ttorneys for the head of a citizens group protesting the city of Parkville’s handling of a massive development have sent an additional complaint letter to the Missouri Attorney General, protesting what they deem as the city’s illegal response to some requests for public records through the state’s Sunshine Law.
The four-page letter objects to several aspects of the city’s management of Sunshine requests submitted by Jason Maki, head of an organization known as Citizens for a Better Parkville, accusing city officials of “manipulating its release of records to thwart informed public involvement in the political process and charging excessive fees for access to public records.”
The letter objects to the $7,000 price tag for requested information, hours spent by high-level city management culling information and correspondence the city may have withheld because it will negatively impact the city’s reputation.
Maki and his attorneys filed the requests for information under a state law designed to create government transparency and were seeking all correspondence, mostly emails and electronic correspondence, about the 350-acre residential, light industrial and retail Creekside development.
Maki and his citizens group have complained that the city met with developer Brian Mertz and his attorney, Patricia Jensen, before the development was presented to the public this past September.
Documents obtained by the group as a result of Sunshine requests, reveal that City Administrator Joe Parente cautioned city leaders to meet in small groups to avoid a quorum, to discuss the development. A quorum, under the law, constitutes an official meeting and therefore, would be a matter of open, public record.
The letter from Ed Greim of the Kansas City law firm Graves Garrett states that Parente and the city’s development director spent hundreds of hours sifting through information that Maki’s attorneys said are electronic correspondence.
“It is very unlikely that those two high-ranking city officials were required for programming or copying,” the letter states. When asked what these two officials were doing for 188.25 hours, the city provided no response,” the letter states.
However, the letter states that Parente told local media that he was “screening for possible protected personnel information.” Under the Sunshine Law, governmental personnel information is exempt from open records requirements and protected from public view. “It is highly unlikely the city routinely attaches personnel files to any emails, let alone emails about a community development,” the letter states.
The letter continues that officials may have been “screening records in hopes of preventing any unfavorable content,” which is illegal under the Sunshine Law. The letter states that the practice could allow the city to withhold some requested documents.
Maki said he has already paid the city more than $6,000 to fulfill some of the Sunshine requests and that more charges will be incurred as further requests are fulfilled. Maki contends the city is illegally refusing to release more information until he pays additional money.
“If their current methodology continues, I expect to owe $15,000 to protect my rights” to public information he said during a telephone interview. “That amount will continue to grow.”
The letter from Maki’s attorneys to the Missouri Attorney General adds that Maki “may be owed a substantial refund.”
The letter, dated April 15, is the third that Maki’s attorneys have mailed to the Missouri Attorney General, protesting what they consider the city’s possible illegal missteps. The attorney general recently acted on a January letter from Graves Garrett by asking Parkville officials to respond to the accusations.
When a reporter for The Landmark requested a copy of the city’s response to the attorney general’s inquiry, Parente said the city first would need to check with the Missouri Attorney General’s office. However, a letter from the attorney general’s office to the city mentions the openness of the city’s response to the inquiry.
“Note that your response will be treated as a public record,” the letter states, “retained by the Attorney General’s office and at some point your response might be provided to the public for review as an open record.”