In response to a complaint about the mayor
ext week, the Parkville Ethics Commission will meet for the first time in 13 years.
It was announced at Tuesday night’s board of aldermen by the city attorney that the Parkville Ethics Commission is scheduled to meet Monday, Nov. 8 at 6 p.m. at City Hall. The meeting is in response to a detailed 8-page complaint–with around 170 pages of supporting documentation–filed recently by a Parkville resident against Mayor Nan Johnston.
Interestingly, the chair of the Parkville Ethics Commission initially said on Monday said that he had not yet read the complaint. (The entire complaint can be found here: https://plattecountylandmark.com/2021/10/20/nan-johnston-ethics-complaint-and-petition-for-removal/)
But the city clerk stated in emails to the complainant that the chair, Bryan Dehner, notified the mayor of the complaint Wednesday, Oct. 20, and email documentation later obtained by The Landmark shows an email with a copy of the complaint was sent by Dehner to Johnston on Oct. 20 at 6:49 p.m.
A day after claiming he had not read the complaint, Dehner responded to a follow-up question from The Landmark by saying: “I cannot comment on what I’ve read or not read. All I can say is we’re working hard on it.”
City Clerk Melissa McChesney sent an email to Elaine Kellerman, who filed the complaint about the mayor, that she notified the commission of the complaint about two weeks ago. But in an interview Monday with a reporter from The Landmark, Dehner said he’d only heard of the complaint, but not yet read it.
Dehner said this week that Johnston called him several weeks ago to ask if he would be willing to chair the commission. The board of aldermen voted in the “consent agenda” portion of a meeting in August to place Dehner as head of the commission, which is charged with investigating complaints and advising the board of aldermen about their findings. The commission recommends action, such as removal or retention, but has no real authority, with the board of aldermen making the final determination, according to code.
Ethics commission member Peggy Parolin said city officials and commissioners are taking the complaint seriously.
“Everyone is in agreement that it (a meeting) needs to happen as soon as possible,” Parolin said during a telephone interview this week. “It would be my hope that it would happen soon,” she said.
Commission member Jerry Felker said he also had received a copy of the complaint and that McChesney had contacted him about a meeting.
Late afternoon Tuesday, the city clerk responded to a Landmark inquiry by saying that Parkville city code provides that “the municipal official shall be given at least 10 days to provide the commission with such information as he or she deems appropriate to explain or justify the circumstances.”
McChesney said the ethics commission “has not yet met and provided the mayor with a timeframe to provide such information regarding the complaint. The commission is currently working to schedule a meeting where a quorum can be present to take up the issue.”
Early this week, Dehner said Parente was contacting commissioners to set up a meeting while Parolin and Felker said McChesney had emailed them about a meeting.
The commission only meets when it receives a complaint and Felker said, despite serving on the commission through numerous city administrations, he has not attended even one meeting. The last time the city’s ethics commission met and acted is in 2008, when commissioners received an ethics complaint about previous mayor Kathy Dusenbery. The commission found that Dusenbery’s actions in forwarding a political email with her automatic signature in a letter of support of a political candidate was in violation of city code. But the commission recommended the board take no action.
Kellerman has said she believes the board might recommend the Johnston’s removal “if it gets that far” but added that she’s not sure if the recommendation would give aldermen an incentive to act. Kellerman said in an earlier Landmark article that a lack of activity caused her to file the complaint, which lists numerous alleged code of ethics violations as outlined in the city charter.
The complaint includes alleged criminal activity involving the destruction of public records during a lawsuit in which the city eventually approved a $195,000 settlement to area resident Jason Maki for unfulfilled records requests under Missouri’s Sunshine Law, which is designed to promote transparency.
Law enforcement officials recently announced an investigation into alleged criminal action and city officials have hired a criminal defense attorney. In addition, the Missouri Ethics Commission has found Johnston in violation of multiple counts of campaign finance violations in the past two years, which Kellerman stated in her complaint. Kellerman also named Johnston’s criminal conviction for driving under the influence and includes four instances in which Johnston used her public office to coerce private market participants, including conspiring to persuade a business owner to “yank the lease” from a tenant in order to allow for a tenant with whom Johnston has a personal relationship. Kellerman said Johnston also has attempted to conspire to influence the media by using city resources in an attempt to influence business owners to restrict access to a local newspaper, and used city resources in an attempt to influence business owners not to advertise in the publication.
Kellerman has said she does not believe the commission can act objectively since at least two members have contributed to Johnston’s mayoral campaigns.
Resident Brett Krause said he believes the commission “will do nothing.” He added that he believes since the mayor appoints ethics commission members “they take care of themselves” and will protect the mayor from removal.
In addition, he also doubts members of the board of aldermen can act objectively since most are supporters of Johnston, having donated to the mayor’s last campaign. If the board votes on the mayor’s removal from office, Krause said he hopes members who have financially supported the mayor in the past will abstain from voting due to conflict of interest. If the board votes not to remove the mayor from office, he said, he hopes the mayor will decide not to run for re-election, given the numerous violations listed in Kellerman’s complaint.
The Parkville municipal code also allows for the city attorney, treasurer or outside counsel or staff to assist in the investigation as “necessary to properly complete its work.” In addition, city code provides an avenue for the city prosecutor to hear a complaint in municipal court “unless ordered otherwise by the presiding judge of the Circuit Court of Platte County.”