I’m taking a little time to explain how I am voting on a few of the ballot initiatives in the November 6th midterm election. I’m sharing these in a series of blog posts called #EricEndorses. In my fist post I got into the weeds on the three medical marijuana initiatives.
Today I recommend voting no on the seven Jackson County Questions. While I do agree with some of the sentiment behind the proposals, I find the approach to be problematic. The questions aim to revise the Jackson County Charter (more on what that means below) in some pretty fundamental ways. I simply feel that revisions of this magnitude deserve more time and attention than they have been given.
To view the detail of each of the questions here. You can scroll through and see the redline text of the affected sections of the Jackson County Charter.
Jackson County Questions Explainer
Yesterday, you may have seen my post endorsing Amendment 2 in which I discussed the difference between a proposition and an amendment. Well, there is yet another category of ballot initiatives to consider: Questions. These are typically issues that aim to change local laws - county or city - or increase a local tax. In this case the questions are aimed at revising the Jackson County Charter.
What’s the County Charter?
The Missouri Constitution grants certain counties (and cities for that matter) a higher level of self-governance, a concept known as home rule. Counties with more than 85,000 residents and cities greater than 5,000 can adopt a charter that establishes the structure and procedures of their government. So the charter functions similarly to how a constitution works at the state or federal level. Jackson County is 1 of 4 counties in Missouri that has a charter.
It’s important to note that cities within a home rule county are not governed by the county’s charter. Kansas City, for example, has its own charter. Cities and counties without charters are governed by general law.
Current Proposed Revisions
The seven questions on the November 6 ballot are a pretty significant change to the charter. They deal with a variety of structural and procedural issues within the charter primarily regarding the the duties and limits of county elected officials. Generally these all seem designed to limit the power of the county executive.
A very brief summary of each of the questions:
Question 1 limits the power of the county executive in several key ways and adds term limits for county legislatures
Question 2 would add a list of circumstances under which the county executive would have to forfeit office including unpaid taxes it also would add term limits to the executive’s office.
Question 3 adds circumstances under which the sheriff would be required to forfeit office and expands the power of the sherif to manage the county jail.
Question 4 adds circumstances under which the county prosecutor would have to forfeit office and puts the county’s anti-drug tax under the county prosecutor’s purview. Adds term limits to the prosecutor’s office.
Question 5 would strip some powers from the county counselor, a lawyer appointed by the county executive.
Question 6 transfers some power from the county counselor to the county prosecutor. It also requires a county court judge to have prior experience as a judge in the county.
Question 7 disqualifies a currently elected official of any other government from running for county elected office.
Amending the county charter always requires approval of the voters of the county, just like the Missouri Constitution. Also like the Missouri Constitution, there are two primary ways that amendments are added to the ballot - through petition or a vote of the legislature.
The seven charter revision questions on the November 6 ballot were added by the Jackson County Legislature.
Charter Revisions vs. Ordinances
Charter revisions differ from county ordinances in much the same way that constitutional amendments differ from statutes. A charter defines the fundamental structure, processes and procedures of the county government whereas ordinances are municipal laws that are generally designed to protect the welfare of the people.
The path for a proposed ordinance to become law is much the same as a state statute. They can be proposed and approved by a legislative body and signed into law by the county executive or mayor. Or they can be added to the ballot through a petition process and then approved by voters.
#EricEndorses - Vote No on Questions 1 - 7.
With scandals plaguing the last three county executive office holders, change is definitely needed in the Jackson County government. The jail is in shambles. The previous Sherif resigned in disgrace. Power struggles between the different elected offices is a constant problem. The county needs reorganization.
However, the sweeping changes proposed in Questions 1-7 deserve far more public input. And that they appear to be in retaliation against a specific individual, County Executive Frank White, makes this approach especially shortsighted.
Even though I agree with many of the specific proposed changes, I will be voting No on Questions 1-7.
We need a fundamental shift in how the county is run and that should be explored through a lengthier process including the formation of a charter commission.