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County executive spars with legislators, offers own plan for pandemic funds

Mike Genet

Jackson County Executive Frank White recommends that the county distribute half of its $122.7 million in CARES Act money to the county's various cities, based on population.

Under that proposal more than $10 million would go to Independence, $4.8 million to Blue Springs and $1.2 million to Grain Valley to help recover expenses incurred in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic. The County Legislature has final approval for distributing the emergency funds.

White accompanied his recommendation Monday afternoon with a swipe at some county legislators for perceived political gamesmanship when it comes to the emergency relief funds from the federal government. More than once, he said Monday, the County Legislature has approved far less – if anything – of pandemic-related spending proposals that White either brought forward or supported.

Also, some of the legislators last week voted their disapproval of the advisory group White had selected to help him design a spending plan for CARES Act funds, leading White to decide it would be a waste of time for the advisers to continue volunteering their time.

White’s proposed fund distributions, based on recent census estimates, include:

• Blue Springs, $4,870,864.

• Grain Valley, $1,267,337.

• Independence, $10,179,182.

• Lee’s Summit, $8,484,774.

• Kansas City, $27,642,719.

• Sugar Creek, $284,422.

• Buckner, $263,657.

• Lake Lotawana, $184,002.

• Lake Tapawingo, $62,729.

• Levasy, $7,154.

• Oak Grove, $711,754.

• Raytown, $2,529,352.

• Sibley, $31,932,

Whatever fund distribution gets approved, cities will be able to use money to cover necessary expenses such as payroll for public safety, public health, health care, human services and others whose is substantially dedicated to the pandemic response; emergency financial assistance for those who lost income due to the pandemic; food delivery to vulnerable residents; facilitating distance learning; and care for the homeless population.

“For the County to receive these funds, I had to sign my name and promise that the funds would be used appropriately,” White wrote in a news release. “At the time, I was hopeful that Jackson County had come far enough to be able to distribute these funds appropriately and in the best interest of the County,” White said. “Unfortunately, recent actions by some members of the County Legislature have caused me to question their ability to act in the best interest of our community. I am confident that this plan will ensure that these funds are put into our community, where they are needed, as quickly as possible.”

White said legislators have:

• Not appropriated any of the $1.5 million to Harvesters that he proposed in the Joe Runions Act.

• Approved $1.5 million for the Health Department for testing and contact tracing instead of the $5 million his office requested.

• Approved less than one-fourth of the Kansas City Health Department’s $11.7 million request for testing and contact tracing.

White said during last week’s County Legislature meeting that legislators are acting “as if the administration can’t be trusted to do their job. I find that offensive.”

Legislature Chair Theresa Cass Galvin, R-Lee’s Summit, told White that’s not the case.

“And I apologize that you felt that way,” she said, “and I’m sorry that you do feel that way because that’s not the intention of myself or anyone on the Legislature.”

However at that same meeting last week, four legislators voted to disapprove White’s appointed advisory group, though County Counselor Bryan Covinsky later said the Legislature couldn’t disapprove of a group that has no decision-making power in the county.

White’s advisory group was led by former Kansas City Mayor Sly James and including Mary Anne Jackson, dean of the UMKC School of Medicine and an expert on infectious diseases. In his letter to group members, White said he was sorry elected letters were not putting politics aside for the community's good.

“I am sorry that your generous offer of assistance at a time of unprecedented need in our community was used as a political football at a time when we can least afford it,” White wrote, in part. “I am not done fighting this fight … but I cannot in good conscience ask individuals of your stature, ability and importance to our community to waste another minute of your time due to the dysfunction of Jackson County.”

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