Possible cover-up by aldermen
Some members of the Parkville Board of Aldermen have confirmed that they ordered the release of public records requested by Jason Maki prior to his filing of a Sunshine Laws lawsuit in the Platte County Circuit Court in March of 2020.
Maki’s lawsuit accused the city of illegally withholding public records he requested under the state’s Sunshine Law with the lawsuit resulting in a settlement, payable to Maki, in the amount of $195,000 and over $450,000 in total costs to the Parkville taxpayer.
New information, including admissions from various aldermen, have come to light which indicate that Maki’s lawsuit and its costs to the Parkville taxpayer may have been avoidable if the mayor and city staff had followed the direction of the board of aldermen.
If this is true, then it is possible that the mayor and members of city staff defied the board of aldermen, resulting in the Maki vs City of Parkville lawsuit.
The issue of whether Maki’s suit could have been avoided by the city surfaced recently when a local resident, Elaine Kellerman, broached the subject in her complaint to the Parkville Ethics Commission regarding alleged ethics violations by Parkville Mayor Nan Johnston. The ethics commission is currently investigating Johnston and has the option to recommend that she be removed as mayor for violating the city’s ethics code.
As part of the complaint, Brett Krause, another Parkville resident, sent a letter to the commission stating that Alderman Dave Rittman confirmed to Krause that the board had agreed to provide Maki requested documents prior to filing his lawsuit. When reached by email, Rittman would neither confirm nor deny Krause’s statement.
In a phone interview, Alderman Doug Wylie also confirmed the board agreed to release the requested documents to Maki during an a September 2019 executive session, six months prior to Maki’s filing of his lawsuit in March of 2020.
Alderman Phil Wassmer, however, contradicted Wylie and said it’s a matter of policy to release requested documents under Sunshine and their release did not hinge on any vote or agreement by the board.
“If it’s a public record, you get to see it,” Wassmer said during a telephone interview. “No records have ever been withheld,” he said.
Aldermen Bob Lock and Greg Plumb also stated that the records were available to Maki, however, he neglected to pick them up. Plumb went on to say he’s not sure why Maki did not pick up some of the documents he requested. When asked why the lawsuit was necessary if records were available to Maki, Plumb said, “You’d have to ask him. I think he had other problems with the city and how the entire matter was handled,” Plumb said.
When asked about the court’s role in the lawsuit, Plumb said the role of Platte County Judge James Van Amburg was that of a mediator in the settlement.
Bob Lock agreed. “I don’t know why he sued,” Lock said during a phone interview. “Parkville’s been very open with Sunshine, and we do everything in our power and the best we can.”
In reviewing the claims by the aldermen that the documents were available to Maki, but that he failed to retrieve them, The Landmark has received three communications from Maki to the city showing that he requested that the city release the records to him. Two of the communications where in October of 2019 and one was in November of 2019. In each case, the city failed to respond to Maki and did not release the records as requested. All three communications occurred between the board’s apparent decision to release the records in September 2019 and Maki filing his lawsuit in March 2020.
Parkville resident Brett Krause said news of the board’s decision to provide records to Maki six months prior the his lawsuit causes him to believe that Johnston and City Administrator Joe Parente collaborated to withhold the records while keeping their actions hidden from the board.
“I don’t trust either of them,” Krause said of Johnston and Parente during a recent telephone interview, adding that their actions as public officials prove a pattern of deliberate abuse of power.
Public records show that Parente was embroiled in an open records dispute at a previous place of employment in Illinois.
The Landmark contacted Maki and asked him to comment on the statements made by the Parkville aldermen and the revelation that officials in city hall may have acted in concert and against the wishes of the board of aldermen, to withhold records from him.
Maki provided the following email response which alleges a possible cover-up and conspiracy by the board of alderman:
“It is certainly concerning that the aldermen have now given conflicting accounts of whether they decided that the records they were withholding from me were to be released to me prior to my lawsuit. There are city communications that show that staff knew the aldermen did decide the records should be released to me prior to my lawsuit, and the mayor would’ve been present for that decision. Of course, that never occurred and was never communicated to me despite my several requests for their release.
“Instead, the city continued to hold the records hostage for an exorbitant sum despite the aldermen’s decision. It is perhaps more concerning that the aldermen stood by – doing or saying nothing – while I later brought that lawsuit upon the city because, at that point, the board would have learned that the mayor and city staff defied their instruction to release those records to me. If they knew that they had been defied, then they would have had an obligation to act upon that information,” Maki continued.
“This entire chain of events has ultimately cost the Parkville taxpayer more than $450,000,” Maki remarked.
“Further, the statement that I ‘neglected to pick them up’ is false because I was not permitted to pick them up. In fact, I requested that the city release those records on multiple occasions and on each occasion the city failed to do so. That false statement places the city at risk again by breaching the settlement agreement that resolved our litigation. The same is true of the statement that the state court trial judge’s job was to merely negotiate a settlement; that is plainly false,” Maki said.
“This further breach by the aldermen is an unfortunate turn of events for Parkville taxpayers,” Maki remarked.
The Platte County Sheriff’s Department is currently investigating alleged criminal offenses at Parkville City Hall, including allegations of perjury, destruction of evidence and that officials deleted emails the day after receiving notification that the communications were to be subpoenaed as evidence in the Maki lawsuit.