There is an old saying, that like mushrooms, rumors grow in the dark. And there have been several rumors sprouting around town that the city of Wildwood has been under investigation by the Attorney General's office. Through the Missouri Sunshine Act, WWM has obtained thirty-seven pages of documents that sheds some light on that fungus.
Its important to know that not all ethics-related complaints are viable, and not all complaints are dealt with by the same body. Complaints that accuse someone of violating rules defined in City ordinances, and accusations of offenses against the city's charter are handled by Wildwood's own Ethics Board. Over $20,000 dollars of such complaints have been filed in the past several years. All have failed. Alhough these have been costly failures legally, they seem to serve a primarily political purpose, which is attempt to embarrass the Mayor.
Image: Tim and Kelley Woerther, Facebook
The wife of former mayor/current Council Member Tim Woerther, has filed thousands of dollars worth of those complaints. But it does not stop there and the Attorney General's office has also been pulled into the drama.
The Attorney General's office is responsible for enforcement of Missouri's Sunshine Law. Recently, that office has slammed shut the case files on several such complaints from Wildwood. No action was taken by the AG's office but not after costing both the State of Missouri and City of Wildwood tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars. It should be noted that regardless of the merit of a complaint the AG's office must investigate. This all costs money and resources via staff time and attorney fees.
WWM has obtained documents through a Sunshine request and the records show that two of three failed complaints were serially filed by Kelley Woerther. One additional AG-closed case was filed by another resident. Further, Mrs. Woerther still has one additional complaint outstanding with the Attorney General's office, making a total of three complaints at the state level filed in 2018 and 2019 by Kelley Woerther.
According to document obtained by WWM, the following complaints were closed by the Attorney General's office recently without taking any legal action:
On May 14, 2018 Kelley Woerther filed a complaint with the Attorney General's office alleging that she was told by a Wildwood council member that a matter discussed in closed session did "not constitute closed session considerations". In a twist, Woerther also leveled charges against the Council Member who had allegedly provided her with the information that led to Woerther's complaint. Woerther stated that "the council member who disclosed this to me broke confidentiality and violated their honor to the City of Wildwood."
The complaint was subsequently closed without action by the Attorney Generals Office in part because the complaint did not comply with statutes of limitation.
On November 16, 2018, Kelley Woerther filed a complaint with the Attorney Generals office stating that she had "a list of text messages between city officials, police and residents." Based on that "list" Woerther claimed that her request for the content of those emails was not forthcoming.
On September 18, 2019, after communication with numerous city employees and the City Attorney, the Missouri Attorney General notified the city of Wildwood that it was closing its investigation without action. No action was deemed necessary by the Missouri Attorney General's office other than suggestions for the City of Wildwood to improve consistency with the preservation of "transitory" text messages.
On September 18, 2019, a complaint by a resident other than Kelley Woerther was closed without action. The complaint alleged in part that the resident was being charged excessive fees by the city for fulfilling public records requests. The resident had been seeking records for months of email records, telephone records, and written correspondence. The city had put a price tag of approximately $4,000 for what it had estimated to be at least 10,000 documents.
In the letter to the city, the AG's office notes the broad nature of the request, which was "seeking all of Mr. Thomas's telephone records, text messages, and email messages over an approximately four-month period." The Attorney General's office concluded that, "based on the scope of Resident 2's request for records, it does not appear that the City's estimates exceeded the amounts" allowed to be charged under the Sunshine Law.
Not done yet - Another Complaint:
On April 11, 2019 Kelley Woerther filed yet another complaint regarding a vote taken by the Administration and Public Works Committee on March 22nd, 2019. WWM does not yet have record of a decision announced yet by the Attorney General's office.
For years residents have heard from chronic detractors of the Mayor and the city, that the Attorney General's office is "investigating" alleged wrong-doing in Wildwood. We see now that those claims have been largely without merit.
The Sunshine Law is important and it is a necessary legal mechanism for providing government transparency. But when residents abuse the law, it taxes those who are charged with enforcing it, and unnecessarily taxes the public coffers. And when numerous frivolous complaints are filed by Kelley Woerther, the spouse of an elected official, against her husband's primary political rival, it poses serious ethical questions about the use of public funds in a proxy political fight.