Less than one week after The Luminary exposed several questionable practices and flagrant abuses of the state’s open meeting or “Sunshine Laws” by the Parkville Old Towne Community Improvement District board (CID), elections held last Thursday by the board were nullified.
The CID — a quasi-governmental agency responsible for collecting an additional one percent sales tax in the historic downtown area — had conducted a regular meeting of the board last Thursday and re-elected the business operator John Kuhns to the treasurer position for a four-year term of office, and also re-elected Melissa Robbins (business operator), Frank McCall (resident) and Dave Williams (property owner). In addition, the board elected Kevin Heaton (operator), Mark Bentley (operator) and Dan Gallagher (operator) to the board to fill vacated positions.
The CID was started in 2006 after downtown stakeholders petitioned the Board of Aldermen to start the special tax district. Initially planned to spend allocated monies on physical improvements, payment of various expenses and marketing, the CID has almost exclusively served as the wellspring of tax dollars for the Main Street Parkville Association — an organization lead by Carol Kuhns, wife of CID and acting Main Street treasurer John Kuhns.
Under Carol Kuhns, money collected from the CID has been spent on a variety of marketing campaigns that critics say have not adequately represented the entire interests of the downtown. In addition, physical improvements to the downtown have been few and far between: to date, physical improvements to the downtown infrastructure include the addition of a few flower pots to lampposts, flag holders and new garbage cans.
Controversy reared its head at the last meeting of the CID board at the American Legion Hall in downtown Parkville when it was discovered that the $80,000 taxpayer funded entity had failed to record minutes from their previous meeting. In addition, when asked about the potential grants on the table for 2009, Carolyn Kuhns delivered a vague presentation on what the ‘09 program detailed. When pressed for specific numbers on the previous year’s spending, CID treasure John Kuhns said he could not provide such numbers at the meeting. When asked about the upcoming year’s program, Carol Kuhns said simply that the marketing budget was created by a sub-committee of the MSPA that she, in fact, chairs. When asked for a membership list of the board, Carol Kuhns said they were “marketing experts,” ticked off two or three names before her husband John interrupted her to leave the meeting and return to their retail location.
At this, Heaton balked, saying he demanded to know who was on the marketing board, to which John Kuhns angrily replied, “you need to attend the MSPA meetings.” Robbins — the sole no vote against Kuhns in the re-election vote — disagreed.
“I’m on this board,” she said. “I don’t need to go to the other boards to see what we’re spending here.”
After the meeting, acting board chair Hutsler submitted the election results to the Parkville Board of Aldermen for ratification, fulfilling the bylaws of the CID. Luminary Publisher Mark Vasto placed himself on the board agenda before the vote to discuss violations of the Sunshine Law that The Luminary outlined in its last issue (Vol. 7, Ep. 24) — namely the fact that they had failed to post proper notice of the meeting. The Sunshine Laws require a minimum notice of 24 hours and a posting of the notice at the CID’s district office or meeting place. The CID merely e-mailed sitting members of the board and posted a notice on the door of City Hall — which isn’t even in the CID area.
Upon learning this, Hutsler placed himself on the agenda before Vasto and conceded that the CID “probably did not” follow the Sunshine Laws and were withdrawing their request for ratification of new officers until they could meet again and offer better notice. Hutsler said his counsel advised that the CID probably met the minimum requirements of the law, but recommended a re vote.
Though pre-empted, Vasto spoke before the board, questioned Hutsler’s counsel and pointed out several violations of the CID board’s last meeting. After reading section 610.020 of the Sunshine Law which covers “notice of meetings, when required — accessibility of meetings — minutes of meetings to be kept, content — voting records to be included”, Vasto pointed out that the board failed to post the notice at the meeting place and failed to provide “copies of the notice to any representative of the news media who requests notice of meetings of a particular public governmental body” — another tenet of the law. Vasto said The Luminary had a standing request for notification of any meetings of the CID, [Parkville Community Development Corporation] and [Main Street Parkville Association] — all of which are subject to the state’s Sunshine Laws — and that the newspaper had not been been notified at all.
Vasto also pointed out that the CID failed to keep proper minutes, and had failed to provide requested materials in a timely basis to members of the board before the meeting. Vasto referenced a request for information made by board member Melissa Robbins to Carol Kuhns, who Hutsler said was “acting secretary” of the CID, and was denied the information in an e-mail from Kuhns.
“I am not a member of the CID Board and have sent the meeting notice and agenda, etc., only at Tom’s request,” Kuhns wrote Robbins in an e-mail dated Monday, January 26. However, Kuhns’ name appeared on the CID letterhead as a “non-voting” Secretary of the board. Vasto pointed out that this was a violation of the CID’s own by-laws.
The CID will meet again within two weeks. Read The Luminary for more information.