Parkville blames it on ‘copying error’
arkville city officials notified an area resident who is suing the city for not releasing information under the Sunshine Law that they have discovered about 2,300 records that were inadvertently never released due to a “copying error.”
In a letter to Jason Maki dated Feb. 19, the same day a Platte County judge set as a deadline for the to city answer discovery requests made by Maki in a related court case, Parkville City Clerk Melissa McChesney told Maki and stated that records from a January 2019 request “did not get copied onto a flash drive that was previously made available to you with records responsive to these requests.”
According to documents filed with the court earlier this year, Parkville has repeatedly failed to produce documents when they were originally requested and has only produced them after they are “found” at a later date, sometimes years later (See related Landmark story).
Maki, who requested the information two years ago in January of 2019, filed a civil suit in February 2020, claiming city officials had failed to provide thousands of documents he had requested, charged him “excessive” and “impermissible” fees for the public records, and in some cases altered public records before releasing them.
Maki’s lawsuit indicates that he began seeking records in this request after he had discovered emails from Mayor Nan Johnston showing she had attempted to conspire with property owners to “yank the lease” of a business she deemed “undesirable” in favor of a tenant with whom the mayor had a personal relationship.
In the email discovered by Maki, Parkville Mayor Johnston also instructed the city administrator and city clerk to keep her actions confidential.
Johnston’s actions in attempting to yank the lease may violate the city’s code of ethics and generally acceptable ethical norms. Public officials and employees are “agents of the public purpose and hold office for the benefit of the public” as listed in the city’s code of ethics. As such, they are bound to uphold the U.S. Constitution and the state of Missouri, the code states.
Their conduct in both their official and private affairs should be above reproach.”
In a January 2019 letter to Maki’s then-paid counsel in the matter, a letter signed by McChesney stated the city required Maki to pay a $500 fee to access the materials requested under Sunshine, which they anticipated would take about 45 days to produce.
“In the event we are able to identify any documents responsive to your request prior to this date, we will make those documents available to you at that time.”
The letter further explained that the $500 would be due prior to the production of the materials and “the city will invoice you for any additional copies and/or time used to provide the information.”
Ultimately the city required Maki to pay an additional $2,800 before they would release any records to him. The city claims the $2,800 was for “research and review time” to review the records prior to releasing them to Maki.
In one legal filing in the case, Maki said he and other concerned citizens met with Parkville Alderman Philip Wassmer in October 2018 to discuss the Creekside development. In that meeting, Maki says Wassmer attempted to bargain with Maki to attempt to prevent him from submitting Sunshine requests and instructed him that the requests would be considered “adversarial” and city officials would not respond favorably.
The judge’s recent decision to uphold Maki’s motion to compel the discovery follows months of legal filings, including numerous objections by the city’s legal team, that the information being sought was too general and over-burdensome to which Maki claimed the team was stalling.
In one filing, the city’s legal team asked the judge to issue a “gag order” against Maki in an attempt to prevent him from speaking with the press. The move garnered criticism from two Missouri attorneys who specialize in Sunshine Law, who stated that gag orders in civil cases are unprecedented and that such orders usually are reserved for criminal cases and are an attempt to keep juries/judges from being prejudiced (See related Landmark story).
In addition, the legal team has filed a “motion for reconsideration” asking the judge to reverse his Feb. 9 ruling that they produce requested discovery documents within 10 days.
The next hearing in the civil suit is scheduled for Monday, March 1.