“COMBAT quite literally saves lives.” — COMBAT Comissioner Alvin Brooks (November 3, 2009)1
During the first decade of the new century, Jackson Countians twice vote to extend the anti-drug tax. In the second of these two special elections, held just weeks before the 20-aughts draw to a close—they also approve expanding COMBAT’s mission.
“The drug and violent crime issue is so complex that the community must address it in a variety of ways,” says Kansas City Police Chief Jim Corwin as he encourages voters to support the tax in 2009.2
COMBAT has been taking a holistic approach to deal with drug use and drug-related crime; the KCPD Chief adds his voice to those calling for the same all-encompassing effort to be applied toward reducing and preventing violence. The 2009 ballot measure officially widens the scope of COMBAT to include violent crime, whether that violence is drug-related or not.
Though COMBAT hasn’t rid Jackson County of “the scourge of the drug trade,” The Kansas City Star endorses renewing the anti-drug tax and broadening its use to include violence: “[COMBAT] programs have kept lives and families intact, and freed up law enforcement resources for other uses. Its renewal deserves voter approval….”3
Voters agree. They decisively support the extension of the tax and expansion of COMBAT’s mission by nearly a 43-point margin: 71.06% for and only 28.94% against.4
COMBAT’s complicated—some argue “confusing”—administrative organizational chart also undergoes significant change in 2009. Previously, the COMBAT Administrator worked directly under the Prosecutor’s Office, while the COMBAT Commission Executive Director’s position was more aligned with the County Executive’s Office.
In early 2009, the County Executive restructures the administrative staff under three leadership positions. He names a new Executive Director, Deputy Director and Planning & Development Director—each of whom is under the County Executive’s supervision.
“Things weren’t necessarily as coordinated as I think they will be now,” says new COMBAT Executive Director Stacy Daniels-Young. “In the past, the structure was confusing for the public.”5
The 20-aughts had begun with a COMBAT Executive Director, Tracey Blaylock, whose own struggles with substance use disorder—and long recovery—had inspired her to assume a leadership role with COMBAT as a “personal, professional and spiritual mission.”6
“It’s a problem in our community that affects all people.”
— COMBAT Commission Executive Director Tracey Blaylock on drugs and crime (November 2001)7
WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 1, 2001
Becoming the COMBAT Commission’s new Executive Director is as much a personal calling as a professional endeavor for Tracey Blaylock. She has gone from being a college dropout, addicted to drugs and alcohol, to being Dr. Blaylock, sober for more than a dozen years while earning two master’s degrees and a doctorate in counseling psychology and health-care management.
Blaylock assumes her duties with COMBAT after being Deputy Director for the non-profit community organization Move Up’s Fight Back program. (Jim Nunnelly continues to serve as COMBAT Administrator.)
“I hope my life is a testament of what treatment and counseling can do,” she tells The Kansas City Star. “My experience increases and intensifies my passion to help others.
“This is a personal, professional and spiritual mission.”8
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 9, 2001
During her brief time as the COMBAT Commission’s Executive Director Tracey Blaylock has striven to dispel the racist myth that drug abuse and drug-related crime are mostly a “Black problem.”
Drugs are used by people from all social and economic backgrounds, living in urban, rural and suburban America. “It’s a problem in our community that affects all people,” stresses Blaylock.9
An in-depth report from the National Institute on Drug Abuse—Monitoring The Future: National Survey Results on Drug Use, 1975-1999—reveals higher drug usage among white high school seniors compared to African-American seniors, 27% versus 20%. Also, alcohol use was significantly higher among white students (56.3%) than African-Americans (32.2%).10
The Partnership for a Drug-Free America encourages parents of all races to have meaningful and ongoing conversations with their children about drug use. The organization’s Vice President, Tom Hedrick, points out stereotypes are likely contributing to the higher drug-use percentages among white high school seniors: “It lets those parents, particularly white parents who live in the suburbs, continue to engage in their own particular form of denial. It doesn’t happen to their youth; it happens to someone else’s child.”11
TUESDAY, OCTOBER 1, 2002
Approximately 4,000 area students, from both public and private schools, converge on the Community of Christ Auditorium in Independence for what is essentially a COMBAT-sponsored prep rally to celebrate Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) efforts throughout Jackson County. The event features marching bands, African dancers and a five-person police rock ’n’ roll group.
