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County Legislature chair responds to executive’s claims

Mike Genet

Elected officials have clashed over how to spend federal relief money for COVID-19

The chair of the Jackson County Legislature says she is pleased with County Executive Frank White Jr.’s recommendation on disbursing federal CARES Act funds, as it mirrors her initial approach.

White on Monday released a proposal to distribute half of the county’s $122.7 million in CARES Act money to the county’s various cities, based on population.

Legislator Theresa Cass Galvin, R-Lee’s Summit, says she and the Legislature’s budget chair, Crystal Williams, D-Kansas City, supported such a plan when they first learned the county would be receiving that CARES Act money. They also support including fire protection districts in the allocations.

“We should do what’s best for our constituents,” Galvin wrote in a release, “and this will give municipalities the opportunity to put the money in the hands of the people in need and expedite resolutions for our constituents.”

Galvin said she simply wishes she hadn’t first learned of White’s proposal via press release. The county executive made no mention of it during Monday morning’s County Legislature meeting, and in his release later listed instances of perceived political gamesmanship by some legislators on using emergency funds.

“We can do better,” Galvin said.

Under the population-based distribution proposal, allocations would include more than $10.1 million to Independence, $4.8 million to Blue Springs, $1.2 million to Grain Valley and $27.6 million to Kansas City to help recover expenses incurred by the COVID-19 pandemic. Thus far, Galvin said, Blue Springs has been allocated $100,000 and Grain Valley $10,000 based on COVID-related needs.

Two of White’s qualms had been that legislators hadn’t appropriated any money to Harvesters, the region’s supplier to food banks, from the Joe Runions Act, and they appropriated far less than the county and Kansas City health departments requested for testing and contract tracing.

Galvin said White’s announcement of the Runions Act came before they knew CARES funds would be coming and hadn’t received a recommendation on that since. While it has final approval of appropriations, “to be clear, the Legislature lacks independent authority to appropriate money,” Galvin said.

On testing and contact tracing, Galvin repeated White’s mention that “COVID-19 knows no boundaries” and that with a regional contact tracing effort started, it made little sense to fully fund both department requests rather than possibly pool resources.

White’s idea of a volunteer advisory group to help him regarding CARES funds wasn’t a bad idea, Galvin said, but she balked at possible plans to add two consultants for the group at $10,000 per month for six months. White also claimed the Legislature was cutting out county administration in discussions on Truman Medical Centers funding, and Galvin cried foul on that, as well.

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

Legislators should be good stewards of tax dollars, Galvin wrote in her release, and she asked White going forward to communicate directly with legislators.

“It is a shame that egos are getting in the way of the greater good of the people of Jackson County,” the chairperson wrote. “Elected officials publicly attacking each other is not acceptable.”