Matter could potentially go to ethics board
embers of the Parkville Board of Aldermen (BOA) either declined comment or answered “no” when asked if they plan to act on behalf of residents who have called for Mayor Nan Johnston’s removal from office following a DWI arrest.
Five aldermen reached by The Landmark Monday either declined comment, said the board is not authorized to act, or plan to wait for possible criminal charges following the mayor’s Sept. 26 arrest for which breathalyzer and blood alcohol tests revealed she was legally intoxicated.
Police said Johnston blew .11 during the field sobriety test and .098 at the jail more than an hour after being stopped by a deputy with the Platte County Sheriff’s Department after her vehicle crossed the center line.
Johnston’s situation again surfaced this week when Parkville resident Elaine Kellerman submitted a letter that was placed in board members’ packets for consideration during the Tuesday, Nov. 3 meeting.
The letter states that citizens deserve to know what, if anything, the aldermen are planning after a letter signed by the board soon after the mayor’s arrest was vague, according to Kellerman.
“The October 12, 2020 statement issued by the BOA regarding this situation does not go far enough in addressing the pattern of ethics violations and infringements for which the mayor is responsible,” Kellerman wrote of Johnston’s recent actions, including accepting illegal campaign contributions and neglecting to report campaign donations and expenditures as determined by the Missouri Ethics Commission.
Parkville area resident Jason Maki has filed a civil suit against city officials for alleged Sunshine violations. In addition, the Missouri Attorney General’s office was investigating the allegations until Maki filed the lawsuit in February.
Kellerman’s correspondence with the board also included a screenshot of social media postings which “should make it clear that more than just a handful of residents are aware of this incident and have opinions on the matter,” Kellerman’s letter states.
She told the aldermen that not all citizens are comfortable voicing their positions in public, but believed the posts indicated a lot of support for the mayor’s removal. However, Alderman Brian Whitley, whom the Landmark earlier quoted in an earlier article as having said, “You can’t force people to resign,” said Monday he is reluctant to consider opinions expressed on social media due to its “dynamic” nature.
“The screenshot that Ms. Kellerman provided as part of the Board of Aldermen packet had 32 comments,” he wrote in an email. “Yet, when I went to that Facebook page just now, there are 20 comments. Why were those other comments removed? Are diverse opinions included or were those removed, too? For a whole host of reasons, I am cautious about using social media posts to influence public policy. That said, I appreciate Ms. Kellerman’s engagement and desire to hold public officials accountable.”
Kellerman’s letter to board members was critical of the board’s public statement following the mayor’s arrest: “Simply noting the mayor’s apology, expressing your disappointment in the negative publicity, and citing the need for elected officials to be above reproach does not translate to definitive action on your part,” the letter stated.
When a Landmark reporter told Alderman Greg Plumb in a telephone interview Monday that there is a letter by Kellerman in this week’s board packet, he said, “There usually is.”
Plumb took exception to Kellerman’s interpretation of the board’s joint statement following the mayor’s arrest. “I think the letter says more than that. I think the letter speaks for itself and that’s our current position.”
Alderman Dave Rittman said “the city has no immediate say in her removal. I’m not trying to be rude, but.it’s not a subject I’m going to comment on,” he said during a telephone interview on Monday.
Rittman also said city officials continue to abide by a press release City Administrator Joe Parente emailed just days after the mayor’s arrest which stated, “The City of Parkville and Board of Aldermen will not be speaking about Mayor Johnston’s incident over the weekend. This is the time to trust the legal process,” the statement read. “We will continue to focus on serving Parkville residents and businesses.”
Kellerman’s letter also states the mayor’s DWI places her “in direct violation” of a city ordinance outlining the responsibilities of elected officials.
“Citing words from this ordinance in your statement is not the same as formally addressing the ordinance infraction by the mayor,” Kellerman said in her letter, adding that Kellerman was disappointed the mayor “did not even offer to step down after this became widely publicized.”
Stories about Johnston’s Sept. 26 arrest, first reported by The Landmark at plattecountylandmark.com on Sunday, Sept. 27, eventually appeared in multiple newspapers and other publications. More than one Kansas City television newscast showed dashcam video of the arrest. Television reports with the video and audio of the incident focused on the mayor’s telephone call to Parkville Police Chief Kevin Chrisman. Johnston can be heard asking the chief for advice before following the arresting officer’s instructions to step out of her vehicle.
Kellerman’s letter continues, “If you truly believe what you say in your statement that ‘many people rightfully expect more from their elected officials,’ ” and “‘we will continue to represent Parkville’s best interests,’ you should show the residents of Parkville that these are not empty words.”
Kellerman’s letter also addressed board members’ statement in their letter to residents that the mayor’s apology constitutes ‘a start,’ ” and asked, “What exactly does that mean? When are you as a board going to publicly address the mayor’s conduct at a board meeting?”
Kellerman earlier told aldermen if they failed to act on the mayor’s removal she was prepared to bring the matter to the Parkville Ethics Commission. When asked if commissioners would offer a fair decision in the matter since Johnston appointed the commission’s chairman, who is a personal friend, Alderman Phil Wassmer said, “That’s pretty cynical.” and added, “it’s not a paid job and volunteers who make up the group are ‘duty bound'” to offer a fair assessment.
Whitley agreed that he was “disappointed” some people doubt the commission’s approach. “I know two members and I have the utmost respect for them and their ability to be impartial,” he said in an emailed statement.
Whitley said Kellerman should “feel free to bring her concerns to the Parkville Municipal Officials Ethics Commission if she believes that is the best course of action.”
During a phone interview, Kellerman said, “We are well aware of that option. Everything’s on the table.this is not the end of this.”