An investigation of alleged inappropriate activity by a Wildwood city council member, Holly Parks, concluded Wednesday night with a special public hearing at the city's chamber. She was cleared of all legal ramifications, with the majority of council members present voting 11-2 to stop gathering evidence and to conclude the investigation.
But the outcome did not occur without debates regarding the council's perceived best practices of communicating, overall ethical questions, and different legal interpretations of laws governing open, transparent government activity.
The investigation was prompted by a complaint filed May 26 by Wildwood resident Bill Kennedy, who submitted that the substance of a particular on May 19 violated rules and guidelines about council members' political activity and inappropriate use of the influence of the council office. The e-mail was solely about reconsidering a mayoral recommended appointee, , for a vacant Ward 1 slot, after unusual circumstances led to his initial appointment on May 9 being ruled invalid.
The complaint also alleged that Parks' e-mail violated Missouri's Sunshine Laws by being distributed to the majority of council members, excluding the city clerk as Wildwood's official custodian of records. With one seat of the 16-member council vacant at the time, a critical element of this matter centered on what the "majority," or quorum, of the council was considered to be. Traditionally, Wildwood has required nine of 16 votes to mandate ordinances, council appointments and other legally binding decisions.
With the vacancy, Kennedy purported that the majority would have been eight, which was the number of people involved in Parks' e-mail, including herself.
On June 13, Wildwood city council members . Parks, a Ward 2 council member and Wildwood mayor pro tem, hired attorney Paul Martin for representation. Wildwood council members hired Armstrong Teasdale attorney Jeff McPherson for to assess and handle the matter.
McPherson's legal assessment and stance was that Parks' e-mail did meet the requirements of the state's Sunshine Law because some of its recipients contained the Wildwood-based e-mail domain, placing the e-mail into the city's server when it was sent. McPherson said because the e-mail was in the server, it was available to the city's deputy city administrator, Lynne Greene-Beldner, and therefore accessible to the public even though she, as the city clerk, did not receive it directly into her in-box.
He also deduced that Wildwood's city charter was not violated by Parks' e-mail because the charter language dictated the majority of council to be considered at nine. Furthermore, he said that because Parks had mistyped one of the recipients' e-mail addresses, her electronic communication technically only involved seven council members—which is less than either the 'eight or nine majority factor' of council members upon which the complaint hinged.
Editor's Note: See separate, second article on Eureka-Wildwood Patch to be published regarding other aspects of this investigation, and the opinions that some residents and council members offered.