Hearing goes Maki’s way on Friday
In a ruling handed down Friday, Aug. 7, a Platte County judge has ordered the City of Parkville to provide more detailed answers to a Parkville area resident who is suing the city for numerous alleged violations of the state’s open records law.
Platte County Circuit Court Judge James Van Amburg ruled that the city’s attorney must provide Jason Maki with information detailing the city’s processes for filling requests for public documents under the state’s Sunshine Law, which is designed to protect transparency in government.
During the hearing, Jason Maki, who is representing himself in the matter, stated attorneys hired by the city have been evasive in many of their answers to questions during an early information-seeking process known as “discovery.”
Maki filed suit against the city and its elected officials this past February, alleging the city has violated the state’s Sunshine Law on multiple occasions.
The law allows cities to charge minimal fees to pay for copying, for example. Some of the information Maki is seeking are communications between elected and city officials using private email servers and could reveal the city’s actions and communications prior to the construction of a more-than- 350-acre residential, retail, and light industrial development named Creekside.
Maki, and a citizens’ group which he founded, object to the city’s negotiation with developer Brian Mertz and his attorney, which they allege was discussed and decided behind closed doors and out of the public eye. However, city officials maintain their handling of development negotiations followed the law, even providing the required public hearings to allow citizens to voice their concerns prior to the start of construction.
During the virtual hearing this past Friday, Maki told the judge the city’s response to questions about how city officials process Sunshine requests were “generalities that can be guessed at by any lay person.” Maki said he is seeking specifics about the process, including search terms, where information is stored in city files and which city officials are involved in searching for and releasing information, including if the board of aldermen has been involved in the process.
Judge Van Amburg stated during the hearing that Maki “has the right to know” such information. But, Steven Coronado, the lead attorney defending the city, stated that Maki’s requests are vague.
“I don’t know what details he wants,” Coronado told the judge. Coronado said the city has provided some information but are stymied by “an endless circle of details.”
Van Amburg asked Coronado which city personnel are involved in processing Sunshine requests and Coronado answered that the process begins with the city clerk, who is the city’s custodian of record, “but depending on what the specific request is, it can be anybody in the city.”
The judge asked Coronado if he provided search terms used in finding information sought under the act.
“What search terms were used?” Van Amburg asked Coronado. “Did you answer that? I think he (Maki) is entitled to know search terms,” Van Amburg said.
“I’ve just listed out a number of issues.to make sure he receives all he’s entitled to under the Sunshine Law. I want a specific list, an inclusive list,” he told Coronado who agreed to “respond to details Maki has set.”
The judge said Maki is entitled to know the specific channels and specific procedures that were followed for his records requests. Included should be items such as “who reviewed it, who determined amounts due,” etc., the judge said.
“I can’t emphasize enough.the special procedures the city went through.” Van Amburg said. “He is entitled to them. I want Mr. Maki to be able to follow that process,” the judge said.
Coronado said, “All I can say is, I’ll do the best I can. “