With passions still running high from the April 5 city election, Tuesday night’s meeting of the Parkville Board of Aldermen was quickly reduced to a verbal slugfest as Police Chief Bill Hudson had to interject himself on two occasions to restore order to the proceedings as the board dealt with alleged improprieties that occurred in the closing days of the municipal election.
The political fervor has yet to subside two weeks after a closely contested race was decided to replace Alderman JC “Charlie” Poole in Ward 1. Tom Hutsler fell to Deborah Butcher by a narrow 16-vote count.
The controversy at hand centered on a 2002 proposal to erect a cell phone tower near English Landing Center. The request was made by Dave Williams who then owned the proposed site, which is just west of the center.
The Planning and Zoning Commission considered the request at its meeting on April 9, 2002. The application, however, was withdrawn in the face of public opposition before commissioners even voted on the issue.
Butcher’s supporters charged that Hutsler supported the tower, which he vehemently denies. Williams indicated that he was also opposed to the project after seeing the design plans and therefore withdrew the request. In response to the charges, Williams, who is a longtime business associate and political ally of Hutsler, mailed a postcard to Ward 1 residents that said Hutsler “was against the tower … and was at the meeting to oppose it.“
Butcher’s campaign contended that Hutsler did not oppose his business partner’s request because he did not publicly voice his opposition at the meeting even though he was in attendance. While Hutsler did not claim that he spoke against the request at the meeting, his failure to say anything in the matter’s regard was offered as an inherent insinuation that he actually supported the project.
Hutsler, however, maintains that his opposition to the cell tower can be corroborated through witnesses, including a former city official, and that he in fact recruited others in the weeks preceding the meeting to attend the session in opposition to the project.
A letter to counter Hutsler’s contention that he “thwarted efforts … to build a cell phone tower” was disseminated by Butcher’s campaign committee, Citizens for a Balanced Parkville. It included the signatures of past and present planning and zoning commissioners and gave the impression that it was signed by the body in its official capacity. Campaign literature that was distributed with the letter specifically stated that the letter was from the “2002 Planning and Zoning Board” as an entity and asked voters to support Butcher.
Mayor Kathryn Dusenbery as well as Aldermen Dave Rittman and Dave McCoy were exasperated at the intimation that a city board had taken a side in the election. Rittman held that it was a serious ethical breach on the part of the four current commissioners who signed the letter.
Planning and Zoning Commissioners William Quitmeier and Ron Ortiz said that no laws were broken and were incensed that their ethics were being called into question. They likened the inquiry to “sour grapes” on behalf of Rittman and McCoy as they actively supported Hutsler’s candidacy. Ortiz submitted his resignation to the board because of the controversy.
While no mention of it was made at the meeting, the committee may have committed an ethical breach by not including a disclosure that it paid for the letter, which appeared to come from the commission. The inclusion of the disclosure would have prevented the appearance that the planning and zoning board supported Butcher. The letter was prepared by people associated with the campaign committee and printed at the committee‘s expense. Butcher also confirmed that she personally requested each of the six individuals to sign the letter. She said that the letter was prepared in anticipation that it would be among the topics discussed at a neighborhood association meeting where she spoke two days prior to the election. She further indicated that she told the signatories that it would only be used for that sole purpose. When Butcher learned of the postcard that was mailed by Williams, however, she decided to disseminate the letter to counter Williams’ rendition of events.
Rittman and Dusenbery further objected to a misleading note that was handwritten on the bottom of the letter. It said that Alderman Marvin Ferguson and Charlie Kutz have not signed the letter because they were out of town.
Butcher asserted that the note was a mishap and was never intended to be distributed as part of the campaign literature. She offered it was a note to herself and that her working copy, bearing the handwritten note, was reproduced and dispersed by accident when someone duplicated the wrong copy. She maintained that she only learned of the error after the material was disseminated.
When Butcher offered the explanation, Dusenbery incredulously asked if she had ever requested Ferguson’s signature. Butcher refused to answer the question and stated that it was not the point. Both Ferguson and Kutz were apparently in town and were never requested to sign the letter.
While Butcher maintained that she bears full responsibility for any action conducted in her campaign’s name, she only extended an apology to Ferguson for the inclusion of his name.
Hutsler assuaged the often heated debate when he requested that everyone simply “let bygones be bygones.”
He indicated that it would in no way benefit the city to further rehash the issue. He instead suggested that the board move forward in a positive way and asked Ortiz to remain on the planning and zoning board. At the urging of Alderman Jack Friedman, the board rejected Ortiz’s resignation to afford him the opportunity to reconsider his resignation.
Hutsler was not so conciliatory in another matter as he filed a complaint with the city regarding an incident with Friedman and Poole last Friday, April 15. Election fever may have been running a little high for the aldermen as Hutsler alleges that he was accosted by the pair while working the polls at the Presbyterian Church.
He charged that they rushed him and repeatedly taunted him in what he believed was an effort to provoke him. The Parkville Police Department responded to the incident, but the city prosecutor declined to prosecute the pair for disturbing the peace, citing that it was not prosecutable.
After a lengthy discussion, the board unanimously approved three remedial actions for the alleged ethics violations that were proposed by Alderman Dave Rittman. First, all city staff, elected officials, and other appointees will be required to attend mandatory ethics training. Second, City Attorney Jack Campbell was requested to draft an ethics ordinance for the board’s consideration. And, third, the board also directed Campbell to issue an opinion on the ethics requirements under the planning and zoning board’s existing bylaws as there were competing interpretations of the member’s ethical requirements.
Butcher was sworn in as the Ward 1 Alderman by City Clerk Barbara Lance. Rittman and Ferguson renewed their oaths after their reelections on April 5. Alderman Marc Sportsman was also reelected but was absent from the meeting and was therefore not administered the Oath.