Parkville area resident has paid over $3,700 in fees in the past week to access public records related to current events in Downtown Parkville.
Part of the fees he paid stem from records he requested over a year ago and which the city would not release unless he paid an additional $2757. Additional fees he paid in recent days amounted to around $1,000 for more recent records, believed to be concerning Parkville’s new downtown development plans.
Jason Maki has also filed a lawsuit against the City of Parkville this past February for the city’s apparent withholding of public records. Maki believes the city has knowingly withheld communications between city officials and used excessive fees to create a paywall to discourage people from seeking public records.
Maki said in a statement that he paid the fees last week under protest because he believes there is an urgency for the public to be informed about Parkville’s downtown development plans.
“There are contemporaneous events occurring in Downtown Parkville that involve the use of hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer funds in what appears to be a project that will benefit a select group of individuals,” Maki wrote in an emailed statement.
“The records withheld by the city are highly relevant to these events, so I made the difficult decision to pay the $2757.67 under dispute,” Maki said in his emailed statement.”I maintain that those fees imposed by the City of Parkville for public records access are impermissible under the Missouri Sunshine Law,” referring to the state law designed to protect government transparency.
“It is unfortunate that the de facto policy of Parkville is to charge thousands of dollars for access to public records, which, in essence, puts transparency out of reach for ordinary citizens,” he stated in the email.
Although the law allows governments to charge nominal fees to cover the charges of print copies, for example, Maki has maintained that the city is illegally charging the public for high-ranking officials time as they review documents before the public is allowed to view them.
In the past, Maki has cited the $2757 as an example of that behavior. City officials, however, have said their fees are legal under the law, including the state’s Sunshine Law, which has led to the civil suit.
Information about the contents of the documents was not available at press time.
In last week’s issue of The Landmark, the paper reported that city officials, staff and select community members are meeting for input as they plan downtown improvements, causing some Parkville area residents to claim a déjà vu effect as officials allegedly conduct business out of the public eye as they allegedly did for the Creekside development.
Critics say in that case, after months of planning, officials announced public hearings to garner citizen input for the massive development that opponents allege was already signed, sealed, and delivered in closed-door discussions. However, city officials said they are being inclusive and even hosted a public Zoom meeting Tuesday night that could be accessed through the city’s website.
Legal documents obtained from Casenet outline Maki’s request that a judge intervene in his civil suit and force the city into complying with its basic discovery obligations.
Other filings obtained shed light on a request by the city’s legal team, which consists of three attorneys, to schedule a trial date. In the filing Maki states that city’s attorneys are attempting to frustrate his discovery through delay and non-participation and that the city is attempting to prematurely set a case schedule in order to “prejudice plaintiff’s ability to conduct full discovery”.
The filing states the city has not produced early initial requests as permitted by law, providing only a few unique documents as compared with thousands of pages of completely irrelevant and duplicative documents such as fireworks permits, development plans, liquor license applications, parade logistics, etc., according to the document.
Maki maintains the process has forced him to sift through the out-of-sequence and irrelevant documents.
Maki’s briefing to the court points out that he believes that this is intentional and that the city’s goal is to get to trial without him completing discovery.
An attorney who specializes in Sunshine Law cases said the city’s actions mirror steps by public officials at the city, county, state, and federal levels who try to quash public transparency. Bernie Rhodes has said this trend is a trickle-down effect that starts at the White House, where governments are emboldened by higher level attacks on the media.