A citizens’ group has taken initial steps in requesting a state audit of the City of Parkville.
The citizen, who asked that their name not be used for fear of retribution, mailed a petition audit request form to the state auditor Oct. 7, said Steph Diedrick, press secretary for Missouri State Auditor Nicole Galloway.
State auditor staff responded Oct. 16 by sending the petitioner a form for collecting signatures and rules outlining the process, Diedrick said.
By law, the petitioner will need to collect 527 valid signatures of Parkville registered voters by October 2020.
The number of signatures is based on the number of Parkville registered voters who cast ballots in the last gubernatorial election in 2016, Diedrick said.
Jason Maki, head of Citizens for a Better Parkville, a citizens’ group that has been critical of the way the city has handled a massive development known as Creekside, said the request allows the city until early November to begin requesting an audit.
Maki cited a news release and social media postings from last spring in which Mayor Nan Johnston said she “would welcome an audit” and that she had asked city staff to check into whether the city on its own could request a state audit.
Johnston’s news release and social media postings were made during her mayoral campaign this past March and April. She made her comments after her opponent, Kenneth Wilson, had called for a citizen petition initiative for an audit to be conducted by the state auditor.
Johnston referred to Wilson’s request as “a political stunt” and replied, “We welcome an audit to dispel untruths and ensure our citizens’ confidence in their city government.”
Maki confirmed this week that several residents have met with state auditor staff twice and plan to meet again this week. He said state officials “were very interested” in the city’s steps regarding the development and wanted to be copied on communications about requests for information under the state’s Sunshine Law.
Maki has requested communications between city officials regarding the development and has received some requested documents. However, other Sunshine requests have not been handed over. City staff has said Maki, who has paid several thousand for provided documents, owes several thousand more to obtain additional documents.
The law allows city staff to charge nominal fees for information and Maki and his attorneys have sent letters to the city and the state attorney general about being over-charged for documents.
The attorney general’s office has opened an investigation into possible Sunshine violations by the city.
Regarding a potential state audit, Johnston made social media postings saying the city administrator had told her the city could not request an audit on its own. Jason Withington, an active citizen in Clay County who headed a petition drive to call for an audit of Clay County, told her on social media that the city can in fact request the audit on its own.
Maki has said, “We want to give the city the opportunity to follow through.”
City staff has defended its budgeting process, stating that the city’s budget was audited by an outside firm that said the city’s books are sound.
But, Maki said citizens are concerned about tax incentives offered to Brian Mertz, the developer of the residential, commercial and light industrial development currently being constructed near Interstate 435 and Missouri 45.
A website, Parkvilleaudit.com, lists 10 citizen concerns, including the $52.7 million in Tax Increment Financing (TIFs), questioning how the incentives will impact the Park Hill School District, located within Parkville city limits.
The site also asks “What is the true cost to the Parkville area taxpayer for the various (tax incentives)…which have been granted to for-profit entities. The site lists the incentives as Commercial Improvement Districts (CID), Neighborhood improvement Districts (NID), Transportation Development Districts (TDD), bonds, levies and chapter 353 (taxpayer-backed incentives).
Maki said the city has granted more than $250 million “in taxpayer backed incentives to a private for-profit entity (Parkville Development). Those funds will need to be replaced and the community at large can expect to see a future tax levy (increase) from the school district because of this reallocation,” he wrote.
City officials have stated the tax incentives won’t negatively affect schools and public safety, but those assurances have only come from city-paid consultants, Maki says. Maki called for a “third-party analysis of decisions and actions…that led up to those reallocations,” Maki wrote. “The cost of inviting the state auditor to provide their analysis is an insignificant rounding error when compared to the cost of the choices made by the Parkville elected officials.”
City Administrator Joe Parente did not respond to an emailed list of questions from The Landmark, was quoted in area publication as stating: “While it would be unfortunate for the city to bear the large expense for paying for a state audit, we would welcome an audit to dispel any untruths about the city and to continue to ensure our citizens have confidence in their city government.”
Brett Krause, a Parkville resident and member of Citizens for a Better Parkville, said during a telephone interview that he is concerned about officials granting so many tax incentives for the development. He added that he fears officials are “leveraging our future in a way that’s not smart,” adding that they have “not been transparent and that’s not the way government should work.”