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Vote No Campaign Ramps Up Against Jackson County Charter Change Questions

Sam Zeff
KCUR 89.3

The campaign opposing seven charter change questions in Jackson County is picking up speed and donations in the last few days before the election.

The Committee For County Charter Integrity has raised $32,500, according to a campaign finance report with the Missouri Ethics Commission.

The vast majority of that came from the campaign committee for Jackson County Executive Frank White. His committee donated $25,000. White has bitterly fought the charter changes. He vetoed the legislation, but county legislators overrode the veto.

In a statement, White said he sees this campaign as an extension of his executive duties to help county residents. "My contribution to the Committee for County Charter Integrity is only a small part of the work I intend to do in fulfilling that role."

The seven questions are long and cover everything from ethics reform to term limits to pay for elected officials — sometimes in the same question. For example, if a voter wants to limit how long the sheriff can serve, they also would have to increase his pay.

Legislator Tony Miller, whose own campaign committee donated $5,000 to the vote no effort, said nobody has calculated what these pay raises would mean for taxpayers. "Nobody knows what the pension costs will be," he told KCUR.

Miller was one of three lawmakers to vote against the charter change questions when they came up in the county legislature. "I didn't like the process," Miller said. He prefers a charter change commission that would hold hearings and make recommendations.

The other contributor to the committee is Taxpayers Unlimited, the political arm of the Kansas City firefighters union.

The money has been spent on digital ads and for phone banks, said Todd Patterson, whose firm has been paid $4,000 so far to run the campaign. He said a texting campaign will start this weekend.

While there is no organized committee campaigning in favor of the questions, some county legislators have fanned out and have been advocating to community groups.

Legislator Dan Tarwater said people with whom he’s spoken are “very positive” about the questions and understand the need for the charter changes.

Tarwater said people are most interested in term limits. “If they want term limits this is the only time they’re going to get them,” he told KCUR.

In an election year where millions of dollars are being spent on area congressional campaigns, $32,500 is not that much in comparison. However, with no formal campaign advocating for the charter change questions, that modest amount could make the difference.

Also, the charter change questions are near the end of a long Missouri ballot. There is usually a 20 to 30 percent drop off in participation as voters go down the ballot.

Whatever happens Tuesday, White has said he will name a charter change commission in January.

Editor's note: Updated with additional comments.

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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