Amidst all this buzz, Jackson County Sheriff Tom Phillips and COMBAT officials respond to serious criticism DARE is widely considered ineffective at preventing school children from using drugs. A University of California-Los Angeles professor has studied DARE extensively and asserts it’s no more effective than doing nothing. (COMBAT funds eight DARE programs in Jackson County.)
Sheriff Phillips announces DARE is being expanded to include middle school students and to encourage more parent involvement, with the program also promoting violence prevention. DARE classes, he also says, focus on communication skills and problem-solving.12
“Disappoint a drug dealer today. Vote to extend Jackson County’s anti-drug tax another seven years.”
— The Kansas City Star editorial board (August 5, 2003)13
MONDAY, MAY 12, 2003
The COMBAT tax—first approved in 1989, then extended in 1995—will expired in less than 11 months. When introducing an ordinance that would ask the voters to renew COMBAT through March 31, 2011, Jackson County Legislators express one significant concern: They’re convinced the COMBAT program has proven effective; they do worry an ailing economy, however, might make voters hesitant to again approve the tax.
The COMBAT Commission reports the tax has helped provide drug-prevention training to 150,000 students at more than 100 Jackson County schools and opened more than 4,000 drug-treatment slots—all in addition to paying for several positions inside the county Prosecutor’s Office and Sheriff’s Department, as well as at the Detention Center.14
MONDAY, MAY 19, 2003
Jackson County Legislators vote 8-0 to put renewal of the COMBAT sales tax on the August 5 ballot.
“I think everyone realizes the very positive things COMBAT has brought us,” says Legislative Chairman Dennis Waits. “I think it’s worked well, and we will continue to find ways to assure voters of its top-quality performance.”15
THURSDAY, JUNE 12, 2003
The Kansas City Council pledges to support renewing Jackson County’s anti-drug tax. Speaking with graduates of the COMBAT-funded Drug Court moves Councilman Terry Riley to strongly endorse the tax’s renewal through 2011. (Drug Court offers extensive drug treatment to nonviolent offenders as an alternative to being jailed.)
“I will do whatever I have to do so this will pass,” Riley says during the Thursday Council meeting. “It changes the lives of people. I’m on board.”16
TUESDAY, AUGUST 5, 2003
Jackson County asks voters to extend the anti-drug sales tax through 2011, and their answer is a resounding “YES!” Fewer than 35,000 turn out for the special August election, with 22,267 yeses (64.24%) overcoming the 12,391 nos (35.76%).17
“Disappoint a drug dealer today. Vote to extend Jackson County’s anti-drug tax another seven years,” urges The Kansas City Star editorial board on election day.18
The potential loss of COMBAT funding in 2004, on top of cuts by the State of Missouri, would have decimated a myriad Jackson County treatment and prevention programs, declares William Kyles, Executive Director for the Comprehensive Mental Health Center: “There hasn’t been a whole lot to cheer about in services for people this past year with all the budget cuts at the state level. To have also lost funding from COMBAT would have been devastating.”19
THURSDAY, MARCH 4, 2004
Amid tensions between the County Executive and County Prosecutor over the allocation of COMBAT funding, Jackson County Legislator Scott Burnett seeks to “set the record straight” in a guest op-ed for The Kansas City Star:
COMBAT funds have been spent exactly as promised, and only for those programs that voters were promised would be funded. Some of the misinformation arises from a misconception that the COMBAT ballot language set specific percentages for spending.
That is inaccurate. In 1995, the County Legislature passed Resolution 10950, which provided that 10 program areas would be funded at set percentages from each year's estimated tax revenue. The appropriation of each year's estimated tax revenue has followed those percentages scrupulously.
A second misconception is that there is an annual surplus of COMBAT income. That has not been true since 1995. In prior years, money received from the tax exceeded outlay because certain programs were not yet fully developed. This allowed a reserve fund to be built.
