During a recent Parkville Board of Aldermen meeting, officials voted unanimously to approve a tax incentive for a 350-acre development and had a lengthy discussion about the city’s difficulty in meeting open records requests submitted by a member of the citizens group opposing the development.
They also announced at the meeting last week, they may charge the citizen, Jason Maki, an additional $19,000 for document requests under the Sunshine Law, which is intended to maintain transparency in government operations.
Maki, who has paid $5,300 to the city at their request for information under the law, said he was unaware of the additional charges the city may impose until he viewed a video of the board of aldermen meeting on the city’s website.
He said the extra money represents “a form of retaliation” meant to deter he and others from seeking information about the city’s actions under the Sunshine Act. Maki said his requests are within the law and meant to expose possible corruption in the city’s handling of the development.
The board also approved the establishment of a $300,000 Community Improvement District (CID), which will be paid by residents of the proposed The Meadows at Creekside community, a development near Brinkmeyer Road that represents only a portion of the 350-acre development proposed for the area near Interstate 435 and Missouri 45 in Parkville. The CID charges residents’ fees for some improvements to the area, such as infrastructure, and acts as an incentive to developers because it reduces their costs while transferring them to the residents in the form of taxes. In addition, Parkville aldermen also established a CID Board to govern the district and the board assigned members, which include City Administrator Joe Parente, Mayor Nan Johnston and the city finance director.
Regarding the open records information, Parente said during the meeting the city had researched and provided more than 25,000 requests filed by Maki, a member of a citizens group formed shortly after the development was announced and opposed to the city’s management of the development. During a telephone interview, Maki said the city’s claims are inaccurate and the citizens’ group’s records indicate the city has supplied information from about 8,000 requests.
“That’s a far cry from Mr. Parente’s claim of 25,000,” he said, adding that some requests for information have been supplied in duplicate. “I can tell you what they had for lunch,” he said, regarding some information not requested that has been provided.
The citizens group also established a website about what they view as the city’s mismanagement of the project, including some of what they consider to be illegal communications between city and elected officials, the developer and his attorney.
According to Missouri law, communications between such entities are required to take place in an open, public forum, such as a meeting. The group has learned, from Sunshine requests, that city leaders have, in some cases, attempted to skirt the law by avoiding a quorum during such discussions. According to one such request, Parente urged city leaders to meet in small groups in order to avoid forming a quorum.
Maki has said the city has failed to comply with some requests, specifically the content of some emails and telephone calls between city staff, aldermen, the developer and his attorney. While Maki said some requested information is missing, Parente painted a different picture, stating the city has made every effort to provide information, sometimes to the detriment of city taxpayers.
“Some city services have lagged,” Parente said. “Our citizens come first,” he said. Parente has previously said the city hired an information technology (IT) specialist to answer the requests but that the amount of information requested has required city staff to, at times, help sort information.
During the board meeting last week, Mayor Nan Johnston said she had been asked about the status of a nine-page-letter Maki’s attorneys sent to the Missouri Attorney General’s office. The letter included what the group claims are missteps by the city, including a myriad of objections to the city’s handling of the project. The letter includes how the city has failed to comply with many of the group’s requests for information, including cell, text and email messages about the development.
The citizens’ website states the city has a double standard for handling requests by some groups. They contacted the city last fall, asking for a list of emails of Planning and Zoning Commission members in order to thank them for allowing residents to speak during a public forum regarding the development. Maki said the city told him he would need to file a Sunshine request to obtain that information. But the group learned through Sunshine requested information that the city readily supplied the developer’s attorney with email addresses of city elected officials.
“The City of Parkville has very different approaches for how they treat members of the development community versus citizens and ordinary community members,” the website states.