JOPLIN, Mo. —
I have lived in Joplin my entire life. I was born in Joplin, attended Joplin schools, graduated from the old Joplin High School and have worked in Joplin for the past 40 years.
I am upset and embarrassed by the cloud that has been brought over Joplin by the behavior of some Joplin City Council members over the past few months. I spoke to the council about this on Feb. 18 (two weeks after City Manager Mark Rohr was fired) and asked a few questions for which I received no answers.
I asked why our city manager was fired and why we would pay investigator Tom Loraine more than the contract allowed — especially when he so obviously diverted from the charge he was given. Well, it has now been over one month and no viable reasons have been given. So I asked the same questions at the March 17 council meeting.
The silence was deafening, except for one member, Gary Shaw, who indicated that he was committed to providing Joplin residents with some answers.
Many of us had hoped that, given the public outcry, the vote to fire Mr. Rohr would be reversed by the five who voted that way. Unfortunately, that did not happen. It seems they have no interest in public opinion and are focused only on imposing their agenda.
Just to summarize, Loraine was charged with the investigation of possible ethics violations by two City Council members. He decided to expand his investigation into the management style of the city manager and found it not to be to his liking. Five of the council members agreed with him and fired Rohr. It appears that the decision by the five had already been made, and the report was just a cover.
This additional work cost us, the taxpayers, an extra $37,000, and on March 3 those same council members voted to pay the entire bill, no questions asked.
By that logic, anyone who contracts for a specific job with the city can just expand the contract into some other area, overbill by 80 percent and expect to be paid. That doesn’t sound like very good stewardship of our money. According to the recent letter from Loraine, the authorization to expand the investigation came from City Attorney Brian Head.
At the March 17 meeting, I asked Mr. Head if he believed that he had that authority. Again, the silence was deafening. The contract with Loraine stated that the results of his investigation were to be made public under the Sunshine Law, but nine pages of that report were deemed “personnel records” and hidden from public view.
The Joplin Globe has challenged that decision, and a court date is set for March 31 to determine if those documents will be made public. Kudos to the Globe for the challenge. As this story continues to unfold, it is looking more and more like a conspiracy and cover up.
We still have not been provided with the facts, so the public does not know exactly what has happened here. But as the old saying goes: If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s probably a duck.
It seems to me that we are in a big rush to sweep this under the rug, as if to say, “Nothing to see here. Just move along.”
Of course, we do need to move along, but not without establishing some accountability and transparency in our city government. Joplin has lost its city manager, and we must get on with the business of replacing him.
I have been told that the revitalization of downtown Joplin was not solely Rohr’s vision.
Since that has been a goal for over 25 years, I would agree. But having a vision and implementing that vision are two distinctly different activities. Implementation takes management skills, leadership and a backbone to overcome obstacles that will inevitably be encountered. We need to hire that type of individual to replace Mr. Rohr, not a milquetoast manager who is only interested in drawing a paycheck and kissing the rings of certain City Council members. I hope that we can attract another city manager with Rohr’s talents and backbone. Frankly, given the recent behavior of some City Council members and the fact that three of them are not on the April 8 ballot, I am very skeptical.
Since our city manager is gone and the decision has been made to pay Mr. Loraine’s bill, some will say that these are moot points. I disagree.
These specific items are only symptoms of a much deeper issue. The root problem is the blatant disregard for the will of Joplin’s residents by some members of our City Council, who apparently believe they are accountable to us only at election time.
Four council members have continued to put the best interests of the people of Joplin above their personal agendas. Unfortunately, four was not enough — it took five. Congratulations to those five. They have successfully gone against the will of the people who elected them and completed their personal vendetta against the city manager. Mark Rohr is taking his considerable talents and his national recognition for outstanding leadership to League City, Texas.
That’s our loss and that town’s gain. Adding insult to injury, we are paying nearly $82,000 to an investigator who provided the cover. The people of Joplin deserve better. We deserve representation, not autocratic control.
Charles McGrew lives in Joplin.