Monday, January 26, 2009

Day 50 of Jackson County Ethics Crisis - Will Citizens be Forced to Use Initiative Petitions to Get the Ethical Governance Promised in Our Charter?

Jackson County Government has been in an ethics crisis for 50 days, and the crisis shows no sign of fading. Instead, it worsens.

Way back in the beginning of December, Sly James resigned from the Jackson County Ethics Commission. His resignation started a 30 day time frame for a new appointment by the ethics committee selection board. Unfortunately, that board failed to appoint a replacement in time, so, under the County Charter, Mike Sanders is now the only person with the authority to make that appointment. Similarly, the remaining ethics commissioners each resigned before Christmas, and the 30 day period for their replacement has passed, as well.

In the time when Jackson County has been without an Ethics Commission, the Jackson County Legislature has run amok. First, it passed an ordinance which illegally purports to rob the Commission of its role in overseeing Jackson County Ethics. As if to demonstrate its utter contempt for ethical standards, the County Legislature then selected as its Chair a member who has already been fined for a state-level ethics violation.

Why has Mike Sanders failed to appoint a new Ethics Commission? Probably because ethical citizens are hesitating to join a Commission which is directed by the Charter to do that which is barred by ordinance. It's an untenable position, and I certainly understand why good people would not want to be a part of an atmosphere that is rapidly descending from unethical to actively anti-ethical.

Is there a solution to this ethical toxicity created by the Jackson County legislature? We have a completely empty Ethics Commission, and it appears that nobody will fill those seats. At this stage, even if Mike Sanders were able to find willing participants, what kind of credibility would they have? For all concerned, it might be best to leave the Commission vacant as a symbol of the Legislature's disdain for ethical standards.

If the Jackson County Legislature persists in its rejection of local ethical oversight, citizens have two methods of fighting back for their Charter. As I've mentioned before, replacing the incumbents in 2010 may be relatively easy and bring a bunch of fresh faces to the legislative body.

The second method, and one that is becoming increasingly attractive, is an Initiative Petition. With under 7000 valid signatures on Petitions, we could force a vote in Jackson County about whether we want our Jackson County legislators to be subject to local ethical oversight and local ethical standards.

If we time this correctly, we can gather the signatures on spring weekends and get the issue on the ballot in August. It's going to take a lot of work and a bit of money, but this is the sort of project that ought to catch fire. There are a lot of people who knocked on doors and organized successfully for the November elections, and new potential candidates for office should be eager to align themselves early with the pro-ethics side of Jackson County.

It's day 50 in Jackson County's ethics crisis. In the coming days and weeks, I'll be posting more about this problem. Stay tuned.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Won't any of the Legislators stand up and be counted on this? Where is their leadership? Surely they don't all fear Burnett that much.

1/26/2009 4:03 PM  
Blogger craig said...

If this becomes a reality, I will definitley support it and will probably even canvas for signatures.
Keep us updated Dan.

1/26/2009 10:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why didn't Mike Sanders draft members of the commission? That is what he is going to have to do because all those who had applied have withdrawn their names so he will have to draft people now.

1/27/2009 11:00 AM  

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