Jackson County official reacts to alarming audit of crime fighting program

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- As FOX4 first reported Wednesday, an audit of the Jackson County crime fighting unit COMBAT shows misuse of voter approved sales tax funds.

Shortly after assuming responsibility for combat in January, Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker ordered an outside audit of the program.

What is in the report is alarming to many people who are responsible for your tax dollars. FOX4 has new details and reaction from the Chair of the County Legislature.

“This is just arrogance and reckless spending of the taxpayer money that it's wrong," said Jackson County Legislative Chair Theresa Galvin.

In 1989, taxpayers voted for a quarter percent sales tax for the COMBAT program, to fight crime and drug prevention in Jackson County.

Ten organizations benefit from that money, but the audit found millions of dollars spent on other things. Among them, a $34,000 truck for County Executive Frank White’s Chiefs of Staff Caleb Clifford's use.

"Payments of money of $10,000 or more are supposed to come out of the legislature for approval so these payments were being made at $9,999,” Galvin said. “That way it did't have to come in front of us. It is shady, it is conniving, it is unlawful.”

Money used by other county departments to pay salaries and benefits having nothing to do with fighting crime.

The Jackson County Legislature was on one side of the tug of war over COMBAT.

Legislators, not trusting County Executive Frank White, voted unanimously to turn the program over to Jean Peters Baker. That ended up in court costing hundreds of thousands of dollars. A fight paid for by tax payers.

“He needs to talk to the taxpayers,” Galvin said about White. “He needs to tell them what happened, he needs to tell them the truth.'"

FOX4’s Shannon O’Brien went to talk to White and ask him about the audit, but was told he nor anyone else was available.

The County Executive’s Office issued this statement Wednesday, after the audit was released:

“Unlike numerous members of the media, the County Executive's Office was not provided an advanced copy of the report prior to its public release this (Wednesday) morning.  Therefore, we are unable to fully address the entirety of the report since we are still reviewing its contents at this time.  We will continue to thoughtfully review the report’s findings and look forward to working with other stakeholders as we move forward.

However, it is important to note that we have already identified concerning factual inaccuracies within the report.  While we would have preferred to have been involved prior to today's (Wednesday’s) release, so that we could have helped ensure inaccurate information was not disseminated, we remain hopeful that the inaccuracies within this report will be corrected immediately.

As an example, the report’s very first observation states that the County received $26,372,034 in actual COMBAT sales tax revenue in 2018.  This number is not true and in fact inflates the COMBAT sales tax revenue received by almost two-million dollars.  In 2018, the County actually received $24,626,625 in COMBAT sales tax revenue.  Contrary to the report's findings, the County's 2018 budget did not underestimate COMBAT sales tax revenue by 11.7%, but in actually was only of by 4.3% (the most accurate estimate in the prior five years).”

Galvin believes the legislature is repeatedly lied to by the County Executive’s Office, does not receive reports it requests and what the body does get, like the Jackson County Jail report, is redacted.

"He says he likes helping the people of Jackson County, well, this is not helping the people of Jackson County and he needs to figure out what it will take,” Galvin said. “If it takes him leaving then it takes him leaving. If he is not going to leave, then he needs to get his people in line."

This does not rest solely at the feet of the current County Executive.

This audit concludes former Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders also took money from COMBAT to fund other projects.

Sanders could not be reached for comment because he is now in federal prison for misuse of campaign funds.

FOX4 is still hoping to sit down with Frank White to get his take on the COMBAT audit and outline what his office says are the inaccuracies in it.

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