Subpoenas directed to homes of Parkville officials
roduce any and all relevant documents from your personal email accounts, text messages, etc.
That is the intent of subpoenas being issued to Parkville Mayor Nan Johnston, City Administrator Joe Parente and eight members of the Parkville Board of Aldermen. The subpoenas were filed as part of a lawsuit that alleges the city has violated the state’s open meetings and records law on eight occasions.
The plaintiff in the case is Jason Maki, of the group known as Citizens For a Batter Parkville. Maki is representing himself in the matter. Citizens for a Better Parkville is a political action committee that describes itself as “committed to bringing forth an accountable and transparent government.”
The subpoenas are addressed to each of the individuals’ home addresses, not to City Hall, which would indicate it is for documents held on the personal property of each of the recipients.
Mayor Nan Johnston has stated on more than one occasion to the media, including to The Pitch in a December article, that Parkville city officials typically use their personally-owned email accounts to communicate.
Maki in the past has said he finds this suspicious, since all the elected officials have city email accounts.
“We’re a small city, and it’s not illegal for us to use our personal email, so I don’t know why he’s making such a big deal out of it,” Johnston told The Pitch in December. “We are required to copy either our city manager or our city clerk on every single email we send so it gets captured on our server.”
As Maki has publicly stated at various points over the past several months, including to The Landmark and in The Pitch article, he used software that identifies incomplete email threads and learned over 3,000 emails were missing from the produced records the city supplied to his requests for records.
Some of the emails contained redactions with no explanation provided and were produced in a non-native, PDF format that can’t track underlying records.
The subpoenas, filed with the court on May 21, specifically are “requests for production of documents” listed as:
1. Please produce all documents or communications regarding any open records request that Mr. Jason Maki submitted to the city under the Sunshine Law
2. Please produce all documents or communications about, concerning, or referencing Mr. Maki.
3. Please produce all communications regarding any open records requests submitted by persons other than Mr. Maki.
The individual subpoenas are addressed to the home addresses of Johnston and Parente as well as the home addresses of the eight aldermen: Robert Lock, Greg Plumb, Dave Rittman, Marc Sportsman, Philip Wassmer, Tina Welch, Brian Whitley, and Doug Wylie.
Asked to comment on the subpoenas in particular and the city’s use of private emails while conducting business, Parente referred the request for comment to Steven F. Coronado, a member of the city’s legal counsel in the lawsuit. Coronado did not respond to the request.
According to the allegations in the lawsuit, beginning in September of 2018, Maki began requesting records from Parkville under the Missouri Sunshine Law related to the city’s handling of a controversial series of proposed developments near I-435 and Hwy. 45. He submitted 14 requests between September 2018 and Jan. 16, 2019. For those 14 requests, Parkville asked for a total of $4,130 in estimated fees, which Maki promptly paid in each instance and the city produced responsive records to those 14 requests.
On Jan. 18 and Jan. 23, 2019, Maki submitted his 15th and 16th Sunshine requests. The city requested $500 fee to respond to them which Maki promptly paid. The city said that no records were responsive to his 16th request. However, the city never refunded Maki’s $500 fee.
Then on March 8, 2019, Parkville informed Maki that it had more records responsive to his first 14 requests but that it would not make them available unless and until he paid an additional $2,757.67 above the earlier fee he had already paid for that request.
Maki has not yet paid that extra requested fee or been permitted to collect those extra responsive documents.
Maki, in a complaint he filed with the state attorney general, maintains those additional fees the city says he owes are not legal. After Maki filed his lawsuit, the state attorney general said it was dropping its review of the situation and would let the matter play out in the courts.
“The city admits that (88 percent) of what they seek for those earlier requests is predominantly attributable to its high-ranking officials’ review of the documents. Of the total amount for requests 1-14, $6,222.56 is the work of the top city officials,” Maki maintains in his complaint to the attorney general.
“A city administrator is not required to evaluate whether a record responds to a simple records request and it is unclear why the city would need to manually review each email to identify closed records. This appears to be the result of irresponsible implementation of electronic communication in government, where records are presumed open,” states Maki’s complaint to the attorney general.
“Viewing the city’s admission in the most flattering light, those fees are unreasonable because they merely reflect the city passing significant expenses of its irresponsible implementation of electronic communications and records onto records requestors,” the complaint to the attorney general states.
Maki submitted his 17th Sunshine request on Jan. 23, 2019. The city requested $250 to make those records available, which Maki says he promptly paid. When the city had compiled those records for his 17th request, it refused to make them available to Maki until he paid the extra $2,757 it attributed to his first 14 requests.
According to the lawsuit, the city likewise responded to six other Maki requests, in each situation accepting the full requested fee from Maki identifying and compiling responsive records, but then refusing to make those records available to him.
In each case related to the first seven counts of alleged violations, Parkville cited the allegedly outstanding fees related to requests 1-14 as its reason for refusing to make public the records involved in Maki’s 17th and later requests.
Maki’s lawsuit says in each case Parkville has failed to produce responsive records without reasonable cause, in violation of the Missouri Sunshine Law.
While Maki has paid the specific fees for each of these requests, the city has refused to turn over the records by citing alleged fees attributable to an earlier unrelated request.
EIGHTH ALLEGED VIOLATION INVOLVES MEDIA COMMUNICATIONS
Parkville’s eighth violation of the Sunshine Law as alleged in the petition deals with a very recent request pertaining to communications between the media and city officials, communications among city officials about the media, and any records reflecting such communications to or from media.
Maki submitted this request on Jan. 17 of this year. On Jan. 23 the city responded, noting it would require $500 and 30 days to provide access to those records. Maki says he promptly paid the $500 fee.
On Feb. 21, the city presented records in response to the request. But Maki says “notably absent from the city’s production were communications from certain members of the media known to have been in communication between Jan. 1, 2018 and Jan. 17, 2020.”
The city failed to provide access to certain records retained by the city reflecting communications with or about the media, Maki’s suit alleges.
The city’s failure to make such records available violates the Sunshine Law, the suit maintains.