The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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December 18, 2013

No criminal wrongdoing found in Joplin public works probe, city says

JOPLIN, Mo. — No criminal wrongdoing was found in connection with the failure of the Joplin Public Works Department to collect $150,000 in building permit and code enforcement fees, the city announced late Thursday afternoon.

City Manager Mark Rohr ordered the Joplin Police Department in July to conduct the probe during a management shakeup of the department resulting from the loss in city revenue resulting from uncollected fees. Rohr said then a software audit turned up uncollected and undeposited fees, some going back as far as 1999.

He could not be reached late Thursday afternoon for comment about the conclusions reached in the police investigation.

When he ordered the investigation in July, Rohr said that criminal wrongdoing was not suspected and that the probe was undertaken as a precaution.

At the time of the discovery, Rohr reassigned longtime Public Works Director David Hertzberg as Community Development Block Grant project manager. Building department supervisor Steve Cope resigned.

The city, in its news release on Thursday, said that uncollected fees were found after the city’s computer software provider conducted an analysis to see if city programs were being used to their fullest capacity. That turned up reports showing that approximately $110,000 in code enforcement fees and $43,000 in building permit fees were yet outstanding.

Interviews of public works supervisors conducted in June revealed inefficiencies in the ways fees were recorded and payments were handled, officials said. In July, unprocessed payments totaling $11,968 — for things like building and sign permits, stormwater fees and zoning applications — were found in an office.

At the same time as the discovery of the uncollected fees, a city garage worker, Jeramy Jasperson, was arrested and charged with stealing some oil and other supplies from the city garage. He was fired, and he eventually was placed on probation after pleading guilty.

During the shakeup, Rohr appointed the assistant city manager, Sam Anselm, as interim public works director. A reorganization of the department was conducted and changes made to the city’s steps to bill and collect fees in a timely manner.

Public works now submits all money collected daily to the city finance department. The city’s news release said that the finance department is conducting internal audits on all city departments that handle money or fee collection to make sure those functions are handled properly.

As a result of the reorganization, the code enforcement division has been changed to a neighborhood improvement division and now reports to the assistant city manager.

The city is accepting applications for the position as chief building supervisor to oversee day-to-day operations of the building department, according to the news release.

The city manager asked a city commission that recently conducted a review of the city charter to recommend removing the charter requirement that the city’s public works director be a licensed engineer so the director can focus on overall management of the department. The commission has endorsed that change.

New director

THE CITY hired a new public works director, Nick Heatherly, in September.

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