The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Opinion

August 13, 2013

Anson Burlingame, guest columnist: Keystone Kops episode of city government

JOPLIN, Mo. — First and foremost, a “well done” to The Joplin Globe for reporting a major local story on Sunday involving our Joplin city government, specifically our City Council.

Through the Globe, what seems to have been intended as a quiet and underhanded effort on the part of some elected council members to get rid of Mark Rohr, the city manager, was revealed.

So let’s name some names. Frankly I think they should be called Keystone Kops, but that is just my own bias in this matter.

Benjamin Rosenberg moved in an unannounced and closed session to vote to request the resignation of Rohr. Bill Scearce seconded the motion, and it was endorsed by Jack Golden and Trisha Raney. Voting “no” were Mike Woolston, Mike Seibert and Gary Shaw. Abstaining were Mayor Melodee Colbert-Kean and Morris Glaze. On Sunday, through the Globe, we learn that Glaze questioned the vote. He was reported  as saying the mayor changed her vote outside of the closed meeting. She denies that accusation as well in the same article. That sure seems like Keystone Kops all chasing each other in a circle.

Who voted for what is important information. But why was this kind of closed-session vote ever held in the first place, with no public notice or public debate to even consider requesting the resignation of the city manager? At least City Attorney Brian Head did not let council members get away with the secret shenanigans. Voting in a closed session is legal, but who voted for what is not to be kept from public scrutiny. Thank you very much, Mr. City Attorney. It is indeed nice to know what sneaky people try to do when governing our city.

But such sneaky attempts were made to rid Joplin of its city manager, no question about that. Why did the four members feel that was needed? Only Rosenberg has said why he voted as he did. It was because he feels Rohr “... rules by fear and that is not the management style that I prefer.” That’s it as far as public information goes as to why four council members wanted Rohr to resign. Are you kidding me?

Who might be afraid of Rohr? If I were an employee who was managing city accounts that were found to be deficient by some $150,000, I might be a little concerned. And if I were that employee’s manager, I might be fearful. And if a criminal investigation is launched into such mistakes, maybe a whole bunch of employees might be a little concerned. That is scary stuff in which to be involved, even if one’s actions were honest and well-intentioned, which may have been the case.

The city manager, following an audit, took immediate action when things that might be wrong were found, then ordered further investigation and made final decisions when all the pertinent information was understood. That is what should be done. That is not “managing by fear.” It is managing by holding employees accountable.

Think about that, Dr. Rosenberg. Would you prefer no audits to have been conducted and no immediate corrective actions taken when $150,000 was found “missing”?

Perhaps the gravest error made by any democratically elected government is the failure to hold people accountable. No, that does not mean employees should be fired every time a mistake is made. But any competent manager must identify mistakes and take corrective action if they are to be successful managers — of a hamburger stand, of a city government or of United States.

Fail to hold all people in any business accountable, fairly and with conviction, and things will go wrong over and over.

Rohr has been making tough decisions, managing his employees to ensure such decisions are implemented and ultimately is being held accountable for the results of those decisions.

Look at Joplin today as compared to how it looked when Rohr assumed his current duties. Show me grave errors in his judgment, programs or policies and do so publicly. Then, and only then, should the City Council be voting to remove Rohr from office.

Rohr is a great public servant and has been for a long time. He deserves better treatment from elected representatives. Certainly whatever treatment he receives, criticism or complaints, must be made in public by public figures themselves.

I wonder how much it would cost to hold a general election in Joplin to recall the entire council. After this evidence of a council governing like Keystone Kops, such action should at least be considered.

Anson Burlingame lives in Joplin. He credits his wife, Janet, for applying Keystone Kops to the issue.

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