he Parkville Ethics Commission reported to the city’s board of Aldermen on Tuesday with their investigation of former mayor Kathy Dusenbery.
The commission found that Dusenbery’s actions in forwarding a political email with her automatic signature attached was improper, but the commission recommended the board take no further action against Dusenbery.
During the election, candidate Gerry Richardson sent an email to several people and asked them to forward the email. Dusenbery was one of the recipients who forwarded the email with her signature as mayor and listing the phone number at city hall on the email.
A complaint was filed by Parkville resident Dave Williams alleging a violation of the city’s ethics ordinance which restricts elected officials from using their title to endorse a candidate in an election.
Richardson defeated Tom Hutsler in the mayor race with a margin of 65 percent to 34 percent of the votes.
The chair of the commission, Andres Dominguez, presented the findings to the board in a written report.
“The commission found Kathryn Dusenbery’s use of the Mayor title, in signing a political communication that was forwarded by email to a number of individuals, improper…,” states the report.
Under the ordinance after the commission makes a finding they make a recommendation to the board of aldermen of whether any punishment is warranted. The commission’s report recommended the board not take action against Dusenbery on the complaint.
“The commission, however, also found that Ms. Dusenbery’s actions were not portrayed as the official action of the entire board of aldermen, any city commission, or committee and, thus, would not likely be interpreted as official city action. The email was forwarded from another source, a non-governmental source; Ms. Dusenbery was not the author of the email, and added no comment. There is no evidence this forwarding was an endorsement of Mr. Richardson… As a result of our findings, the commission recommends no further action on the complaint.”
At the commission’s previous meeting on May 14, Dusenbery was given the opportunity to present testimony before the ethics commission.
“The ethics ordinance that is at issues was written because of a controversy over a printed piece that went out to voters in an earlier city election,” wrote Dusenbery. “That piece strongly shared an opinion to vote for a certain candidate. In contrast, all I did was push a forward button and share information prepared by someone else.”
Dusenbery said she was simply trying to share information she had received with the residents of Parkville.
“I believe in allowing people to read both sides of a story. I believe in letting people reach their own conclusion. This is the way that I have worked for four years as mayor of Parkville, with our citizens, our board of aldermen and our many commissions and committees. I am a consensus builder and offer information as my method to build consensus. I respect my fellow citizens enough to allow them to make their own decisions without the force of my opinions. If you look at candidate Richardson’s website you will see that I did not have a recommendation for Mr. Richardson, I did not have a recommendation on any of his printed pieces. I did not go door to door to campaign for Mr. Richardson.”
Dusenbery has argued that since she was using her personal email, then she was not acting as a city official.
“I forwarded an e-mail on my personal e-mail account and personal home computer that I had received at home, not advocating any particular position to vote for Mr. Richardson. All my personal e-mails automatically attached an electronic e-mail signature at the bottom of the e-mail. That automatic signature included contact information for me.
“It was never my intent to violate any ordinance of the City of Parkville. I pushed a forward so that people could have information, that is all I did. I simply forwarded an email from my personal email address, on my personal computer. If that violated an ordinance of the city, it was not intentional.”
After presenting her written statement, the commission asked Dusenbery several questions about the alleged violation of the ethics ordinance.
“Why did you have the signature on your email?” asked Ross Taylor, commission member.
“I did a lot of work out of my home,” said Dusenbery. “I didn’t use the city computer very much. It was really about convenience.”
“Were you able to access city email from your computer?” asked Ellen Underkoffler, commission member.
“I was able to check emails from the city at home,” said Dusenbery. “You’ll find it’s very common for small cities.”
“Are you saying you sent other emails, other personal emails with the signature?” said Underkoffler.
Dusenbery said the automatic signature was added by her husband because she had been typing the signature for each email.
“The sad part is I didn’t have an automatic signature until three months ago,” said Dusenbery. “My husband was doing me a favor by including that, so I didn’t have to type it anymore.”
After the first meeting Parkville businessman Tom Hutsler had several comments about Dusenbery’s statement.
“I wish it was just the flip of a button,” said Hutsler. “Officials have the right to endorse whoever they want, but they don’t use their title. No one is above the law, as a contractor and developer I am required to follow all of the rules and ordinances. Even if I had won, I would see that justice prevails in this situation.”
The board of aldermen took the report of the commission under advisement and may–or may not–discuss the report and decide on any action.
Reached for comment Wednesday morning, Dusenbery responded:
“I await the decision of the board to completely clear my name,” said Dusenbery. “Overall I am happy with the decision. I look forward to moving forward with my race for first district commissioner.”