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Judge Cancels Jackson County Primary Election For Sheriff, Ruling It Was Not Authorized

Sam Zeff
KCUR 89.3
The judge's ruling canceling the primary election for sheriff means the party nominating committees will select the candidates for the November election.

This story was updated at 9:06 p.m. to include comments from some of the candidates.

A judge has canceled the Aug. 7 primary election for Jackson County sheriff, ruling it was not legally authorized in the wake of the April resignation of Sheriff Mike Sharp.

The decision by Jackson County Circuit Judge David Michael Byrn comes after the Jackson County Democratic Committee sued to stop the primary election, claiming only the committee was authorized to select a nominee for the November general election.

The committee argued, and Bryn agreed, that the clerk of the Jackson County Legislature, Mary Jo Spino, acted outside her authority when she reopened the candidate filing deadline for five days beginning May 7.

While Missouri law provides for the reopening of a candidate filing deadline if a vacancy is created by the death, disqualification or withdrawal of a candidate, Byrn said that didn’t apply in this case, where the sheriff resigned.

Sharp was elected in 2016 to serve a four-year term and, until his resignation, the county wasn’t scheduled to hold an election for sheriff until 2020. Sharp stepped down after admitting he had a sexual and financial relationship with an office employee.  

“In situations like this, the parties have the right to pick their candidate for the election to fill the vacancy,” said attorney Clinton Adams, who represented the Jackson County Democratic Committee.

A spokeswoman for Jackson County Executive Frank White, Marshanna Hester, said in a statement that the county counselor, while acknowledging "a lack of clarity in the law," determined that the best way to proceed was to open candidate filings for the primary. 

"However, that determination was taken to court and the court has decided differently. The County will follow the court's order," she said. 

Because the ballots have already been printed, Byrn ordered the Jackson County Board of Elections and the Kansas City Board of Elections not to tabulate or report any votes cast in the primary for sheriff. He also ordered that the boards post notices in polling places to the same effect.

David Raymond, a lawyer representing the Kansas City Board of Election Commissioners, said the board would abide by the judge's decision. 

"We don't determine what goes on our ballot, whether it's the county or the city or the state or school district elections," he said. " And now that we've got an order of the court on how to handle this, we'll follow the court unless someone tells us differently."  

In the wake of Byrn’s ruling, the 94-member Jackson County Democratic Committee plans to meet on Aug. 21 in the Independence courthouse to select a candidate, according to Executive Director Geoff Gerling.

“It’s my understanding that at least one candidate has been in touch with committee members,” Gerling said.

Gerling declined to name the candidate, saying, “Anyone could get into the race now.”

Three individuals had been vying for the Democratic nomination: former Kansas City Police Chief Darryl Forte, who was appointed interim sheriff by Jackson County Executive Frank White after Sharp’s resignation; Mike Rogers, a captain in the sheriff’s office; and retired Kansas City police Sgt. Ramona Arroyo. Rogers and Arroyo both interviewed for the interim job that went to Forte.

Two individuals had been seeking the Republican nomination: David Bernal, a former FBI agent; and Randy Poletis, a former chief of the Lake Lotawana Police Department.

Jackson County Republican Committee Chairman Mark Anthony Jones said he plans to call a special meeting to pick a candidate. If he can’t get a quorum of the 68-member committee, he said Republicans will pick a candidate at their regular meeting on Aug. 21.

KCUR left messages with all five Democratic and Republican candidates, but only two immediately responded. 

Arroyo said she still hoped to be the Democratic nominee. 

"Yes, I'm going to see this through," she said. 

Forte, Rogers and Bernal likewise said they were staying in the race. 

"I remain excited and committed to serving, with a forward-focused mindset @JCSheriffOffice @JacksonCountyMO," Forte tweeted. "There's much work to be done!"

In a statement, Rogers said he respected the legal process and looked forward to working with the Jackson County Democratic Committee. 

"It is my job to convince them that my experience, knowledge and loyalty to the Jackson County Sheriff's Office makes me the best choice for Sheriff," he said.

"I'm not sure if it will be easier or harder," Bernal said, referring to the canceled primary election. 

Poletis said he had not seen the ruling but would comment after he had. 

Dan Margolies is a senior reporter and editor for KCUR. You can reach him on Twitter @DanMargolies.

Sam Zeff is KCUR's metro reporter. He can be reached on Twitter @samzeff

Dan Margolies has been a reporter for the Kansas City Business Journal, The Kansas City Star, and KCUR Public Radio. He retired as a reporter in December 2022 after a 37-year journalism career.
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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