Mayor: Don’t judge ‘based on what happened in the past’
Parkville officials are examining strategies for improved communication with the public, now that a new mayor and several other new faces comprise the leadership in the city of about 7,100 residents.
The efforts follow previous Mayor Nan Johnston’s last few years in office, riddled in controversy over her administration’s handling of a citizen’s document requests under the state’s open records law. In addition, her tenure was marred by ethics and campaign finance violations and a DUI charge.
The Parkville Board of Aldermen last week issued a resolution to work toward implementing “best practice standards for open government and transparency.”
The city’s re-branding efforts are being led by newly-elected Mayor Dean Katerndahl and veteran alderman Brian Whitley to address calls by some that City Hall has lacked transparency.
Despite the new efforts, Katerndahl said officials agree that calls for more openness are more about perception than reality. In fact, the mayor said there’s a consensus among officials that the past administration’s missteps with open records were exaggerated by Jason Maki, who filed a civil suit against the city for their handling of some requests for documents. Maki’s civil lawsuit, during which he acted as his own attorney despite having no background in law, challenged the city’s alleged mismanagement of records under the Sunshine Law. The suit contended city officials over-charged for documents he requested and, in some cases, never produced records requested. The parties settled the suit when the city agreed to pay Maki $195,000, which legal experts believe is the largest Sunshine settlement in the state’s history.
“We’re much more open than the impression left,” Katerndahl said during a recent telephone interview.
Upon winning the mayoral seat this past April, Katerndahl pledged “to be as open as we can,” and said he has not found evidence of the city’s lack of transparency. “If anything, we’re more open than most governments,” he said.
Maki disagreed. Maki called the mayor’s comments “damage control and spin.”
“If nothing’s wrong, then why the new initiatives?” Maki asked.
Maki added that an ongoing investigation by the Platte County Sheriff’s Department into criminal activity among some past city officials and staff points to possible wrongdoing. Maki said he’s still thinking positive about the current administration.
“As I’ve said before, I hope that Mayor Katerndahl, Alderman Whitley and the others are committed to transparency,” he said.
The resolution calls for examination of the following:
·“Information Transparency,” which includes records and documents including facts and figures.
·“Process Transparency,” defined as “clearly outlined processes” that could lead to “corrective action at the ballot box.”
·“Community Engagement” which involves a fully-engaged process of including the public.
·“Public Accountability” in which “City leadership values a culture of accountability and public interest over self-interest. It calls for transparency involving “everyone in the organization; it takes a collective effort to foster and maintain a transparent culture in order to meet the expectation of our citizenry.” It adds that “accordingly, elected city officials strive to hold one another accountable to the Missouri Code of Ethics.”
Katerndahl said one complicating issue is that cities such as Parkville are at a disadvantage fulfilling records requests because of their smaller staff. But he drew a distinct distance between actions by Johnston and those of the rest of the staff and elected officials.
“Whatever accusations against Nan it wasn’t (due to) city policy,” he said.
One example of that might be Johnston’s admission that she deleted documents on a private email server that were subpoenaed as evidence during the civil suit filed by Maki. “I was merely cleaning up files,” she said, claiming she deleted documents arbitrarily.
Katerndahl had a request for Parkville residents, given the advent of a new administration. “Judge this government going forward, not based on what happened in the past,” Katerndahl said.