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Who Controls COMBAT Is Headed To Jackson County Court

Peggy Lowe
KCUR 89.3

This story was updated at 8:10 pm Tuesday with a statement from County Executive Frank White. 

A judge will decide who controls Jackson County's anti-drug program known as COMBAT after county legislator's filed a lawsuit.

For weeks, the Jackson County Legislature has been in a pitched fight with County Executive Frank White over who calls the shots for the $19 million program — White or Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker.

County legislators passed an ordinance last year moving COMBAT over to the prosecutor's office. White vetoed the ordinance, and lawmakers promptly overrode the veto 9-0.

Along with the legal action, the Legislature Tuesday also set aside $250,000 to pay for it.

Legislature Chairman Scott Burnett says he knows taxpayers will be unhappy with the county spending that kind of money over an internal dispute. "I know this is heartbreaking that we're in this situation," he says.

The money will pay for outside counsel for the legislature, the prosecutor, the executive, the sheriff and the county counselor.

Who runs the day-to-day operation of COMBAT has sown frustration throughout county government. In a statement Burnett said there was "chaos and uncertainty" and some county employees feared retaliation if they followed the ordinance.

So the Legislature filed something called a Writ of Prohibition that asks a court to force White to hand control of COMBAT over to the prosecutor's office.

The six page complaint, which names White, his chief of staff Caleb Clifford and chief administrative officer V. Edwin Stoll as respondents, charges "Substantial confusion is resulting from Respondents’ actions" and that White has used COMBAT funds "to pay county employees with job responsibilities that include no COMBAT-related initiative or purpose."

In a statement White said that as county executive he only wants to do "what is right" and that he has relied on advice from the county counselor and outside legal opinions when it comes to COMBAT. "I am committed to working with everyone to move Jackson County forward," the statement said. 

An email to Baker's office seeking comment was not immediately returned.

Sam Zeff is KCUR's Metro Reporter. Follow him on Twitter @SamZeff.

You deserve to know what your taxpayer dollars are paying for and what public officials are doing on your behalf – I’ll work to report on irresponsible government spending in the Kansas City area and shed light on controversies that slow government down. And when you hear my voice in the morning, you know you’re getting everything you need to start your day. Email me at sam@kcur.org, find me on Twitter @samzeff or call me at 816-235-5004.
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