Since 1996, the Legislature has appropriated amounts from that reserve fund to various COMBAT programs.20
MONDAY, NOVEMBER 29, 2004
Jackson County Legislators want the public’s input about how best to use COMBAT funds generated through the county’s special quarter-cent sales tax. They unveil plans to allocate less money to some community programs and to some county departments, including the Prosecutor’s Office.
“We want to make sure this [money] is allocated in a proper way,” says Dan Tarwater, Chairman of the Legislature’s Anti-Drug Committee.
County Prosecutor Mike Sanders agrees with the proposed cuts to his office, but states the county’s general fund should be used to cover any shortfall in the Prosecutor’s budget.21
“There’s no way we would continue to fight drugs the way we do and continue with the programs we have without the tax.”
— Jackson County Legislator Henry Rizzo (December 2008)22
SATURDAY, JUNE 10, 2006
COMBAT hosts an “information fair” to provide the general public more details about the programs being funded through the anti-drug tax. The 2½-hour event features agencies that operate COMBAT-supported prevention and treatment programs, as well as law enforcement officials tasked with closing drug houses.23
MONDAY, MARCH 19, 2007
Ten weeks into his first term as County Executive, Mike Sanders forms a Review Committee to study the effectiveness of COMBAT and suggest any changes to the anti-drug program.24
THURSDAY, MAY 3, 2007
Lung cancer claims the life of former COMBAT Commission Executive Director Tracey Blaylock. She was 47. She had been serving on the COMBAT Review Committee at the time of her death.
“She laid her story out, her addiction, how she set out on a mission to change her life,” says Dr. Blaylock’s sister, Renee Blaylock-Smith. “If she thought she got her message across to one person, she thought she made a difference.”25
MONDAY, OCTOBER 29, 2007
Among the recommendations the Review Committee makes is restructuring COMBAT so that one person oversees the entire program. This new COMBAT director would report directly to the County Executive as well as the nine COMBAT Commissioners appointed by the executive.
The Review Committee believes this reorganization will lead to less confusion. Current supervision of COMBAT is splintered among the Prosecutor’s and Executive’s Offices.
COMBAT Program Administrator Jim Nunnelly, for example, is under the supervision of the Prosecutor, but the COMBAT Commission Executive Director position falls under the Executive’s Office.26
Despite the onset of the “Great Recession” in September of 2008—the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930s—Jackson County officials announce their intentions to put renewing the COMBAT tax on the ballot in 2009. They don’t want to wait until the tax is only within months of expiring March 31, 2011 to ask voters to again extend it.
“You’ve got to do it,” says Jackson County Legislator Henry Rizzo. “There’s no way we would continue to fight drugs the way we do and continue with the programs we have without the tax.”
Jim Nunnelly, who at the end of 2008 will be retiring after 15 years as COMBAT’s first-ever program administrator, declares, “This program is essential.”27
County officials opt to hold a special election in late 2009, asking the voters to extend the anti-drug tax through March 2018. If tax is renewed, COMBAT’s mission would be expanded to include violence reduction—whether the violence is drug-related or not.
TUESDAY, APRIL 7, 2009
“The task of transforming COMBAT, the Community Backed Anti-Drug Sales tax, into an even more effective program has begun for its new leader.” After that opening line, Kansas City Star columnist Steve Penn introduces his readers to Stacey Daniels-Young, less than 24 hours into her tenure as COMBAT’s new Executive Director.
Daniels-Young joins new Deputy Director Vince Ortega and Planning & Development Administrator David Fleming in forming a new leadership team for COMBAT. While former COMBAT Director Jim Nunnelly reported to the Jackson County Prosecutor, Daniels-Young will be under the direct supervision of the County Executive’s Office.28
FRIDAY, OCTOBER 23, 2009
In a poignant piece about the “futility of the drug war,” columnist Barbara Shelly states her intention to vote “yes” to renew Jackson County’s anti-drug tax when she goes to the polls for a special election November 3. Although she opposes the federal and state focus on waging the war through pumping more funding into law enforcement—while treatment resources across America remain relatively scarce—Shelly writes in The Kansas City Star about what sets COMBAT apart from “the larger drug war,” which resulted in 1.7 million non-violent offenders being imprisoned:
Good anti-drug programs like COMBAT have already acknowledged that police action alone isn’t the answer. One of COMBAT’s strongest features is its drug court, which gets non-violent offenders into treatment and services instead of prison….COMBAT is a smart response to an ongoing problem. But it is not smart for a nation to engage in a war with no end game.29
WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 28, 2009
Kansas City Police Chief Jim Corwin responds to critics who oppose renewing Jackson County’s anti-drug sales tax, charging that it has failed to rid the community of drugs. He cites the need for a holistic approach to address crime—and the underlying causes of it—through a community-wide effort like COMBAT that incorporates law enforcement efforts with prevention and treatment programs.
