Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Jackson County Ethics - Is Someone Drinking on the Job?

Does someone on the Jackson County Legislature have a serious drinking problem?

One of the mysteries surrounding the Jackson County Legislature's violation of the County Charter has been their motivation for making themselves "Untouchables" for the Jackson County Ethics Code. They claim that they are covered by the Missouri Ethics Commission, but informed citizens know that the MEC is strictly limited by law to "enforcement of conflict of interest and lobbying laws (RSMo 105.450-498) and campaign finance disclosure laws (RSMo 130)." The MEC does not and will not enforce the Jackson County Ethics Code, and anyone who says they will is either lying or misinformed. Even if the MEC wanted to, Missouri law does not give it that power.

Obviously, there are major differences between the Jackson County Ethics Code (here it is in pdf format) and the Missouri Statutes policed by the MEC, but yesterday evening a political insider asked me for specifics. Beyond the point that one is enforced locally and in public, while the other gets enforced behind closed Jefferson City doors, I pointed out that they differ in various specifics. I was unprepared to answer the question forcefully, though, so, when I got home, I started looking at some of the differences.

There are a bunch, of course, but the one that jumped off the pages last night was this one:
In addition to being a violation of other laws, it is also a violation of this chapter for any public servant to: . . . Be found guilty of violating the County's policy prohibiting the possession or consumption by employees of alcohol or any controlled or illegal substance in any County facility, vehicle, or work site, including lunch periods and rest breaks; prohibiting public servants from driving or reporting to work, performing work, or visiting a work site while under the influence of alcohol or any controlled or illegal substance.
Setting aside the obvious fact that this provision completely demolishes Rizzo's argument that the County Legislators dislike "double jeopardy", this might be the key to understanding the whole thing.

The MEC will not investigate allegations of drinking on the job.

As a determined advocate for Jackson County ethics, I knew that it would help my cause to come up with a term that encapsulated the controversy in a phrase. A couple weeks ago, I tried out "Unethical Enablers", because the legislators had made it much easier for future, less exemplary politicians to get away with unethical behavior. At the time, I had no idea that their behavior could also be explained in terms of enabling other problems, but, wow, there it is. The Jackson County legislature has exempted itself from an Ethics Code that encompasses drinking on the job, or showing up at a Legislative session drunk.


Now that the voters are paying attention, will they amend their ordinance so that they are governed by the Jackson County Ethics Code, and overseen by the Jackson County Ethics Commission?

(Note on comments - this is not the place to speculate about whether any specific elected official has an issue, and I will delete all such comments.)

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

They are still subject to federal laws, correct? Between State and Federal oversight - what is not covered?

And if your argument is that the Missouri Ethics Commission has no teeth and/or is inept - isn't that a completely different problem that needs to be addressed at that level?

1/21/2009 10:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Showing up drunk is not covered, and even if it were, we are entitled to local ethics enforcement of our local ethics code. The Missouri Ethics Commission is perfectly ept, but they're not supposed to enforce the local ethics code, and they won't. That doesn't make them toothless or inept.

You asked two questions - let me ask you one. Why do you fear local ethical oversight?

1/21/2009 10:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you believe fed and state laws are good enough for us, why should the County have any ethics code at all?

(I'll tell you why - because the Jackson County government is chock full of corruption, and we need an Ethics Commission to keep track of the rascals.)

1/21/2009 10:14 AM  
Anonymous Sophia said...

Great work, Dan. You almost had me convinced to run for office, but it's not worth it if I can't drink on the job.

More seriously, thanks for focusing on this issue and doing the homework.

1/21/2009 10:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

10:10 - I don't fear local oversight, and I did not say that I did.

I think that there are gaping holes in this story and I would like to know what is really going on here. The Star's coverage has been less than enlightening.

1/21/2009 10:46 AM  
Anonymous try2Bobjective said...

I'm quite surprised Dan you have not taken the opportunity to highlight the individuals who have declined their appointments to the JCEC.

It's a decent, ethical decision these people are making. First, they make a commitment of their time and energy to serve others -- a higher purpose.

And then, realizing the calamity of the circumstances, withdraw and once again show their ethics through their actions.

Have we lost these fine citizens' service forever?

I hope not.

1/21/2009 7:45 PM  

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