Monday, January 19, 2009

Greg Grounds Fights Dirty - The Funding Issue

The Jackson County Legislature has pulled out all the stops in a desperate attempt to make their refusal to accept ethical oversight seem less offensive. One of the more shameful bits of misdirection they've employed, though, is a claim that they've excused themselves from local oversight because the Jackson County Ethics Commission ought not to "be subject to the people they are investigating not funding them."


For those not paying attention, Legislator Greg Grounds, in one fell swoop, impugned the ethics of the citizens serving on the Ethics Commission, accused his fellow Jackson County legislators of corrupt behavior, and misled the Jackson County voters.

Let's talk a little bit about the "funding" that Greg Grounds thinks he can use to control the Ethics Commission. How much do you think the Ethics Commissioners are profiting from their work on the Ethics Commission? If you read his nasty little insinuation, you probably imagine that they are paid something in the mid five figures to clean up after our legislators, but you would be horribly mistaken.

The members of the Jackson County Ethics Commission do not get paid for their service. Indeed, after they angered the legislators by holding a hearing, the County responded in petty fashion by refusing to pay their parking. While there are some other costs associated with the Jackson County Ethics Commission, any claim that the Commission is in thrall to the dollars is a red herring - a stinking, rotten red herring that Greg Grounds should be ashamed of tossing into public debate.

His argument also falsely impugns the ethics of the Ethics Commissioners. Does he really think that the Ethics Commission would "go easy" on the legislature because of a few dollars of funding, which will never, ever, come near to them personally? His suggestion that the legislature would actually have the guts to refuse to fund a legitimate investigation is also a huge insult to what I truly hope is a less corrupt body than he implies.

Finally, Greg Grounds' opinion that the legislature buys off whomever it funds is insulting to the law enforcement and court system that it does fund. By Grounds' logic, he should be immune from prosecution in the Jackson County Circuit Court if he embarks on a crime spree. The prosecutors would be unable to prosecute him, because they are funded by the legislature, and the courts would not be able to convict him, because their personnel are on the Jackson County payroll. In Greg Grounds' self-important mind, the jail could not dare to hold someone of his stature.

It is truly sad to see a Jackson County legislator believe that the entire mechanism of County Government is controlled by his almighty dollar. It is truly insulting to see a Jackson County legislator threaten a volunteer board with a cut in pay. Most of all, though, it is infuriating to see that Greg Grounds and his fellow legislators think we're dumb enough to fall for it.

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Anonymous Right concept Wrong Focus said...

I agree with the concept of the coercive power of the purse that Legislator Grounds cited, but Gone Mild is right in pointing out that it does not apply here.

The commission had no material budget that could be used against it in a coercive or corrupting manner. As put forward by Legislator Grounds, this is a straw man argument.

That said, there are situations in the legislature where Legislator Grounds' observation does apply.

Take for example County Legislator Denny Waits. Legislator Waits has a very active and lucrative law firm in Independence, which represents clients before the County Court.

At the same time, Legislator Waits votes on the budget of the County Courts -- everything from salaries to legal pads. In fact,last year Legislator Waits was the chair of the legislator with great control over the budget process.

Legislator waits also held the power of the purse over the County Sheriff's Department and the County Prosecutor's Office.

It seems to me that Legislator Waits is subject the very conflict of interest that Legislator Grounds pointed to.

Furthermore the County Court and the Sheriff's Department is subject to the same coercive power consistent with Legislator Grounds' comments, which could dictate how they carryout their duties when dealing with Legislator Wait's clients.

Is there not at least a perception that Legislator Waits could cut the budget of the Court, or a particular judge if he did not believe they were being good to his clients? Could he not vindictively cut the Sheriff's budget in response to some investigation or testimony completed by the deputies against his clients? Is it not possible for the legislator to put the squeeze on the County Prosecutor's budget in response to a particularly aggressive prosecution of his client(s), or reward the budget of the Prosecutor's Office if it proved less aggressive in bringing charges or settling cases?

Perhaps more importantly, would it not have a chilling effect on the actions of a judge, prosecutor or deputy sheriff when dealing with one of Legislator Waits clients when when the legislator holds a clear power of retribution against their budget?

In my opinion, Denny Waits should choose between setting the budget of the County Court and law enforcement and practicing law before the County Court.

Once again, while I do not agree with Legislator Grounds, I do believe that he raises an important principle which should be applied to every member of the legislature.

1/19/2009 10:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It might not be a bad thing that the state sets penalities and addresses complaints. Look what happended to Scott Burnett. An ethics complaint was filed against him with the Jackson County Ethics Commission - all supporters of his - and he got off "scott" free. It was then filed with the state and the state found him guilty and fined him a large sum of money. I think there are pros and cons to both sides.

Besides, Greg Grounds is one of the good guys when it comes to this governing body.

1/19/2009 11:13 AM  
Blogger Dan said...

I agree that Grounds is one of the better legislators, and I felt a little bad about jumping on him like that, but, geez, he really did throw out a stinking, misleading red herring, so he deserves it. If he wants to defend his pals with lousy, dishonest arguments like that, he needs someone to call him out on it.

Here's where your argument is flawed. The Jackson County Ethics commission looked at violations of County ethics standards, and found none. The State ethics commission looked at violations of the statute, and found one. They were looking at different things entirely. That's why we need both, not one or the other.

1/19/2009 11:19 AM  
Blogger craig said...

3 things.
1. Keep up the heat.
2. Good job linking to a real paper, the Examiner.
3. Although I disagree with Grounds on this issue, I can understand how he could possibly think this way.
This was a chance for him to take a stand, and he didn't. I am dissapointed in him for that. But at least he has the cajones to state his opinion in his weekly Examiner article.

1/19/2009 12:08 PM  

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