ave you noticed when you walk into the Platte County Administration Building you can smell the aroma of Clay County government?
Things are certainly getting interesting in the Jason Maki vs. City of Parkville lawsuit pertaining to alleged violations of the Missouri Sunshine Law. There have been two court hearings in the case on two recent Fridays, Aug. 7 and Aug. 21. I viewed each hearing live via this fancy thing they call the internet. Intriguing stuff.
Maki is representing himself and in my opinion has been doing a mighty fine job of it. In the Aug. 7 hearing, he sounded more polished on the topic than did the city’s professional attorney. The ruling that day went Maki’s way, as Judge James Van Amburg ordered the city to be more specific in its answers to questions being posed by Maki in the discovery process.
The Aug. 21 hearing (story in this week’s issue) ended with the judge taking a matter that concerned the city’s use of private email accounts to discuss city business under advisement, then issuing an order early this week. The judge’s order, at first glance, might appear to be a victory for the city. Based on a posting on our Facebook page, at least one elected alderman for the city, Phil Wassmer, thought it was a victory for the city. But the devil is in the details.
While Van Amburg denied Maki’s requests for communications city officials had about or referencing Maki and denied Maki’s request for communications about open records requests submitted by persons other than Maki, another portion of the ruling leaves open the door for Maki to obtain communications from city officials’ private email accounts. Since Mayor Nan Johnston has publicly stated on multiple occasions that city officials often use private email accounts to discuss city business and “it’s not against the law,” this is a major win for Maki. The judge’s ruling will require that Maki’s new subpoena requests for these private account emails be limited to documents from the time Maki made his Sunshine Law request to the time the city retained counsel in the matter.
In other words, it’s not likely Wassmer or any other Parkville city official is celebrating if they’ve now read the details of the judge’s order, instead of just reading the headline.
Also interesting are some of the details in an amended petition filed by Maki last week. In it, he details the number of alleged Sunshine violations by the city as now 59. The original filing only listed eight.
“New facts have developed since this lawsuit was filed–including the city’s responses to other of Mr. Maki’s Sunshine requests–that illuminated or constituted other Sunshine Law violations,” the amended petition states. Among the new alleged violations is that the city altered records it gave to Maki. “Blind carbon copy fields in emails were blank when other documents produced by the city showed that the same emails were in fact blind carbon copied to other recipients, alterations that resulted in the city not making the requested records available but instead only making doctored versions available while concealing original recipients of those communications.”
This seems like a good time to point out that in his real life, Jason Maki is a noted and respected IT specialist. It’s probably not a good idea to be playing games in his wheelhouse, so to speak.
For the city, an accusation of doctoring/concealing records sounds like a development that could be, well, ungood.
In addition, the amended petition says the city has charged Maki for time the city’s staff spent researching and reviewing records before making them available to him “which a Missouri Court of Appeals decision (made after Maki’s suit was filed) clarified is a Sunshine Law violation.” According to the recent appeals court decision, the Sunshine Law only permits a governmental body to charge for “staff time needed to make copies or transfer electronic records” when responding to requests for public records stored on electronic facilities.
Word is out that the federal government will award $50 million to the City of Kansas City for streetcar development. Expect the Platte County Commission to try to intercept the money and give it to a youth sports group and a cruise vacation firm.
I’m old enough to remember when the FBI opened an investigation into activity going on at the City of Parkville.
In recent months during a global pandemic, Platte County commissioners have given $77,000–including $20,000 in federal CARES dollars–in free taxpayer money to a youth sports group run by the wife of the presiding county commissioner, $44,000 to a tattoo removal firm owned by the county auditor, $226,000 to a firm that sells cruise vacation packages, and $78,000 to an immigration attorney who is the daughter of the folks who own that cruise vacation firm. Still, commissioners have passed zero federal aid dollars along to the local health department to expand COVID testing, aid in contact tracing and to purchase PPE to have on hand in case things go south this fall and winter.
Refreshing to see the commissioners have their priorities in order, right?
“I want us to work together to protect our citizens,” Mary Jo Vernon, director of the Platte County Health Department, told The Landmark last week. “Our needs are pretty simple.”
There is no reasonable explanation for the county commission not to pass an appropriate amount of the $12.2 million in federal CARES dollars onto the local health department. Vernon said the health department many weeks ago–by now, perhaps months ago–furnished the commissioners an estimate of its financial needs, including expenditures that have occurred since March and estimated expenses through the end of the year. Vernon was careful with her words and did not directly criticize the commissioners in a conversation with me on Friday.
“We’re public health. We rely on scientists and public health experts,” she said.
So here we are.
(Find Ivan Foley conducting a smell test inside the Platte County Administration Building or via email to firstname.lastname@example.org)