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Jackson County Charter Change Battle To Stretch Into Next Year

Sam Zeff
KCUR 89.3

The fight over how or even whether to change the Jackson County Charter won't end after the November election. Instead, the debate will stretch into next year.

County Executive Frank White confirms that he will appoint a charter change commission that will most likely start work in January.

"I intend to name a Charter Review Commission, with a focus on recommendations that reflect best practices as they relate to ethics, finances and separation of powers," White said in a statement to KCUR.  "Most importantly, the Commission will be directed to use every opportunity to properly engage all members of our community in this process.”

Lack of community engagement was the biggest knock against the charter change proposals on the November ballot. A divided county Legislature, driven mostly by retiring Legislator Greg Grounds, voted to put seven charter questions on the fall ballot. Voters will be asked to approve, among other things, term limits, pay hikes for elected officials, ethics reform and whether the sheriff should run the county jail.

White vetoed the package, but legislators overrode the veto in August, clearing the way for voters to decide Nov. 6.

But voters will not have the final say. There is already movement to create the commission. Longtime Missouri political operative Todd Patterson has talked with county officials about working with commission members.

He suggests that the charter commission isn't an attempt to overturn what voters decide. "This election would inform the commission's work," he says.

Opposition to the ballot questions is also bubbling up. The Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce is leading that fight. "The lack of citizen input into the proposals is the primary reason for the Board’s opposition," the Chamber said in a news release.

While the Chamber opposes the ballot questions it appears it will pass on funding a "vote no" campaign. "It's unlikely the Chamber as a whole would put money behind it," says Richard Martin, chair of the Chamber's Public Policy Committee. Although, he says, individuals might decide to pay for a campaign.

But starting a campaign so close to the election is hard. "I wouldn't want to start a campaign 45 days out," Martin says

Patterson agrees. "I don't think there's the organization or monetary interests. The timetable is just too tight."

Martin says the Chamber has other priorities for November including passage of Proposition D, which would hike the gas tax in Missouri by two-and-a-half cents a gallon. Campaign finance reports show the Chamber contributed $25,000 to that effort on Setp. 24.

Still, opponents to the questions are scheduled to meet Thursday to discuss how to proceed.

Legislator Tony Miller isn't sure there will be a funded, organized campaign against the proposed changes, but he has personally taken up the fight. "I talked about it through my own campaign (for reelection) back when this was proposed," he told KCUR.

Sam Zeffis KCUR's metro reporter. You can follow Sam 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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