Jackson County legislature files suit against County Executive Frank White over control of COMBAT program

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Jackson County lawmakers announced Tuesday they have filed a suit against County Executive Frank White over control of the county’s COMBAT program.

The legislature filed a writ of prohibition with the 16th Circuit Court of Jackson County, requesting the court enforce an ordinance that transfers control of COMBAT, the county’s anti-drug and anti-violence effort, to the prosecutor’s office. That’s where authority was transferred by a legislative vote in December.

White vetoed the ordinance, but then the legislature overrode his vote and placed supervision of COMBAT under the prosecutor’s office. White has refused to follow that law.

“It is unfortunate the Legislature is having to take legal action to enforce an ordinance passed by this body since the County Executive continues to ignore the current rule of law,” Scott Burnett, chair of the Jackson County legislature, said Tuesday in a statement. “It is our moral obligation to ensure accountability for the taxpayer dollars and given concerns about the administration’s questionable use of these funds, a decision was made to return the administration of COMBAT to the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.  We have complete confidence in Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker to faithfully execute the duties asked of her office by this body.”

Tuesday evening, White responded to the suit with the following statement:

“I was elected to this office to do what is right. And as County Executive, that has and always will be the basis for any decision I make. I am committed to working with everyone to move Jackson County forward, however, I am not willing to violate the charter or law to do so. Any action taken by me and my administration has been in accordance with the legal advice of the County Counselor’s Office and the legal opinion the County received from outside counsel.

“Despite numerous warnings, the Legislature has continued to ignore the significant legal issues surrounding the oversight of COMBAT, which has led to uncertainty and confusion among staff and the community. Therefore, it is important we have a resolution to this issue as quickly as possible, but it must be done appropriately. I am dedicated to working with everyone in the meantime to ensure that COMBAT continues to be a cause for good in our community.”

According to some legislators, Scott Jacoby, the county’s deputy director of finance, was put on leave when he refused to use COMBAT funds to pay county employees.

Last week, Burnett, Sheriff Mike Sharp and Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker called for White to reinstate Jacoby. They said he was dismissed for refusing to violate ordinances.

In their statement, the county legislature said Tuesday it hopes the suit will compel White to comply with the COMBAT ordinance, “address the chaos and uncertainty throughout county operations, and calm the fears of county employees against further retaliation.”

Other issues have also caused tension between county legislators and White.

Legislators want the Missouri attorney general to investigate White’s tax situation. The Kansas City Star reports White owed more than $5,000 in back state income taxes at the time he signed a sworn document when running for office that vowed all taxes were current.

White says it was unintentional.