For the first time, Parkville’s ethics ordinance will get a test.
Emails sent by winning candidate Gerry Richardson and by the outgoing mayor who endorsed him have been targeted as potential ethics violations by supporters of Tom Hutsler, who was handily defeated by Richardson in last Tuesday’s municipal vote.
Complaints filed by Parkville resident Dave Williams allege that the emails, including some that originated from Richardson and then appear to have been forwarded to other potential voters by outgoing mayor Kathy Dusenbery, violate the city’s ethics ordinance that prohibits sitting elected officials from actively campaigning in a city election.
The emails supporting Richardson that appear to have been forwarded by Dusenbery are signed with a signature “Kathryn Dusenbery, Mayor, Parkville, MO” and lists the phone number of Parkville’s city hall as her contact, along with her cell number.
The apparent forwarded emails that promote Richardson’s candidacy were sent from Dusenbery’s personal email account, but her signature line that appears at the bottom of her email clearly signifies her standing as mayor and includes the city hall phone number. That’s where the alleged violation comes in, Hutsler supporters say.
Hutsler said the complaints were filed against both Richardson and Dusenbery because “we couldn’t tell if he sent the email or if she added her name to his email and then forwarded it on. Gerry could be completely innocent. But if he is innocent, he should tell us who the guilty parties are. I’d like to believe he is innocent.”
Reached by The Landmark, Dusenbery confirmed the signature referred to in the complaint identifying her as mayor of Parkville is a signature line in place on her personal email account.
“It’s on my signature on my personal email account. The email in question was sent from my home personal computer on my personal email account. And I can’t imagine that sharing a personal opinion violates any city ordinance,” Dusenbery said.
“I’m sure the city will follow whatever process is appropriate,” Dusenbery added, before excusing herself from the phone.
Dusenbery chose not to seek reelection as mayor and instead is running for the first district Platte County commissioner post. She will be opposed by Jeffrey Jones in the August Republican primary.
The email in question was Richardson’s answer to a campaign piece that had been distributed by Hutsler on the closing weekend of the mayoral campaign.
Jack Campbell, Parkville city attorney, told The Landmark the city’s ethics commission is comprised of five members. They are Andres Dominguez, chairman; Ellen Underkoffler, Neil Davidson, Brenda Davis, and Ross Taylor, all of Parkville.
Campbell explained the commission was established in 2005 and has never had a complaint filed, and therefore has never held a meeting. He said a meeting date will soon be scheduled. The commission will conduct an investigation into the allegations and make a recommendation to the board of aldermen.
“It is an advisory body. They have the duty to render advisory opinions and report on violations of city ordinance. And then the board of aldermen would make a determination whether the recommendation is going to be followed,” Campbell told The Landmark Tuesday.
“They’d have the right to censure somebody or vote somebody off, or turn the matter over to the city prosecutor,” Campbell added.
He explained a municipal violation could carry a penalty of a fine up to $500 or up to 90 days in jail.
On Tuesday, Campbell said he wasn’t yet sure when the ethics commission would gather.
“Heck, it will be the first time some of these folks have met each other,” he said.
He said the meeting will be posted. “We will try to make an effort to make sure all five members are there.”
At press time, Richardson had not yet returned a phone call seeking comment.