JOPLIN, Mo. —
About 150 people attended a reception Tuesday night at Central Christian Center to bid farewell to Mark Rohr, Joplin’s former city manager.
They waited in line up to 45 minutes for their turn to speak to Rohr or shake hands.
Rohr was fired by a 5-4 vote of the City Council on Feb. 4 after results of a council-ordered investigation were revealed to the council. That investigation, Rohr’s firing and the $82,000 bill from the investigator sparked a public controversy that continued Tuesday as petitions seeking a state audit of the probe and its cost were circulated among those who came to salute Rohr.
Rohr said of the reception, held by Councilman Gary Shaw, “It’s very heartwarming to see the support that the community’s demonstrated towards me and the things we have tried to accomplish in Joplin, and I’m very appreciative.”
He said he has mixed feelings about leaving for the new job he starts Monday as city manager of League City, Texas.
“A big part of my heart will always be in Joplin, but I also am looking forward to my new responsibilities,” he said. “I want to see things happen in a positive manner in Joplin, but I’ve got another area of focus now and I owe it to the citizens of League City, Texas, to concentrate my efforts on what’s going on down there and trying to improve that community.”
Rohr said he had come to no conclusions yet about whether he would take any court action regarding his firing, which he said earlier did not comply with the city’s Home Rule Charter.
“I think it’s pretty evident that the citizens have some cleaning up to do in the town,” he said. “They’ve got a chance to do that in two weeks here,” alluding to the City Council election on April 8. “They have some other things they need to fix after that, and the citizens of Joplin, in my estimation, need to demand that they have nine City Council members that have no other agenda than the best interests of the city of Joplin, and that’s not what they have right now.”
Nine pages of the investigative report are about Rohr and have been withheld by city officials, who contend that part of the report is confidential as a personnel record.
Rohr has declined to release his copy of those pages. “Under legal advice, I’ve been advised not to do that at this point in time,” he said Tuesday. “I’ve had some consultations with my attorney. There’s nothing in there I’m concerned about. The city’s got themselves in a little bit of a jam in terms of how they’ve handled things, and I think we’ll just let that play out.”
The Joplin Globe is seeking a court order directing the city to release the report as a public record. An evidentiary hearing on that request is scheduled for Monday in Jasper County Circuit Court in Joplin.
Jane Cage, chairwoman of the Citizens Advisory Recovery Team, a group that was formed to take public input on the types of projects residents wanted to see as part of the city’s recovery from the 2011 tornado, helped Shaw organize the reception.
Cage, asked if she has concerns about whether those plans will be carried out with Rohr gone, said: “Mark was a strong proponent and a visionary for recovery. And I believe we’ll miss his leadership. I do think, however, that all of us who are committed to recovery will step up to make sure that what citizens said was important to them is accomplished.”
Among those who attended the reception was Kathy Wilson, who formerly served on the City Council when five members resigned before a recall election after firing a city manager.
Wilson said she came to see Rohr “just to let him know that he had the people’s support who admired his leadership.” Asked what she appreciated about his leadership, she said: “The way he took the helm after the tornado. I know that there were a lot of people who participated in putting the town back together again, but it always takes leaders. There are leaders and there are followers.”
Ramona Ellis, who attends Central Christian Center where Rohr and his family also attend church, said: “I like Mark, and I thought he did an excellent job in the tornado. He’s always there for everybody. He’s got a big heart for a lot of people here.”
Her husband, Troy Ellis, participated in the “Walk of Unity” on the one-year anniversary of the Joplin tornado. He said he came to the reception because “Mark Rohr has done an awesome job serving Joplin. He will be missed. He was a great leader. We appreciate everything he’s done for Joplin, and I think we ought to stand behind people who do an awesome job for this town.”
COUNCILMAN GARY SHAW said the reception was held because “there’s an awful lot of people who thought an awful lot of Mark.” There were many, he said, who “just wanted to have an opportunity” to say goodbye.