After Nan Johnston’s DWI arrest and ethics violations
ne member of the Parkville Board of Aldermen said some constituents have asked him to find a way to remove Mayor Nan Johnston from office following Johnston’s recent arrest for driving while intoxicated.
The mayor was arrested Sept. 26 failing a field sobriety test and a breathalyzer test that revealed her blood alcohol level was at .110, well above the legal limit of .08. She was taken to jail, where an hour later the official BAC test measured her level at .098.
Johnston was released from jail after posting a $1,000 bond, according to a police report. A preliminary court date in January has been set, but likely will change, authorities have stated.
Alderman Brian T. Whitley has researched whether the board has the authority to remove Johnston from office, he said during a telephone interview with The Landmark late Monday afternoon. But following a call Whitley said he made to city attorney Chris Williams, he concluded, “I don’t think we have the authority.”
When asked about the alternatives, Whitley said, “Anybody can resign at any time. I can try my best to have a conversation with the mayor about that.”
Whitley was first elected to the board in 2017 and was re-elected in 2019. He represents Ward 2, which encompasses the Riss Lake area, where Johnston also lives.
However, some Parkville residents have been vocal supporters of Johnston, considering her DWI “a mistake” and are sympathetic to what they consider public ridicule of the mayor. Peggy Wrightsman Parolin defended Johnston in a Facebook post and urged residents to consider the mayor’s service to the community. Parolin said Johnston has faced public ridicule, but did not specify how. In reply, a Facebook commenter by the name of Tony Hawkins also defended Johnston. “I agree with Peggy Parolin,” he wrote. “Every human makes mistakes, and oh BTW, she does get her day in court. Public opinion happens at the ballot box.”
City Administrator Joe Parente had said in an email sent to The Landmark last week that city officials will not speak publicly “about Mayor Johnston’s incident. This is the time to trust the legal process. We will continue to focus on serving Parkville residents and businesses,” his statement read.
In addition to noting that some constituents are asking him to seek Johnston’s resignation, Whitley also had comments about an email exchange Johnston had last week with a Parkville resident.
The email exchange, acquired in a Sunshine request placed by The Landmark, featured Johnston defending her DWI arrest and using profanity in doing so.
“I don’t think the response was appropriate,” Whitley said. He added that he especially objects to “the language she used.”
The exchange, between Johnston and Parkville resident Weston Coble begins with an email in which Coble is critical of Johnston’s DWI and after the arresting officer stated in his report that she was driving erratically, even crossing the center line. Her car was southbound on Hwy. 9 near Eastside Drive, near the Parkville city limits, according to the police report.
In the email, Coble addressed Parkville’s elected officials and wrote: “Nanette Johnston has now shown multiple instances of poor and/or reckless behavior or judgement while serving as a public servant of the City of Parkville.” He continued that Johnston’s disregard was further evident when she “skirted” Missouri’s campaign finance laws during her re-election bid this past spring in which she “failed to disclose multiple campaign contributions even though she was no novice,” he wrote. “She was even so bold as to lie directly to the media following allegations that were later found to be true despite her insistence,” Coble wrote.
In his email to city officials Coble called the DWI “the final straw” and quoted Parkville’s municipal code which states elected officials’ “conduct in both their official and private affairs should be above reproach.”
Coble then urged the board to “decide whether Johnston should continue to serve as mayor, or has she lost the support and trust of the citizens, and the board for that matter, she is supposed to represent. I know she has lost my support,” he wrote. “I would hope Johnston does the proper thing and offers to step down from all city affiliated positions and let the city distance itself from these issues and distractions.”
Johnston’s full reply to Coble, sent via her official email account as mayor at 8:37 p.m. on Sept. 27 and printed here verbatim, states: “I never had your support So I don’t really give a shit what you think should happen here. Yes the citizens of parkville. All of them can let the board know what to do with this. The people who know me are well aware of the lies and distortions in order to attempt to ruin my reputation. I ask you…. what have YOU personally done to make this a better community? It’s easy to criticize when you don’t have all the facts.”
The email from Johnston to Coble continued this way: “If I would have known I was .09 I would never have driven. But then you would never have driven knowingly either. Right? Because NOBODY has ever done that except corrupt politicians.”
Johnston then threatened Coble, who in the past has run for an alderman post, with an MEC complaint. “You will be receiving a nice little ethics violation complaint of your own Mr. high and mighty. You think you didn’t make some mistakes in your reporting? Or perhaps they were intentional. Let’s let the MEC decide this one.”
Coble responded to Johnston’s reply by taking a harder stance when he issued this email to elected officials: “I am sorry but this is not an acceptable response from a person that is charged with representing the City of Parkville,” he wrote. Coble said Johnston’s reply “is from someone who is pointing fingers and blame towards others for their own mistakes and is taking no responsibility for their actions.”
Coble further told city officials in his email that Johnston’s comments about had she known she would blow .09 she would not have driven are “unacceptable for many reasons. There is no regret, no accountability, no sense of wrongdoing.”
He wrote that research indicates a level of intoxication at which Johnston tested after being stopped by police indicates she would have consumed six or more drinks. “I would hope that Nanette follows board member Marc Sportsman’s precedent he set in 2014 after he was arrested for a DWI, and offer to resign.”
Whitley, whose profile on the city’s website states that he works for the “federal government providing oversight of agencies and entities that provide health care and other services to the American public, particularly at-risk youth,” said some of his constituents would like a way to make their opinions clear to the board but are uncomfortable speaking out at public board meetings.
“Not every private citizen wants to be out there that much.are not comfortable articulating their concerns,” he said.
Whitley, who currently serves as liaison to the Parkville Economic Development Council and its executive committee, said he planned to suggest, at Tuesday’s board of aldermen meeting, a method that might make residents more comfortable in bringing concerns to the board in a less intimidating way. Whitley said he helped implement a similar “new concept” while a member of the Lee’s Summit Board of Aldermen from 2010 to 2014. “It gives power to the people, if you want my sound bite,” he said.
However, Whitley, who was a finalist for the Missouri Outstanding Public Official award in 2011, said the new idea, if adopted, would not become effective in time to allow residents to offer their opinions on the mayor’s most recent issues, but could help with future situations.
During a Feb. 5 board of aldermen meeting in which aldermen were discussing the time staff is spending fulfilling Sunshine requests filed by Jason Maki, Whitley suggested posting such communications between elected officials, city staff and residents, on the Parkville website. He said such an automatic process would allow residents “to see what the aldermen are really working on.” He explained, “People can search rather than spending staff time.”