“We’ve talked and talked and talked that some crime issues are so complex, there is no one answer,” Chief Crowin says. “Heaven knows what [crime] would look like if we didn’t have those [COMBAT] resources.”30
Crowin echoes the sentiments Kansas City Mayor Mark Funkhouser had expressed earlier during a news conference: “It’s absolutely essential that we continue [COMBAT]. We can’t let up. We’ve got to keep it going.”31
TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 3, 2009
The ballot language is similar to what was used in previous Jackson County anti-drug tax elections:
Shall the County of Jackson continue its countywide anti-drug sales tax (COMBAT) at the rate of one-quarter of one percent for a period of seven years for the purpose of the arrest, prosecution, incarceration, treatment and prevention (including D.A.R.E. programs) of drug related offenses and violent crimes, and the judicial processing of adult and juvenile violators of such offenses? The proceeds of this tax shall be deposited in a special Jackson County Anti-Drug Sales Tax Trust Fund, separate from the general fund or any other county funds.32
The difference in this special election that would extend the tax through 2018 is the inclusion of one word—“violent.” So as voters go to the polls they aren’t just determining whether to continue the COMBAT sales tax, but whether or not to expand COMBAT’s mission to include all “violent crimes,” whether those crimes are drug-related or not.
And the voters’ answer is a resounding yes—33,199 yeses to only 13,519 nos, a decisive 71.06% to 28.94% margin of victory.33
The Kansas City Council, Mayor Mark Funkhouser and Police Chief Jim Corwin all endorsed extending the tax. “The drug and violent crime issue is so complex that the community must address it in a variety of ways, which COMBAT does,” states Chief Corwin.34
Three in four Kansas City voters vote “yes,” but support for the ballot measure is strong all over. More 68% of Eastern Jackson County voters approve extending the tax.35
As the vote totals on election night are tallied, COMBAT Commission Chairman Alvin Brooks succinctly summarizes the importance of continuing the tax: “COMBAT quite literally saves lives.”36
1 The Kansas City Star November 4, 2009
2 The Kansas City Star November 4, 2009
3 The Kansas City Star October 25, 2009
4 Jackson County & Kansas City Election Boards
5 The Kansas City Star April 7, 2009
6 The Kansas City Star November 9, 2001
7 The Kansas City Star November 9, 2001
8 The Kansas City Star August 31, 2001
9 The Kansas City Star November 9, 2001
10 The Kansas City Star November 9, 2001
11 The Kansas City Star November 9, 2001
12 The Kansas City Star October 2, 2002
13 The Kansas City Star August 5, 2003
14 The Kansas City Star May 13, 2003
15 The Kansas City Star May 20, 2003
16 The Kansas City Sar June 13, 2003
17 Jackson County & Kansas City Election Boards
18 The Kansas City Star August 5, 2003
19 The Kansas City Star August 6, 2003
20 The Kansas City Star March 4, 2004
21 The Kansas City Star November 30, 2004
22 The Kansas City Star December 27, 2008
23 The Kansas City Star June 10, 2006
24The Kansas City Star March 19, 2007
25 The Kansas City Star May 24, 2007
26 The Kanas City Star October 31, 2007
27 The Kansas City Star December 27, 2008
28 The Kansas City Star April 7, 2009
29 The Kansas City Star October 23, 2009
30 The Kansas City Star October 28, 2009
31 The Kansas City Star October 28, 2009
32 Jackson County & Kansas City Election Boards
33 The Kansas City Star November 4, 2009
34 The Kansas City Star November 4, 2009
35 The Kansas City Star November 3, 2009
36 The Kansas City Star November 4, 2009