Former sheriff challenges incumbent

Mike Genet

Jackson County Sheriff Darryl Forte, who was tabbed to replace Mike Sharp in 2018 after Sharp’s resignation under duress, now faces his predecessor in his run for re-election.

The two men are on the Aug. 4 ballot in the Democratic primary. There is no Republican on the ballot, so the primary winner will stay on or take over as sheriff in January for a term of four years.

Sharp resigned in April 2018, shortly after court documents revealed an ongoing sexual and inappropriate financial relationship with a Sheriff's Office employee who had an ongoing sexual harassment suit against the department. The next month, County Executive Frank White Jr. named Forte, a former Kansas City police chief, to become sheriff, and then that fall, Forte won election to fill out Sharp’s term.

While Forte wants to continue the reforms he sayss the department needed when he took the helm, Sharp says he believes his leadership style would be more helpful for department morale. He says he was encouraged to run again by some county officials.

“My style is to build people up and encourage them,” Sharp said, “and his style is to knock ’em and down and try to build them back up.”

“He calls it a culture change; I call it demoralizing leadership,” he said, adding that Forte has called out deputies in public.

Forte said he knew soon after taking the sheriff’s post that he would run for re-election.

“When I saw so many opportunities to professionalize this place, I was excited,” he said. “They were publicly embarrassed.”

“I’ve tried to change them to be a respected agency.”

Forte said he believes deputies would be pleased with several moves and efforts he’s made. Among them: promoting the first female captain in the agency’s history, revising the policies for vehicle pursuit and domestic incidents, and putting together formal plans for professional development and vehicle replacement. He has also worked to improve the county’s sex offender registry compliance.

During Forte’s tenure, the voters shifted jail oversight from the county executive’s office to the sheriff, and he says there’s been marked improvement in what has been a troubled facility, such as reducing workers compensation claims and employee turnover each by 50 percent.

“With the jail, we’ve kept the (COVID-19) spread under control,” he said.

If elected back to office, Sharp said, he wants to give what he hears is a needed morale boost, and he hopes to create a citizens advisory board or increase citizen input in some way with matters such as discipline.

“You can always improve on everything you do,” he said. “We were always looking for ways to make (the department) better.”

Regarding his resignation two years ago, Sharp said he had already planned to leave for another job lined up with a friend, as he had just helped the county give deputies a significant pay raise. Political maneuvers led to the court document revelations about the inappropriate relationship, he claims, and simply hastened his departure.

“I had done everything I wanted to do as sheriff,” Sharp said. “After we got the pay raise for the deputies, that’s a pretty good feeling. I kept my mouth shut as far as another job.”

Ultimately, Sharp said, he turned down the other job to avoid negative publicity for his friend, and most people he encountered didn’t care about the relationship in the past, he said. The former sheriff said two current county legislators – he wouldn’t name them – encouraged him to file for election. Forte hasn’t attended many Legislature or Drug Task Force meetings, Sharp said he heard, and new jail plans are on the horizon.

“I was talking it over with my family, and I said, ‘OK, we’ll see what happens,” Sharp said, adding that even some current deputies have put election signs in their yards.

“What does that say,” he said. “That’s a vote of no confidence.”

Forte has previously noted his desire to build a concrete statewide officer misconduct registry, and said he questions whether his opponent could get hired as a deputy now if he applied. Ultimately, he said, he’s trying to build more internal accountability.

“We’ll continue to hire highly qualified applicants,” he said. “I want people to be confident enough that they think, ‘Hey, that’s criminal activity, I need to report that.’”

Too many times, Forte claims, that’s been ignored.

“I’m not blaming anybody here,” he said. “It’s up to us to change it.”

Financial reports

Through the July quarterly report filed with the Missouri Ethics Commission, Mike Sharp's campaign has raised $24,330 and spent $14,108. The largest donors include:

• $5,000: Louis Accurso, Kansas City.

• $2,500: Ben Sharp, Lee's Summit; Michael Hatfield, Lee's Summit; Chris Parks, Blue Springs.

• $1,500: Dominic Brancato, Grandview; Richard Kochuyt, Leawood, Kansas.

• $1,000: Former Jackson County Legislator Fred Arbanas, Lee's Summit; Former Jackson County Legislator Dennis Waits, Independence.

• $500: Gail Holsman, Kansas City; Melanie Lanigan, Lee's Summit; Roscoe Mazzela, Kansas City; Miquiel Quinn, Kansas City; Richard Young, Lee's Summit; Reno May, Kansas City; Bradley Burris, Kansas City; Plumbers Local 8

Forte's campaign had $11,399 on hand to start the year, has raised $31,505 since then, including a $20,000 loan from himself, and spent nearly $9,900.

Top donors include:

• $2,500: POL PAC (a statewide PAC based in Jefferson City).

• $1,500: James Clark, Independence.

• $1,000: McCown Gordon PAC.

• $500: Matthew Roney, Grain Valley; Greater Kansas City AFL-CIO; Phillips West Public Relations and Communications; Byrne Pelofsky & Associates.