Pandemic and Sunshine lawsuit vs. Parkville factor in decision
Parkville citizens’ group, who has called for more transparency among local government officials, has decided to delay a petition drive for signatures that would force a critical look at city records by Missouri Auditor Nicole Galloway.
Brett Krause, a member of Citizens for a Better Parkville, said the group had begun collecting signatures prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, but now has decided to halt the drive for fear that collecting signatures face-to-face would risk further exposure to the dangerous virus.
The auditor’s office requires a little more than 500 signatures on paper petitions, and, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, members had been collecting signatures door-to-door but have not attempted to collect signatures since the outbreak. Several weeks ago, members of the citizens’ group contacted the Missouri State Auditor’s office to ask if they could instead seek electronic signatures, but officials there have not provided an answer.
“They don’t know what to say because they’ll be setting a precedent,” Krause said during a recent telephone interview.
The group has collected a little more than half of the required signatures needed to force an audit, Krause said, adding that “we felt like we had good momentum.”
The group discussed forcing an answer to their question about electronic signatures, “but that probably would take a lawsuit.we’ve decided not to pursue it that way.”
He said, “Rather than spending a bunch of money on attorney fees, a number of us have stepped back and said, ‘let’s hold off,’ ” said Krause, who has lived in Parkville for the past 14 years and lost a recent election for a seat on the board of aldermen.
A civil lawsuit filed by Jason Maki, who leads the citizens’ group, also played a role in helping members decide to delay collecting signatures. Maki is suing the city for failing to produce some records under the state’s Sunshine Law, which is intended to ensure government transparency. The group is waiting to learn the court’s decision regarding the records requested.
The citizens mainly object to the city’s handling of the more-than 350-acre Creekside project, a retail, residential and light industrial development currently under construction. Krause said, “It sure looked like they had that thing all baked before they took it to the aldermen and ultimately didn’t listen to the people,” he said.
The group also believes officials did not consider the objections by numerous Parkville residents who spoke out against aspects of the development during open hearings.
Members realize that the delay may mean they are forced to start over collecting signatures but are willing to take the chance. “If they signed it once, it’s just a matter of getting signatures once again,” he said.
In the meantime, anything can happen, Krause said.
“If ultimately, the city leadership decides to be more transparent, we’re happy,” he said, adding that city officials seem to be taking some steps to change with the advent of changes such as a newsletter and broadcasting board of aldermen meetings online.
“Hopefully, next time the city government listens to the community,” Krause said of future development. “I think there’s some people on the board who are trying to reinforce the good behavior and not the bad.”