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Judge will decide whether Frank White or prosecutor controls anti-drug sales tax funds

The Jackson County Legislature is asking a judge to enforce its recent ordinance that transfers control of the anti-drug and anti-violence agency COMBAT from County Executive Frank White to the prosecuting attorney’s office.

White has ignored the legislature’s wishes since that body overrode his veto of the ordinance, prompting something of a crisis within some parts of county government.

Last week, the deputy chief of the finance department was put on paid leave after refusing to transfer funds out of COMBAT at White’s direction to partly cover the salaries of White aides whose positions the legislature eliminated.

In filing the suit, the legislature set aside for now a proposal from legislator Dan Tarwater to ask the Missouri attorney general to intervene and look at a range of other issues, including questions about White’s eligibility to run for office in 2016, as well as a secret deal to save his house from foreclosure.

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The Star reported last week that White swore “under penalties of perjury” that all his state and local taxes were current when he declared his candidacy in 2016 for county executive when in fact he was past due in paying his 2013 state income taxes. White said it was an oversight.

Last month the newspaper reported that a political supporter who does business with the county quietly helped White avoid losing his house to foreclosure in 2016, which Tarwater and others said raised at least the appearance of a conflict of interest.

Tarwater said he still has the five votes he would need to ask for Attorney General Josh Hawley’s assistance. But for now he said the court action would lead to a faster resolution on who controls COMBAT, which he said was more pressing than White’s personal issues.

Plus, he said Hawley would likely refer any investigation of White’s financial issues to Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker, who he said “is still looking at things.”

Legislator Crystal Williams said in filing its own court action, the county will get clear guidance on who controls COMBAT and its $20 million budget. The agency distributes funds collected through a countywide sales tax to law enforcement and non-profit groups that treat and deter drug abuse and violent crime.

“The attorney general is going to want a judge’s opinion the way we want a judge’s opinion,” she said.

News of the lawsuit broke at the close of Monday’s legislative meeting, during which legislators voted to set aside $250,000 for county agencies to hire outside attorneys to deal with this and other issues if needed.

Referring to the COMBAT court filing, chairman Scott Burnett said he and the eight other members of the legislature have “a moral obligation” to see that taxpayer dollars are being spent as the legislature intended.

“It is unfortunate the legislature is having to take legal action to enforce an ordinance passed by this body since the county executive continues to ignore the current rule of law,” Burnett said in a written statement.

White was not at the meeting, White later issued a written statement that did not respond directly to the legislature’s lawsuit but welcomed a resolution.

“Despite numerous warnings,” White said “the Legislature has continued to ignore the significant legal issues surrounding the oversight of COMBAT, which has led to uncertainty and confusion among staff and the community. Therefore, it is important we have a resolution to this issue as quickly as possible, but it must be done appropriately.”

He did not explain what might have been inappropriate about the legislature filing suit.

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Frank White’s finances

The Jackson County executive and former Kansas City Royal has experienced financial problems.

Neil Nakahodo, Mike Hendricks, Keith Myers

The Kansas City Star

Mike Hendricks: 816-234-4738, @kcmikehendricks

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