Parkville paying Ferguson during criminal probe
Parkville city officials have, so far, spent more than $7,000 defending their actions in a criminal investigation currently being conducted by local law enforcement.
City Clerk Melissa McChesney responded to a Sunshine request from The Landmark, asking for total legal fees in a criminal probe launched by the Platte County Sheriff’s Department earlier this year. McChesney responded that the city has paid the firm of Mark M. Ferguson Attorney at Law $7,143.80 to this point.
The investigation seems to have been prompted, at least in part, by some city officials’ actions during a civil suit alleging the city illegally withheld and charged allegedly exorbitant fees for some documents requested by Parkville area resident Jason Maki under the Sunshine Law, a state law designed to foster government transparency.
Mayor Nan Johnston allegedly destroyed an email account the day after Platte County Judge James Van Amburg ordered the mayor and other city officials to produce subpoenaed documents. If verified, destruction of public records would violate state law.
The criminal investigation is only one of several probes into actions by Parkville city officials. The Parkville Ethics Commission is investigating whether to ask Mayor Nan Johnston to step down as mayor based on alleged missteps that one resident believes violate the city’s official code of conduct for public officials. Elaine Kellerman’s formal complaint against the mayor calls for her removal from office. Kellerman’s complaint launched the investigation by the city ethics commission.
In addition, Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt’s office has launched yet another probe into city activities. That office earlier launched a Sunshine Law investigation but dropped the probe after Parkville area resident Jason Maki filed a civil suit against the city. Maki, who’s not an attorney, represented himself in the suit and was awarded $195,000-believed to be the highest Sunshine settlement in Missouri’s history.
Earlier this year the Platte County Sheriff’s Department obtained an investigative subpoena on the City of Parkville, ordering the city produce documents by a specified date. City officials attempted legal action to reject the subpoena, but the request was denied by the courts.
Several weeks ago, The Landmark reported that the sheriff’s department had received at least some of the documents it had requested.
The board of aldermen subsequently hired the legal services of Mark Ferguson, known as a Kansas City area criminal defense attorney. Legal experts have told The Landmark that hiring a criminal defense attorney is noteworthy because potential criminal charges would be filed against city officials as individuals, the charges would not be against the city itself. The action could be seen as taxpayers paying for legal advice and defense for individuals at City Hall.
The ethics commission has held one meeting to reorganize, since the group only meets upon request and had not met in several years. Two of five members resigned and the board of aldermen is in the process of finding members to replace those who stepped down.
Last week, the board of aldermen approved the hiring of Joe Vanover to advise members of the ethics commission in their probe into the mayor’s ethical status. Vanover is a Platte County attorney who also is a former assistant prosecutor who now is a county commissioner.