Investigative subpoena issued to the city
he Platte County Sheriff’s Department is conducting an investigation into potential criminal activities at the City of Parkville.
An investigative subpoena was recently issued to the city. An investigative subpoena is a legal order to produce documents by a particular date.
The city attempted legal action to quash (reject by a legal procedure) the subpoena, but that request was denied by the courts.
“We have already received some documents from the city in the process,” Major Erik Holland told The Landmark Wednesday morning. “I couldn’t tell you yet if we have everything we need,” he added.
The investigation appears to have been prompted, at least in part, by actions of some city officials during the recent Jason Maki vs City of Parkville civil lawsuit over open records.
Public records captured during that lawsuit indicate Mayor Nan Johnston allegedly destroyed an email account the day after Platte County Circuit Court Judge James Van Amburg ordered the mayor to produce documents sought by Maki.
Destruction of those materials and public records could be a criminal violation of state law, as well as Parkville’s municipal code of ethics.
In addition, during a Sunshine request while investigating the city licensing status of a low-key downtown business, The Landmark coincidentally uncovered information from the city’s custodian of public records that does not match what one city official appears to have sworn to under oath during the Maki vs. Parkville civil court case. It is known that investigators now possess that information, which could be investigated as possible perjury. Perjury is the offense of willfully telling an untruth in court.
In a move that raised eyebrows, the city recently engaged the legal services of Mark Ferguson, best known for his work as a criminal defense attorney.
Legal observers following the activities at Parkville City Hall told The Landmark this week that the hiring of a criminal defense attorney by the city is worthy of attention, in that if criminal charges are filed the charges would be against city officials as individuals and not charges against the City of Parkville. This would raise the question of whether taxpayers are inappropriately paying for legal advice/defense for individual city officials, legal observers noted to The Landmark this week.
Meanwhile, a Parkville resident this week filed a formal and detailed complaint with the Parkville Ethics Commission, outlining ethical conduct violations by Parkville Mayor Nan Johnston and requesting the mayor be removed from office.
Elaine Kellerman filed the complaint at Parkville City Hall late Tuesday afternoon, prior to a meeting of the Parkville Board of Aldermen scheduled for that evening.
The complaint is more than eight pages in length and outlines a long list of alleged code of conduct violations, and includes an allegation of potential criminal activity by the mayor in the alleged destruction of public records after those records had been ordered to be produced by the judge in a civil lawsuit against the city.
Among the highlights of the complaint:
*Johnston has failed to uphold the law or conduct herself in a manner above reproach in private and official affairs by repeatedly flaunting the Missouri Constitution and statutes controlling campaign finance. The Missouri Ethics Commission has previously ruled Johnston committed several campaign finance ethics violations and has been sanctioned by the state agency on two separate occasions for things such as accepting and concealing illegal corporate contributions.
*Johnston has used her public office to coerce private market participants and censor the media. The complaint outlines four acts by Johnston in this regard, including:
(1) On Sept. 16, 2016 Johnston conspired via email (a public record) to persuade a commercial property owner in Parkville to “yank the lease” from an existing business that was found to be “undesirable” in favor of a different tenant with whom the mayor had a personal relationship. In that email, the mayor specifically instructed the city administrator and custodian of records to keep her actions confidential.
(2) On April 24, 2017, Johnston engineered a deceptive facade of support for a project that was actually facing substantial opposition in an attempt to influence the board of aldermen and Parkville Planning and Zoning Commission.
(3) In emails sent from her position as mayor, around April 28, 2019, Nan Johnston attempted to influence local businesses to cease distribution of a local media publication that had been critical of the mayor in an attempt to restrict or censor the public access to their publication, damage its business relationships and cause economic harm to the publication.
(4) In emails sent from her city email account, on July 28, 2019, Nan Johnston attempted to influence leadership at Park University, including Alderman Greg Plumb, to cease its business relationship with a local media publication that had been critical of the mayor with the intent of causing economic harm to and censoring the local media publication.
*Johnston has instructed or pressured other city officials and employees to act in ways that would cause them to violate the Parkville Code of Ethics. Five allegations are detailed in this category.
*Johnston has refused (or was a key participant in the city’s refusal) to permit inspection of public records in violation of Missouri law.
*The complaint cites five examples of Johnston using her office for personal gain or failing to conduct herself above reproach, including her actions during a car stop by a Platte County Sheriff’s Department deputy last year.
*The complaint says Johnston destroyed documents, some of them public records, during the course of the recent open records lawsuit brought by Jason Maki against the city. “At the time, the mayor was under a duty to preserve those materials in connection with the lawsuit and also due to an investigation by the state attorney general’s office. In fact, other public records show that the mayor destroyed an entire email account the day after a Platte County judge ordered Mayor Johnston to produce the documents sought by Maki.”
The court case was settled before a remedy was sought against the mayor.
“However, criminal investigations appear to be underway as the city just hired a criminal defense attorney in what is believed to be connected with Mayor Johnston’s destruction of public records and documents in an effort to cover up her activities and thereby prohibit the public’s awareness of her conduct,” Kellerman’s complaint states.
Kellerman’s complaint says “some members of the Parkville Ethics Commission must recuse themselves from considering this complaint” and points out what are alleged conflicts of interest among those members in considering a complaint against the mayor.