latte County’s wildly over-the-top $65 million jail sales tax increase proposal was bludgeoned by voters on Tuesday.
A very public and very decisive reprimand is out of the way. It’s time for the county commissioners to go stand in the corner and think about what they’ve done.
Voters didn’t just ‘kind of oppose’ the county commission’s proposal. They curb-stomped it. A 62% opposition number is a butt-kicking by any stretch of the imagination.
And it took place at a very low turnout non-November election. You know, the kind of election this group of commissioners said they would never use to try to pass any issue. They did try it. And their proposal was ripped to shreds in an election with only 16% voter turnout.
Imagine the depths of defeat the $65 million tax increase would have received in a 70-80 percent turnout election, which is typically the turnout in November elections in Platte County. I would guess the 62% opposed would have been closer to 75% opposed.
There were zero precincts in Platte County where a majority of voters approved the county’s $65 million half cent sales tax. Think about that. The county commission’s plan was favored in zero precincts. It’s hard to lose that badly even if you’re trying. That’s when you know you got caught trying to serve the public a turducken.
In fact there weren’t any precincts where it even came close to getting majority approval. The closest was Weatherby Lake, where voters opposed it 54-46%. An eight percent margin really isn’t considered close in politics these days.
Some precincts waxed the boondoggle in mind-blowing fashion. Weston voters opposed it by a margin of 81-19%. Camden Point voters gut-punched it 80-20%. Hoover chimed in at 77-23%. South of Platte City in the Seven Bridges precinct, where I vote, it was trounced 73-27%. Platte City roasted it 66-34%. And so on and so on.
Even normally tax-friendly communities like Parkville kicked it in the fanny pack. Parkville voters wanted no part of it by a 60-40% margin.
Voters on Tuesday issued an edict upon this county commission. It wasn’t pretty.The current county commission has lost the business community. The current county commission has isolated ardent parks supporters. Even a segment of the law enforcement voting bloc wasn’t happy the commissioners were attempting to spend $65 million on a major jail expansion before addressing needed salary adjustments for law enforcement personnel and prior to having a plan in place to pay for operations of the prison palace they were proposing to build.
The county commission has some fences to mend before it can effectively move forward. A first step would be to indulge in some humble pie and recognize that it would be beneficial to engage the public and gather public input in an effort to address problems. That’s a far better approach than egotistically throwing a proposal on the ballot without any advance public input to better alternatives. Intentionally or unintentionally, this group of commissioners has made a habit of displaying an attitude that they are considerably smarter than the public they serve. That’s an approach not likely to get you far. It’s also a mindset that at least 62% of voters called them out on.
A Platte City voter on the Saturday before the election made this comment to me: “They (the county commissioners) are trying to cram this down our throats.”
Hopefully the county commission has learned that’s the type of reaction you get when you don’t seek public input in developing solutions. Again, members of the general public are much smarter than this group of commissioners seem to give them credit for being.
There are some other basic observations that can be made based on how this went down. One observation is that the county commissioners obviously overestimated their own political popularity. It’s likely they also overestimated the political influence of the sheriff, who is a good person and a good cop. But when it comes to spending $65 million of the public’s money, facts, common sense and financial sense matter more to the taxpayers than simply seeing that a personable sheriff with a downhome personality wants it. What department head wouldn’t want new facilities and new stuff for his department? That’s the way things are inside any political entity.
Some attempted scare tactics in the final couple weeks of the campaign, when county officials tried to drift away from their previous message of “the jail is crowded” to “the jail is unsafe” didn’t resonate with most voters, though I’m sure some bought into it. Holes had been shot in the “the jail is overcrowded” argument. When the first of the county’s public education sessions was held at Parkville on a Saturday morning, it was attended by about 25 people who weren’t ready to buy what the county was selling. In short, that session was a bloodbath for the commissioners, and wasn’t very pleasant for the sheriff. “That was a long meeting,” Owen said when it was over. He may have been talking about the fact it lasted two hours. More than likely he was also feeling it was long because the public was giving plenty of pushback.
So commissioners knew they had to try a different approach. In future presentations the focus went away from “the jail is overcrowded” and out came a presentation closer to “the jail is nasty and unsafe and we’re all going to die if you don’t approve this” dog and pony show. The public is smart enough to know that nasty-looking showers that need maintenance, have rust and other issues are not situations that developed overnight. Those types of problems fall more under the umbrella of maintenance and operations than they do reasons for an alleged emergency need to spend $65 million to expand the jail by 200 beds.
Most common folks don’t go buy a new home when their bathrooms need remodeled. In other words, there are solutions to that whole “the showers are nasty” and similar concerns rather than spending $65 million and adding 200 beds. If the commission doesn’t think so, I encourage them to hold public input sessions and listen to suggestions from members of the taxpaying public. I feel confident more reasonably priced solutions are out there.
Members of the voting public are not stupid. They proved it on Tuesday.
(Get more Between the Lines on Facebook at Platte County Landmark and on Twitter @ivanfoley. Email firstname.lastname@example.org)