Chairman says ‘at a standstill till we get two more members’
Parkville commission, charged with investigating complaints about city officials, met last week to consider an eight-page citizen document, asking for Mayor Nan Johnston’s removal from office.
The commission, which meets only when a complaint is filed, had not met in 13 years. Commissioners will make a recommendation to the board of aldermen, who will decide if the mayor will serve the remainder of her term.
The Parkville Ethics Commission convened Tuesday, Nov. 9 to take care of mostly procedural matters, such as swearing in members, including a new lead commissioner, and a review of the city’s code of ethics and Missouri’s Sunshine Law led by the city attorney. Only three of the commission’s five members remain on the commission after two resigned prior to the meeting. The resignations follow allegations, by the author of the complaint, of conflicts of interest, but those who resigned said those perceptions were false and not responsible for their decisions.
The remaining commissioners voted to request that the board of aldermen members work to immediately fill the two vacancies and chair Bryan Dehner said the commission would schedule another meeting after the additions to the group. Commissioners also voted, at the urging of city attorney Chris Williams, to seek “outside counsel” to advise them about legal matters during the investigation. Williams said it would be a conflict of interest for him to represent both city hall officials and staff, (including the mayor) and members of the ethics commission, who are investigating Johnston’s actions. In addition, commissioners also voted that Johnston submit a reply to Kellerman’s accusations by Monday, Nov. 22. Johnston received a copy of the complaint Oct. 20, according to city officials.
Elaine Kellerman, who submitted the complaint to the city clerk Oct. 19, accompanied by 170 pages of supporting documents, questioned early on if the two members could act objectively while investigating Johnston. The charges against Johnston, which Kellerman said in her complaint are violations of the city’s code of conduct, include a DUI arrest, an investigation of criminal activity by local law enforcement and campaign finance violations as determined by the Missouri Ethics Commission, among other things.
“Citizens for A Better Parkville” hired a videographer to record the meeting after learning city officials would not livestream or record the event as they do for some official meetings. An email to city clerk Melissa McChesney and city administrator Joe Parente, asking for city regulations about videotaping meetings, was not answered by deadline.
Dennis Kellerman, Elaine’s husband, emailed board members Brian Whitley, Tina Welch, and Phil Wassmer, to ask why the meeting was not advertised on the city’s website and why the meeting was not livestreamed and videotaped? Whitley replied, stating that a meeting notice was listed on the city website, but was difficult to find due to a clerical error in posting. Whitley wrote that the error has been corrected and the next meeting will be advertised on the city’s website, parkvillemo.gov/government/city-meetings.
When contacted by The Landmark by telephone, Wassmer said the meeting was not recorded because it was “just a housecleaning meeting and no business was done.” He said he expects future meetings to be recorded. Members of the citizens’ group, who have been vocal critics of Parkville officials’ actions and decisions, posted the meeting video to their Facebook page. Jason Maki, a founding member of the group, recently won a $195,000 settelment against the city in a civil lawsuit in which he argued officials had violated the state’s Sunshine Law, which is designed to promote government transparency.
Kellerman had asked that ethics board members Deborah Butcher and Peggy Parolin recuse themselves from voting because they had contributed to the mayor’s last campaign for re-election. But the members instead have now both resigned from the commission. Both said their decisions to resign from the board had nothing to do with calls by Kellerman that the two could not be impartial due to their relationships with the mayor and instead cited other obligations.
Parolin, a member of the board for the past five years, said she’s too busy to serve due to a full-time out-of-state master’s degree course load. “I resigned out of concern for my not having time to do due diligence,” she stated in an email, adding that she is a friend of Johnston and was her treasurer in her 2016 bid for re-election. “This matter deserves more time and attention than I currently can allow,” she wrote. However, Parolin said she did not believe she would have had difficulty being objective. “If I questioned my ability to do so, I would have recused myself,” she wrote. “That’s part of being ethical.”
In a telephone interview, Butcher said she resigned due to “family responsibilities” and called the recent news about controversy at City Hall “a pretty detailed mess.” But Butcher, a former alderman and past member of several other Parkville commissions, said Kellerman’s concerns about her objectivity were not what prompted her to resign. “I live by the rules and am kind of sad I can’t serve,” she said. “I’ve worked very hard” and have voted according to constituents’ concerns. Butcher said she and Johnston “are not good friends.”
Elaine Kellerman, who attended the Nov. 9 meeting, said she’s encouraged because commissioners are taking the task seriously and “appear to want a full commission to deliberate.” Kellerman said in a telephone interview that she hopes board members are careful who they appoint as “impartial with a background not as a vocal advocate or contributor to her (Johnston’s) campaign.” Further, the ethics commissioners seem to be dedicated to addressing her complaint and making a recommendation to the board for action, as soon as possible. “This will be an interesting process,” she said.
Residents can apply at City Hall to be members of the five-member commission and are appointed by the board, representing each of the city’s four wards, and serve five-year terms. The vacant seats lie in wards one and four. The board already has received several applications, according to Wassmer.
“I do feel no one’s interests are served by this drawing out over time,” he said in a telephone interview.
During the meeting, commissioners introduced themselves: Jerry Felker, who is retired, said he has lived in Parkville since 1992 and Gil Scott has called Parkville home since 2002. Dehner, the chair, said he has lived in the city since 1981.
“We’re at a standstill until we get two more members,” Dehner said during the meeting, adding that the commission is determined to “get this resolved in a timely manner.”
Dehner asked Williams if the commission’s actions would be provided on the city’s website as a “progress report.” He asked, “How do folks know where we’re at?” Williams said board of alderman members would mention commission activities during regular meetings, which are televised and posted to the city’s website. Williams said, “They’re pretty good about doing that–making sure the public is kept informed.”