Johnston: ‘This is like a kick in the teeth’.
At a special meeting Monday, March 21, Parkville aldermen acted upon a recommendation from the city’s ethics commission and has issued a “strongly written” letter of reprimand to the mayor for eight violations of the city’s ethics code.
The vote to issue the reprimand came in at six in favor and one opposed. Alderman Greg Plumb made the motion to accept and approve the ethics commission’s recommendation. Alderman Brian Whitley seconded the motion. Those voting in favor of issuing the reprimand were aldermen Plumb, Whitley, Phil Wassmer, Dave Rittman, Tina Welch, and Marc Sportsman. Opposed was Bob Lock. Not present was alderman Doug Wylie.
The vote to issue the reprimand to Johnston came at the end of a meeting that lasted about an hour and a half and included comments from several supporters of the mayor who had gathered in the City Hall meeting room. The meeting had originally been posted as a Zoom meeting, however alderman Greg Plumb later explained the decision was made to allow folks to attend inside City Hall after some had indicated that preference over contributing by Zoom.
Two aldermen–Sportsman and Plumb–were present inside City Hall for the meeting. The other participating aldermen did so through Zoom.
Johnston and several of her supporters offered public comment in advance of the vote. Johnston at one point argued that she believes that some information provided to the ethics commission was “false.”
“I don’t think we should dismiss the ethics commission’s hard work. I think you can acknowledge their hard work, I think you can acknowledge they did a great job. I have less than two weeks (remaining) in office and this is like a kick in the teeth,” Johnston said during the public comment portion of the meeting prior to the vote by aldermen.
In discussion among aldermen, Lock, the only alderman to oppose the letter of reprimand, said: “I am amongst those that will not run again. I don’t want to be part of politics. I don’t agree with any actions being taken on this. I just find this process very flawed. In Nan, we had the best cheerleader the city has had in a long time. I find this whole episode to be sad. I hope we stand up to the bullies and do the right thing.”
Whitley, however, argued that: “There is physical evidence of some violations. The ethics commission process made a recommendation. I think it’s important for the board to accept that recommendation and move on.”
Welch emphasized that while there “has been a lot of noise” surrounding Parkville government the past couple of years there are still plenty of people willing to serve, pushing back on comments from Johnston supporters who said reprimanding the mayor could lead to some folks choosing not to seek city office in the future.
“We have three people that are coming on board. I’m running for re-election,” she said.
While Johnston has chosen not to seek re-election this year, Parkville has no shortage of candidates for mayor in the upcoming April 5 election. Mayoral candidates include Jason Sears, Dean Katerndahl, and Andrew Barchers.
Candidates for aldermen include Welch in ward one against challenger Nick Casale; Bob Bennett in ward two; Stephen Melton in ward three; and Michael Lee in ward four.
As the mayor herself has done in recent weeks, her friends and supporters who spoke at the March 21 meeting talked about how hard Johnston has worked on behalf of the city.
Sportsman addressed that by saying: “It’s not about how much effort Nan puts into the job. It’s about the outcome of five people on the ethics commission that reported to the board what they believe to be true.”
Sportsman added: “We are addressing human frailties that could have been avoided. I struggle with what we do with the ethics commission findings. We could have done things differently and better. I don’t know if doing nothing is the right thing.”
Rittman at one point said he considered some of the violations that the mayor was found guilty of committing to be “trivial” in nature.
Plumb commented that the ethics commission findings are not a criminal matter. He said he does not like the use of the word “guilty” when discussing the fact the ethics commission had voted that the mayor violated the city’s ethics code on eight occasions.
Wassmer and Rittman both suggested that in the future the city revisit its ethics ordinance.
“I suggest we revisit the ethics language and not set people up for perpetual underachievement,” Wassmer commented. He said use of the phrase “beyond reproach” is “strange and an unmatchable goal.”
Rittman commented that “if the ordinance stays in place it needs to be modernized.”
After the vote, Melissa McChesney read text of the board’s letter of reprimand into the record. The Landmark has put in a Sunshine request for a copy of the letter.
Sportsman, who chaired the meeting, concluded by saying: “This is an extremely difficult decision we’ve been involved with. Nan, this in no way diminishes your accomplishments, your contributions to this city, its citizens, and its businesses.”
Earlier this month, the city’s ethics commission ruled that Johnston violated the city’s code of conduct for the following:
- Concealing and accepting illegal campaign contributions in her recent bids for mayoral reelection (the Missouri Ethics Commission also found Johnston in violation and, as a result, issued fines)
- Using her public office to attempt to coerce private market participants to censor the media, specifically, attempting to coerce Park University officials to stop advertising in and sending news releases to The Landmark Newspaper, which had published articles critical of the mayor and the current administration.
- Calling records requests submitted under the state’s Sunshine Law “harassment.” In response, the board of aldermen released a statement stating they did not consider such records requests “harassment.” In addition, this is a condition agreed to in the civil lawsuit with Maki.
- Attempting to convince members of a local Rotary Club to cease relationship with The Landmark Newspaper.
- Attempting to convince city employees to stop sending press releases and legal notices to The Landmark.
- Driving under the influence, for which the mayor was charged and convicted.
- Instructing city employees to keep it confidential that she was attempting to have a landlord “yank the lease” of what she viewed as an undesirable Parkville business.
- Threatening Parkville resident Weston Coble, who was critical of her, with investigation by a state regulatory agency