he Missouri Attorney General is aware of what a citizens group considers the city of Parkville’s illegal role in a planned massive development project at I-435 and Hwy. 45.
A law firm, hired by a member of Citizens for a Better Parkville, a group that opposes the city’s handling of the project, has filed a formal complaint asking for an investigation into what they consider the city’s series of illegal actions, most of which they contend are violations of the Sunshine Law.
The Missouri law is modeled after a federal one and is designed to protect transparency in government and makes it illegal for such bodies to conduct meetings in private, outside of the public eye.
In a formal complaint letter dated January 9, the nine-page account outlines the group’s objections to the project. The letter includes how the city has mostly not complied with the group’s requests for information, including cell, text and email messages about the development. The group says the city has responded to a few requests and that information proves the city held private meetings with developer Brian Mertz and his attorney for months before the issue was discussed in open planning and zoning and board of aldermen meetings.
Among the information provided by the city is written communication in which City Administrator Joe Parente told city staff and elected officials to be careful to avoid a quorum at these unofficial meetings, so as not to violate the Sunshine Act.
The complaint letter follows months of protests that began in September as voiced opposition during public hearings and have continued to escalate into the group forming a website where the city’s alleged mis-steps are named.
In addition, the group recently launched an algorithm dubbed “Transparency,” which is a database like the international WikiLeaks, known for publishing secret information. The computerized tool, available on the group’s website, takes basic information, such as the requested correspondence and categorizes it in a detailed, easy-to-locate format.
An attorney in the Kansas City law firm that filed the complaint to newly-appointed Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, said the citizens group remains hopeful that the city will yet comply with remaining Sunshine requests. Schmitt only recently accepted the position as former Attorney General Josh Hawley resigned to take a U.S. Senate seat after he defeated longtime U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill.
“I’ll just say we’re still holding out hope,” said Eddie Greim of the Kansas City law firm Graves Garrett, whose attorneys filed the complaint. “Every case is unique,” Greim said during a telephone interview.
Information listed on the state website states that the office typically handles cases of fraud and unfair business practices. Greim added that as of Monday afternoon, the law firm had not received a response to the complaint letter and the attorney general is not obligated to respond.
Jason Maki, a spokesperson for the citizens group, has hired the law firm as a means of forcing compliance.
“They (city officials) need to be transparent about the business of the city,” Maki said. “If the city has nothing to hide, there shouldn’t be a problem with providing all records requested of them.”
When asked about the frequency of his firm filing complaint letters with the attorney general, Greim said “it’s infrequent enough I probably can’t even provide an average.”
The firm recently filed a complaint on behalf of the Missouri Alliance for Freedom, complaining that State Auditor Nicole Galloway’s office made no effort to preserve text messages, after Galloway made similar charges against then-Gov. Eric Greitens, to which Hawley’s office found no violations of state law in either case.
Greim said while small governmental entities might involuntarily violate Missouri’s Sunshine Law, Parkville does not fall into that category.
“The City of Parkville is on a more sophisticated side,” he said. “You would expect better compliance by them.”
If the city continues to not comply with requests for information, the firm may take additional action.
“The attorney general will do what he needs to do,” Greim said. “And we will file a lawsuit irrespective of what the attorney general does.”