by Alan McArthur and Ivan Foley
Parkville's Ethics Commission on Tuesday night voted 4-0 to pursue an investigation regarding the ethics complaint against former mayor Kathy Dusenbery.
The commission also decided not to pursue the complaint against Parkville Mayor Gerry Richardson.
The violations are alleged to have occurred in the campaign of Richardson in his victory over Tom Hutsler in the April 8 race for mayor.
The commission will meet again on Wednesday, May 14 at 5:30 p.m. at city hall. Dusenbery will then have the opportunity to either speak before the commission or simply submit a written explanation of her actions.
The complaint, which was filed by Parkville resident and Hutsler supporter Dave Williams, against Dusenbery stems from an email sent by Richardson to several people and then apparently forwarded by Dusenbery. The forwarded email lists Dusenbery’s signature as mayor of Parkville and lists the phone number of city hall as well as her personal cell phone number.
An ethics ordinance passed by Parkville's Board of Aldermen in 2005 prohibits elected officials from actively campaigning in a city election.
Before voting on the issue, the commission discussed the issue in depth.
“This appears to be an email sent by Mr. Richardson to a number of individuals in Parkville to which then Mayor Dusenbery was a recipient,” explained Andres Dominguez, chairman. “She then forwarded the email on to others. It was sent from her personal account and the original email was sent from Mr. Richardson's personal account.”
“So her signature is the issue here,” said Ross Taylor, commissioner.
“If an email is forwarded with no additional text, does that mean the person is agreeing with the information or supporting or endorsing it,” asked Ellen Underkoffler, commissioner. “Are you taking a position by forwarding an email?”
“Often people don't read emails entirely before forwarding them,” said Dominguez. “When I get an email I assume the person who sent it supports the information.”
“I have forwarded emails I don't agree with to inform people,” said Underkoffler.
“The question is whether an elected official has the same freedoms,” said Dominguez. “I would assume they do unless there is an endorsement.”
The original letter sent by Richardson was in response to a written letter distributed to some residents in Parkville by resident Gordon Cook.
“Nothing in (the letter) says 'vote for me' or anyone else, but it is political,” said Neil Davidson, commissioner.
“In response Mr. Richardson sought to share information with some residents,” said Dominguez.
“It does make it a political issue,” said Underkoffler.
“Yes, it does mention his running for mayor at the beginning,” said Dominguez.
Before voting, Dominguez attempted to make it clear what the commission would be voting for.
“Is there enough information here to be in violation of the ordinance to influence a political outcome?” asked Dominguez. “All we're suggesting is there is enough evidence to warrant a discussion with the interested parties.”
“There appears to be enough here to warrant getting some information,” said Underkoffler.
The commission then voted 4-0 to gather more information about the alleged violation.
The commission will meet again on May 14 and decide whether the issue should be forwarded on to the Board of Aldermen or city prosecutor.
After the meeting, Dusenbery said that Parkville is one of the only small towns with an ethics ordinance.
“I respect the decision of the Ethics Commission and look forward to sharing my position with them,” said Dusenbery after the meeting. “We are the only small community that has this type of ordinance.”
Dusenbery said she thinks the ordinance limits her free speech as an elected official.
“Senator Bond can endorse people, Bush can endorse people,” said Dusenbery.
Dusenbery said she has not decided whether she will submit her explanation as a written document or speak before the commission.
Dusenbery did not seek reelection in the April election because she is running for the first district Platte County commissioner position. She will be opposed in the August Republican primary by Jeffrey Jones.
Dusenbery served as mayor at the time the city’s ethics ordinance was crafted. Asked whether she at the time supported the ethics ordinance, Dusenbery was non-committal.
“Several aldermen felt it was the right thing to do. The board made the decision to support it,” Dusenbery said Tuesday night.
Dusenbery called The Landmark Wednesday morning to clarify her stance on the establishment of the ethics ordinance.
“I didn’t champion that piece of legislation or any legislation in my time as mayor. My role was that of consensus builder,” Dusenbery said.
“Now we have an ethics ordinance that really needs to be re-examined,” she added.
After the meeting, Hutsler said he was pleased with the way the session developed Tuesday night.
“I think justice will prevail. I believe the correct decision was made tonight,” Hutsler said in regard to the ethics commission voting to conduct an investigation into the allegation against Dusenbery.
“The ethics commission was formed after my 2005 election against Deborah Butcher. It’s because of Deborah Butcher’s behavior that we have an ethics ordinance,” Hustler said. Butcher still serves on the board of aldermen.
“People aren’t going to want to run for office if they fell like the cards are stacked against them. If most of the aldermen, the mayor and the ex-mayor conspire, do you have a fair election?” Hutsler said.