Dear Jackson County Friends, Family and Registered Voters,

I feel compelled to inform you and start a discussion about recently passed self-serving legislation by your elected officials on the Jackson County Legislature. As some of you may know, Jackson County is currently embroiled in numerous lawsuits, three of which are between the County Executive and County Legislature. The basis of these lawsuits is to strip powers away from the County Executive and shift it to others in county government, including administration of the Anti-Drug/Anti-Violence (COMBAT) tax to the county prosecutor and supervision of the jail to the county sheriff.

Much of the hostility between the County Executive and the Legislature began when County Executive Frank White attempted to appoint a new director to oversee COMBAT without going through an open and transparent process. After the appointment was made, the legislature exercised their power to reject the executive’s appointee. Since this time, and oddly, it appears a majority of the legislature is now of the mindset that they don’t need to conduct themselves in an open and transparent manner. Both are wrong.

This past Monday, the Jackson County Legislature passed Ordinance 5093 with a 6-3 vote to send to the voters six questions to amend the Jackson County Charter. For purposes of this discussion, I’m only going to tackle the first question. However, there is a story behind each measure. This legislation was introduced by Legislator Greg Grounds as a reform bill. The overwhelming theme of question one is to introduce term limits at the same time raising the salaries of elected officials including the county legislators. This so-called reform measure was supported by three legislators who are once again running for office for another four-year term: Chair Burnett (6th time), Waits (9th time) and Tarwater (7th time). Announcement of a public hearing for this legislation came only six days before the final vote. Not surprisingly, it was not well attended.

It has been said numerous times that Mr. Grounds drafted this legislation in response to his observations over the past couple of years and in particular, the past couple of months. Several of Mr. Grounds colleagues have commended him for drafting this legislation and not seeking another term in office. At one point in Monday’s meeting, Legislator Dan Tarwater commented to Mr. Grounds, “and you’re not running again so this isn’t something you’ve done for yourself.” One would assume that Mr. Grounds would not benefit from this legislation since he is not seeking re-election. It’s my understanding that is false. It appears Mr. Grounds will in fact receive an increased pension based on the higher salary pursuant to County Code 1512.3 if this legislation is approved by the voters.

Mr. Grounds states his motivation for suggesting an increase in pay of elected officials is an attempt to open up the process to more individuals. He believes the reason more people are not running for elective office in Jackson County is due to the power of incumbency and the salary. As Legislator Crystal Williams mentioned the salary didn’t stop Legislators Burnett, Waits and Tarwater from running for office six or more times. Conveniently for those three, Mr. Grounds introduced this legislation after the deadline for filing for office has passed this election cycle. Assuming Mr. Ground’s goal of attracting more individuals to run for office is sincere, it won’t be effective for another four years.

Chair Scott Burnett then made a statement that he supports the $150,000 increase to the budget (per year), which he acknowledges is a good amount of money, to pay for the raises. He further stated he thinks it’s a good value to attempt to attract more people to public office compared to the millions of dollars it would cost the county to pay our corrections officers what we should be paying them. Interesting logic. Give elected officials a pay raise and put off paying anything to corrections officers because it costs too much. Again, if the goal to attract more individuals to run for office doesn’t happen for another four years, then the $150,000 annual increase to the budget is actually a $600,000 expense before it’s effective. My guess is the officers would appreciate whatever slice of the $600,000 over next four years would come out to.

And then there’s the guilt trip part of this discussion to convince legislators to support this measure. As Grounds put it, this is not a vote to change the law, but to put it in the hands of the people to make the decision and not to betray their trust. I agree wholeheartedly if the ballot language proposed wasn’t totally manipulated in a way to confuse voters into thinking this is simply a term limit measure. Placed strategically in the middle of the paragraph is “to provide a salary increase for members of the County Legislature”. Of course, there’s no mention of the percentage or amount of the increase either. They just want you to trust them that this will bring the much need reform that Jackson County so desperately needs right now.

Here are link to the legislative meeting video and relevant documents:…/…/15-Pension-Plan-PDF…

I encourage you to take interest in this. I realize most folks are tired of politics and are not as interested as I am, but in order to change the direction we heading and to clean up business as usual in Jackson County, I’m asking you to reach out to your legislators and tell them enough is enough. Keep in mind these same legislators asking for raises are the same ones currently spending hundreds of thousands of your taxpayer dollars for lawyers to fight the county executive and his staff. There is no reason to rush the topics of this legislation. Discussion should start after the 2019 county legislature is seated and as it has been done in the past with a charter commission made up of members of the public to thoroughly discuss and propose changes. As I expect will happen, County Executive Frank White will likely veto this ordinance. If that happens, one additional legislator is needed to have the courage to not vote to override his veto.


Jim Witteman
Chair, COMBAT Commission…