The Parkville-based political action group Citizens for a Better Parkville is continuing its stated mission to provide better transparency in local government.
Last week, the group launched a Wikileaks-style tool publishing information gathered from the city through open records requests. Available online at transparency.abetterparkville.com, the tool, called Transparency, primarily compiles emails, voicemails and some text messages among city elected officials and staff, as well as others related to city activities, such as representatives of developers.
Additional content will be added as it is received from the 11 open records requests the group has filed with the city. Another seven requests have been filed with the Parkville Economic Development Council.
Currently, most information on the site is related to the development at Interstate 435 and Highway 45 where the Creekside development was approved by the board of aldermen last fall. The development drew the ire of local residents and sparked hours-long public hearings and sometimes-contentious exchanges between elected officials and members of the public.
The citizens who formed the PAC in October have sent open records requests under the Missouri Sunshine Law to obtain information related not only to the Creekside development, but also developments off Melody Lane and near the Pinecrest subdivision.
Under the Sunshine Law, government bodies must respond to such requests in a timely fashion. According to a letter sent to the city last month from attorney Andrew Alexander of the Graves Garrett Law Firm, the city’s response has been lacking.
In the demand letter, the attorney states the city has not properly responded to the requests. Additionally, some information has not yet been provided.
“Officials appear to have engaged in a deliberate effort to coordinate communications so as to avoid assembling a quorum in an open meeting, allowing them to conduct important public business in secrecy,” states the letter posted on the Transparency website.
On the site, 10 examples of possible suspicious activity are outlined, including possible phone conversations which were not provided by the city, missing emails and examples of emails that contained information referencing other content that was not subsequently included in disclosures.
One allegation outlines an exchange between Parkville city administrator Joe Parente and and Parkville EDC executive director Nathan BeVelle. In the email, Parente “directed BeVelle to organize round-robin meetings between the Aldermen and the developer, instructing BeVelle to limit each meeting to three Aldermen and to facilitate an exchange of information regarding the meetings. Parente stated in an email produced by the City that he attended at least one of these meetings, at which he specifically noted that he passed information.”
Additionally, the group asked for information in its native formats with metadata preserved. Most emails were provided in PDF format with metadata missing and other emails appeared to be part of a larger block of related emails that were not provided.
According to Parkville city administrator Joe Parente, the city has been working to respond to the requests as quickly and completely as it can. He told The Citizen that the requests ask for “all records” regarding specific subject, and as such the broad request requires city staff to search for, retrieve and examine thousands of records.
“The city has made reasonable progress in being responsive to the request for such a large volume of public records,” Parente said. “We have a small city hall staff and must continue to serve our residents, which is a priority. We continue to communicate on a regular basis with the requestor on our progress toward completing the tasks.”
The portion of the request asking for native formatting with meta data has proved problematic for thee city, he said, as the city lacks in information technology staffing. The city was forced to engage a consultant to assist, he said.
Parente said Parkville’s city attorney has been in contact with Alexander to address matters raised in the letter.