews.
He said the county refused to cooperate with attempts to get an investigation into his suspension and termination, which the county called a budgetary layoff. He also claimed the county violated his rights as a merit system employee.
In his lawsuit, Jacoby accused the county of, among other things, defamation, breach of contract, violation of due process, violating his First Amendment rights, violating the Missouri Whistleblower’s Protection Act and violating the Missouri Sunshine Act.