Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Who Will Appoint the Jackson County Ethics Commission? Is it Even Ethical to Serve on it?

Is it ethical to serve on a body which is statutorily prohibited from doing what the County Charter orders it to do? Is it ethical to participate in a sham when your predecessors resigned to expose the sham?

Those questions are probably being pondered as we speak by a few citizens of Jackson County. In fact, it may be that the County is having sufficient trouble finding willing participants that the duty of filling the seats has shifted from the Ethics Commission Selection Board to Mike Sanders, the Jackson County Executive.

According to the relevant Charter provision,
There shall be an ethics commission selection board, which shall appoint all of the appointees to the ethics commission. This board shall consist of the executive director of the Mid-America Regional Council, the dean of the Henry W. Bloc (sic) School of Business and Public Administration at the University of Missouri - Kansas City, and the president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Kansas City. Within thirty days of the effective date of this section, the selection board shall appoint five residents of the county to the ethics commission. The commission members shall select their own chairman. Thereafter, within thirty days of the occurrence of a vacancy on the ethics commission, the selection board shall fill the vacancy. If for any reason the ethics commission selection board fails to timely fill any vacancy or position on the ethics commission, the executive shall appoint a qualified person to fill the vacancy or position.
The first ethics commission resignation came in early December, so the selection board is no longer empowered to make the appointment, and the duty falls to Jackson County Executive. I'm not certain of the resignation dates of the others, but I believe they were completed before Christmas (though the Star did not report on the resignations until weeks later). It appears that for at least one, and perhaps all of the commissioners, the ethics commission board has failed to timely fill the vacancy, and now the executive shall appoint a qualified person.

It's no wonder that the selection board has faced a challenge in trying to fill the Commission. The Charter grants the Ethics Commission the power to hold legislators accountable, while a recent ordinance passed by the Legislators purports to strip that power away.

If a good, ethical citizen wants to take a seat on the Commission, his or her first duty will be to sue the Legislators to reverse their illegal, Charter-violating ordinance exempting themselves from local ethical oversight. If, on the other hand, you agree to simply ignore the Jackson County Charter, you are exposing yourself to clear questions about your ethical judgment and the legitimacy of your role.

Who wants to step into a mess like that?

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