EDITOR’S NOTE: During the past 10 months The Landmark has written dozens of articles about Creekside, a sprawling, more than 350-acre development currently under construction in Parkville. The development has been made controversial by Citizens for a Better Parkville, a group led by Jason Maki. This article delves into the identity, motivation and money driving Jason Maki, the most vocal opponent of the way the city has managed the process.)
Who is Jason Maki?
he 45-year-old technology consultant lives in unincorporated Platte County just across the street from the Parkville city limits. He and his wife have a young son. Maki grew up in Minnesota, lived for a time in Florida and moved to Platte County about two years ago to be near family.
Parkville Alderman Marc Sportsman stated at an early meeting that because Maki does not live within the city limits of Parkville, he should not be allowed to state his views during public hearings. But Maki said he sees it differently and his right to speak is upheld by state law.
“Whatever they build, success or failure, I’ll have to live with it,” he said.
Maki was never politically active until he became involved as an opponent of the way the city has handled Creekside. Voting in elections was the extent of his political activity before he became a vocal opponent of the development project, led by Brian Mertz of Parkville Development.
Why He Became Involved
Maki said citizens were eager, in the beginning, to voice their objections to various aspects of the planned development. A Parkville Planning and Zoning Commission public hearing in September 2018 drew dozens of vocal residents. But, Maki said, there’s a reason that attendance has fallen at subsequent meetings. He said Mayor Nan Johnston made public comments during some of the open forums that signaled dissatisfaction among city officials with views that were critical of the plan. He said she reacted with “righteous indignation.” He pointed to Johnston’s remarks during one board of aldermen meeting.
“For all you people that are new…and you people that haven’t been here long enough, I suggest you get to know Parkville before you try to tell us what’s beautiful,” Johnston said. Video of the meeting is available at https://vimeo.com/299968779.
“It’s not worth my time to be publicly chided,” Maki said, summing up resident sentiment that led to their silencing.
Some early “red flags” included conversations between Maki and Mayor Nan Johnston in which she was “inconsistent” in her remarks. For instance, Maki said Johnston first claimed not to have known about the development in advance of the first planning and zoning meeting. But later Johnston told Maki she knew about the plan earlier but was not at liberty to do anything about it.
In addition, Maki said four concerned citizens, including himself, met early on with Alderman Phillip Wassmer, but Wassmer warned them not to let others know of the meeting for fear of reprisal from the mayor and other board members. Maki said Wassmer promised to set up meetings between the group and other aldermen if they promised not to request information under the state’s open meetings laws.
But when meetings were not established, Maki and the others decided to proceed in their opposition to the city’s management of the project, which eventually included numerous requests for information under the Sunshine Law.
Subsequent signals included the board of aldermen’s unanimous approval of the overall project despite the planning and zoning commission’s recommendations to reduce the density and return to the commission with a final development plan.
Although commission members recently can be seen on video of a meeting in which they voiced concerns about their recommendations being ignored by the aldermen, when two members were later contacted by telephone they denied that they were upset, instead stating that they are merely an advisory board and the aldermen are under no obligation to heed their recommendations.
Other concerns began small but continued to multiply as city officials offered more and more tax incentives, Maki said. City officials have argued residents won’t pay for the construction. But, the city’s “over-use” of tax incentives, such as the $52 million in Tax Increment Financing (TIFs) and a proposed Community Improvement District (CID) are charged with awarding money to cover costs, but are unregulated.
Parkville’s CID is headed by the mayor, Mertz and his attorney and calls for assessments to property owners to the tune of $1,800 per year, Maki said. A one percent sales tax will be assessed on all retail sales within the district, also to help pay for the project—this time to finance infrastructure such as streetlights, signage, parking lots and pedestrian parkways, according to the published notice. City officials will consider the Transportation Development District (TDD) during an Aug. 2 public hearing at city hall.
Political Action Committee Formed
Maki and a group of concerned citizens noted how many people attended the first few meetings about the development plan and decided to form a political action committee, known as Citizens for a Better Parkville. The group has objected to the city’s use of so many tax incentives.
Missouri’s State Auditor Nicole Galloway recently issued a letter warning local government and citizens about what she considers the “over-use” of such tax incentives.
Although Maki said he’s never been politically active, has never run for public office or even assisted anyone running for office, he has never believed in not taking action based on beliefs.
“You can’t just sit and complain and not do something,” he said. “I have the responsibility to say something and see it through,” he said, adding that he hopes to serve as a role model.
“I have issues when people complain and don’t do something about it,” he said.
“Hopefully, I can inspire other people to do something. Had I not been so inquisitive, I never would have known,” he said of his early attendance at meetings.
To highlight how Johnston treats those supportive of the development differently than those who do not support the proposal, Maki referred to how Johnston instructed a staff member to read a letter from the president of the Main Street Parkville Association in which he stated his support of the plan.
His letter stated that his views are from a private citizen’s point of view and are not an official show of support by the association. Johnston not only had the letter read out loud but instructed the city clerk to submit the letter as public record.
Financing the Effort
Maki said he’s not benefitting financially or otherwise, from the dispute. “There’s no payback,” he said, adding that a great outcome would be city officials “taking a step toward more accountability.”
Maki said, “Despite worst conspiratorial expectations (based on comments on social media), no dark money entities fund this (effort),” he said.
Instead, he has paid attorneys to advise and assist him “at great personal cost to myself and my family, because I believe so strongly in transparency and accountability,” he said.
“The fact that I’ve had to spend $1 is wrong,” he said, adding that the information is public.
He declined to name the amount he has paid the law firm in fighting the effort. The attorneys have helped request information from city officials under the state’s Sunshine Law, which allows citizens to be charged nominal fees for copying of public documents. The attorneys have written numerous letters to the city and the Missouri Attorney General, claiming the city’s costs are excessive and include charges for higher-ranking city officials, such as City Administrator Joe Parente, to sift through documents to fulfill requests.
Maki and his attorneys believe Parente may have been deciding which documents to release and which to hold. Despite Maki’s payments of $7,000, the city continues to hold information in lieu of additional payments.
The Missouri Attorney General’s office acted by requesting information from the city in which officials assured the state office they have been compliant with the law. The attorney general’s office has had no additional comment on the issue as of yet. City officials have claimed the requests were too much for a small city to manage.
City officials and others have questioned who is funding the PAC and how much money has been spent advancing the group’s efforts.
“Most of my investment has been time and expertise,” said Maki, who has used his computer expertise, along with the knowledge and experience of others in the group, to create the PAC website, Facebook page and blog.
In addition, Maki, along with a few of the group’s volunteers, have created a transparency database, accessible from the PAC website, abetterparkville.com/.
The database acts as a depository of all records the group has received, which have been collated, reviewed under a sequence of events.
“It can very quickly illuminate the truth of a situation,” he said.
The group raised about $53,400, most from more than 40 donors during the recent April city election. About 100 area residents are actively engaged in the group, which includes business advisors, communication specialists, attorneys, real estate agents, developers and volunteers.
The group is comprised of citizens who are “concerned and they feel helpless that the city has disregarded their input,” Maki said, adding that “a lack of transparency is a lot of what drives this grass roots engagement.”
The group has a total “sympathetic reach” of about 1,200 people.
Maki said he has contributed about $14,000 to the group.
Maki said his actions have not been motivated by a desire to stop the development, as some seem to believe.
“The whole goal was to help craft the development,” he said.
As the process unfolds, that wish seems to be elusive. Instead, he sees a far-reaching pattern which he summarized:
“Something’s amiss here. Something’s amiss in Parkville.”