The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

October 31, 2012

Former Neosho city manager entitled to health insurance but not salary

By Roger McKinney

NEOSHO, Mo. — A federal judge ruled Wednesday that former Neosho City Manager Jan Blase is entitled to a year of city health insurance for himself and his dependents but not nine months of his salary.

Blase was fired by the City Council in February 2010 after he had acknowledged that the city had used a state loan fund to pay city bills and make payroll. City officials faced a $1 million budget shortfall.

On Dec. 9, 2010, Blase pleaded guilty to misdemeanor official misconduct and was fined.

Blase filed the lawsuit against the city in federal court, alleging he was entitled to nine months of salary and health insurance for himself and his dependents for a year under his contract with the city.

U.S. Magistrate Judge John T. Maughmer ruled that the contract stated Blase was entitled to the post-termination salary only if he was terminated without cause. Because the city terminated Blase because he had committed malfeasance in fund transfers and had failed to communicate with the council, he was given cause and therefore wasn’t entitled to the salary.

Related to the health insurance, the contract required only that the employee be fired, with or without cause.

The city had argued that Blase’s conviction for official misconduct relieved it of any obligation to provide the post-termination benefits.

“The employment agreement bars all post-termination benefits only when the city terminates an employee ‘because of his conviction of any illegal act involving personal gain to him,’” the judge wrote. “In this case, Blase’s termination occurred on Feb. 22, 2010. Blase’s conviction occurred more than nine months later, on Dec. 9, 2010, making it impossible for the conviction to be the cause of the termination.”

Blase didn’t return a message left for him at Church Army USA, an addiction recovery center in Springfield, where he is listed as national interim director.

No immediate comment

Neosho Mayor Richard Davidson said he didn’t have any immediate comment about the ruling. He said he didn’t immediately know how much the health insurance benefit would cost the city.