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Audit Finds Jackson County Lacked Oversight For COMBAT Fund To Fight Drugs And Violence

Andrea Tudhope
KCUR 89.3 file photo
The Kansas City No Violence Alliance canvassed the Northeast neighborhood in 2018. The neighborhood saw a drop in crime that year which was attributed in part to a "Violence Reduction Initiative" that COMBAT's executive director helped lead.

The state audit calls into question the sale of a county building for $10 after spending more than $1 million on renovations.

A Jackson County anti-crime tax fund that generates more than $20 million a year had insufficient oversight, according to a state audit released Wednesday.

Control of COMBAT has been contentious. The county legislature voted to move administrative control from County Executive Frank White to Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker at the end of 2017. That kicked off a struggle, which included a court case, between White and the legislature. Baker eventually got full oversight in December 2018. The audit covers spending from 2016 to 2018.

The sales tax supports anti-drug and anti-violence initiatives. The police department, prosecutor’s office, the Jackson County Drug Task Force and the circuit court receive funding. Agencies, like the Child Protection Center and Children’s Mercy Hospital, can also apply for funding.

The audit included a review of a county building sold for $10 after using more than $1 million in COMBAT funding to renovate the building. The sale happened without conducting an independent appraisal or cost-benefit analysis, according to the audit’s findings.

"The COMBAT Fund was created to help protect the safety of the citizens of Jackson County, and it's vital that these resources be managed effectively and appropriately," Auditor Nicole Galloway said in a statement. "My audit has found several areas for improvement, and I urge county officials to take action on the recommendations in this report."

The county legislature sold the MyArts building in 2017 to the Independence School District after federal funding dried up for a drug prevention program housed in the building. White wanted the building to be used for employee workspace, which would have saved the county money in leasing space for court employees. Staff for the county executive also floated the idea of renting the space, which could have netted $1.6 million a year to the fund, according to an estimate. The county originally purchased the building for $1.

“It would have been fiscally responsible for county officials to analyze and consider all available options for repurposing, renting, or selling this building,” the audit says. “Since the County Legislature did not document an analysis considering all available options prior to this sale, there is less assurance this decision was in the county's best interest.”

The audit also said non-profit agencies providing drug abuse treatment, prevention and anti-violence services need additional monitoring. About 41% of county payments to those agencies did not “provide supporting documentation timely,” according to a review of 99 payments from 2016 to 2018.

This isn’t the first audit to point to a lack of oversight. A 2019 audit found White and former executive Mike Sanders bypassed county legislative approval by saying spending was “emergency status.”

Baker and COMBAT Director Vince Ortega said in a joint statement that they will implement the audit’s recommendations.

“We encourage anyone who wishes to report an alleged mismanagement of funds or the improper use of COMBAT funds for further investigation,” Baker and Ortega said.Your information can be reported anonymously at jacksoncountycombat.com/whistleblower or by calling 816-881-4337.”

Frank White said in a statement that his office is no longer responsible for oversight of COMBAT but supports the audit’s recommendations.

“...To the extent feasible, will work with all parties involved to assist in implementing those recommendations,” White said.

Aviva Okeson-Haberman is the Missouri government and politics reporter at KCUR 89.3. Follow her on Twitter: @avivaokeson.

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