Elaine Kellerman says Nan Johnston ‘wants it her way’
Parkville resident believes critical comments about the city’s management led her to be intentionally omitted from consideration for a public board by Mayor Nan Johnston.
Elaine Kellerman said she believes Johnston’s alternative selection of Bryan Dehner as chairman of the Ethics Commission is a direct result of her (Kellerman’s) comments about the mayor’s actions after Johnston was charged with driving under the influence and state campaign finance violations.
“She (Johnston) does not want people on commissions and boards who are opposed to the way she runs the city,” Kellerman said in a telephone interview. “She wants it her way.”
Kellerman commented at a board of aldermen meeting several months ago that Johnston’s behavior was not that of a responsible public servant and Kellerman has been a vocal critic of the way the city is managed.
Kellerman said she was notified of the selection of someone else for the commission Aug. 12, the same day an article appeared in The Landmark in which Kellerman was quoted as having said she (Kellerman) represents “a groundswell of dissatisfied folks” with the city’s operating practices. “They (city officials) need to make a full accounting of their behavior,” she said in last week’s edition of The Landmark.
That article was about implications of a nearly $200,000 settlement in favor of Jason Maki, who sued the city for alleged Sunshine violations.
“If anybody believes this is done (controversy surrounding the city’s management), they’re mistaken,” the article quoted Kellerman as saying.
Johnston did not respond to an email asking for comment about her appointment to the commission.
The commission for which Kellerman applied is an advisory board for ethics complaints, charged with investigating and reporting “conflicts of interest and financial disclosure by all elected and appointed officials,” city code states.
Kellerman said she believes a timeline of events shows Johnston may never have considered her for the post. Although Kellerman applied for the commission appointment in May, she was not notified of her non-selection until Aug 12. In addition, she reached out to city staff several times before learning the mayor had received her application and it was under review. Applications are emailed to the city clerk, then forwarded to the mayor. City policy states the mayor recommends applicants, which are approved by the board of aldermen. In addition, on Dehner’s application, which was on the city’s website earlier this week, he checked a box on the application form that stated he had heard about the position from the mayor/board of aldermen.
According to an item on the board’s “consent agenda” for the Tuesday, Aug. 17 meeting, the board is asked to approve Dehner’s appointment. If selected, he will serve through May 2026. The board votes on items on the consent agenda in a block, usually without discussion. However, aldermen can request that an item be moved from the consent agenda for discussion.
The Ethics Commission is an advisory board for ethics complaints, charged with investigating and reporting allegations of violations of the city’s code of ethics “concerning conflicts of interest and financial disclosure by all elected and appointed officials.” according to city code.
Kellerman received written recommendations from Aldermen Philip Wassmer, Tina Welch, and Brian Whitley.
“Elaine, I want you to know that both Tina (Welch) and I have advocated for you to be appointed to the Ethics Commission,” Wassmer wrote in an email to Kellerman. “I do not know who the other applicants are but feel strongly that you would be as qualified as any. Thank you for your continued involvement in our community.” When contacted by The Landmark, Wassmer said while he believed Kellerman was a strong candidate, she ultimately was not the one selected by Johnston.
“Elaine’s not on the agenda,” he said. “There might have been other people who applied who were stronger candidates,” he said. “It’s a mayoral thing.”
Kellerman said that the city’s method of appointments to boards and commissions, which call for the mayor to make all recommendations, gives her too much power.
“There needs to be some other way of doing this,” Kellerman said. “You are at the mercy of her (Johnston’s) whim. It’s just another example of how she controls the city.”
In an emailed letter to the mayor before Johnston announced her selection, Kellerman wrote, “As you can see from the attachment, I have a history of civic involvement,” she said of her bio. That list includes volunteer work in the city where her children were raised from schools to her service as a scout leader and fundraising for a church parish building committee. She also listed having served on boards, including the American Diabetes Association for which she was president and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, where she served as secretary and has conducted community recycling education.
“Since returning to the Kansas City area and residing in Parkville, I have familiarized myself with local government and current city projects,” she wrote. “I am copying Ms. Welch and Mr. Wassmer (they represent the ward in which Kellerman lives) so they are aware of my interest, and I am including Mr. Whitley because of his work on the Diversity and Inclusion Commission,” she wrote to Johnston. “If you are looking for diversity on your committees, I can provide a fresh voice and perspective,” she wrote.
But when contacted by The Landmark, Whitley said the newly formed Diversity and Inclusion Commission would not address issues of a diversity of opinions on boards and commissions, such as Kellerman’s complaint. He said that the group will take up issues of inequity involving issues such as race and gender. When asked how residents who are concerned could act on their concerns, Whitley said they should use the ballot box. “Are they (residents) voting for more of the same or something different?” he said during the telephone interview. “It’s easy to be critical.but much more difficult to formulate a plan and move forward.”
He added, “Government is hard work and it’s easy to poke fun at (people) and criticize.”
He said too often dissatisfied citizens fail to act beyond “social media chatter” and he challenged those who are not satisfied “to come up with an alternative plan.”
But Kellerman said when she tried to act as an involved citizen, she was silenced.
“I am voicing my opinion and I do have plans,” she said, adding that she’s one of a group who are not satisfied with the way the city operates. She specifically mentioned proposed changes to Platte Landing Park, which is located near a wildlife wetland. Some residents have been concerned some proposals by city officials would place nearby migratory birds in peril.
Kellerman said she has tried to act on her beliefs. “I am fighting the apathy and I am trying to do something about it,” she said, adding that Whitley’s view of the Inclusion and Diversity Commission represents “a very narrow vision.” She added that she belongs to a coalition of dissatisfied citizens that is growing. “I have a feeling that little pocket is bound to grow.”