The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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April 5, 2014

Rohr manipulated council factions, investigator contends

JOPLIN, Mo. — Mark Rohr is center stage in an investigator’s report that describes Rohr as a vindictive manager who could not get along with department heads and pushed his wife around at City Hall.

City administrators on Friday afternoon released full copies of the report and its supporting documents by special investigator Thomas Loraine, an Osage Beach attorney.

The investigation assigned by the council was intended to focus on the conduct of Councilmen Bill Scearce and Mike Woolston, and to determine how a note regarding Scearce was removed from Rohr’s desk.

Rohr on Friday called allegations that he screamed at and shook his wife in City Hall as “pure fiction. That did not happen.”

Loraine contended that incident, described by Jack Schaller, a former public works employee who resigned after part of the council made a failed bid in August to fire Rohr, lends credibility to a 911 call for a domestic disturbance at the Rohr home. Loraine included an audio copy of the call as well as the testimony of former Police Chief Lane Roberts, who said that no charges were pressed against Rohr because the family recanted the information given in the call. He made no mention in the report of Rohr’s explanations.

Rohr said Schaller resented him for not promoting Schaller’s wife to direct human resources.

“It is hard to tell which is more flawed, the Loraine report or the process the city followed” in conducting the investigation, Rohr said.

Loraine questioned Rohr about the disappearance of the sticky note that had details of Scearce’s former involvement with a convicted bookmaker. Rohr tells Loraine he received information about it from the police chief. Loraine repeatedly asked Rohr to disclose details Rohr did not want to disclose, saying he did not want to violate a law by disclosing investigatory information the chief had given him to protect city interests.

“I would love to tell you, but I just don’t want to get myself in trouble by doing so,” Rohr told Loraine. Loraine pressed him on the details of the meaning of the words in the sticky note.

“I’d like to get some professional counsel before I do so. And I’m a little troubled because to me, the issue is how did the note get removed, not what’s in the note,” Rohr said.

Loraine reads Rohr the assignment from the council for the investigation and said it involved the nature of the note. Rohr disagreed. “I remember the council meeting, it was the nature of the circumstances of the disappearance of the Post-It note,” Rohr told him.

Loraine told Rohr: “I’m going to tell everybody how that happened at the end of this investigation, but one of the things I need to do is I need to have answers to the questions. If everybody came in here and said what you said, I wouldn’t be able to tell anybody anything.”

The report pins some of the council’s disharmony on Rohr. “It became evident to this investigator from the testimony fairly quickly that the council was divided into two camps, and that City Manager Rohr manipulated this problem and encouraged the state of division in the council,” the report reads.

“I didn’t ‘manipulate and encourage’ this divide,” Rohr wrote in an email to the Globe on Friday. “It made my job and my life much more difficult. I did not create it as Mr. (Richard) Russell indicates. It was created by the majority bloc meeting and plotting and implementing the installation of the mayor in early 2012.”

Loraine’s report says there was a chasm between City Attorney Brian Head and Rohr that impeded city work and fueled the council’s divisive feud, illustrated by the council’s split 5-4 vote to fire Rohr after the Feb. 4 report was disclosed.

Head had made complaints to the council that he was being excluded from contract talks early on with the Wallace Bajjali Development Partners, the firm that became the city’s contracted master developer after the tornado. Head said Rohr shouted at him for going to the council about the issue during a meeting involving Wallace Bajjali staff. He also said Rohr did not know how to work with the city’s licensed professionals and did not allow them to have much input into the crucial early stages of project planning.

Replied Rohr: “Mr. Head expressed dissatisfaction early on about his not being involved in nonlegal decisions as apparently he was allowed to participate in by the past city manager.” Rohr said he and other department heads saw Head as “an impediment” who did not get his work done.

“I constantly received complaints from other department heads about him not doing work they needed. He has a poor work ethic and is constantly off work for a variety of aches and ailments.”

Head also testified that Rohr accused him of operating a “shadow government” during one of the city’s ice storms. He said Rohr had sent out an email on how city staff should respond to residents in need of help and Head sent out an email saying city employees also had been victims of the storm.

Former director of public works, David Hertzberg, who was demoted last year as the result of a discovery that uncollected department fees amounted to $150,000, told the investigator that the reason cited for his demotion was missing tires in the city garage and billing problems in the code division. Hertzberg didn’t agree with the way he was demoted, though he thinks a boss should be able to pick his own team. But, he didn’t like his name associated with thievery in the process. Hertzberg said Rohr did not want constructive criticism.

Rohr said Hertzberg was not well-equipped to be a department manager.

Councilman Scearce and council candidate Jim West told the investigator that Goodyear lost city business in tires and tire alignments after the tornado because Rohr directed city staff to stop using the business. Rohr said Goodyear would not fix his tires, which were damaged when he was driving after the tornado.

The investigator concluded that meant that Rohr did not permit competitive bidding for city services.

“It had to do with the guy not helping us during the tornado,” Rohr said, because he was trying to drive from point to point for meetings related to rescue and recovery when he stopped at Goodyear and asked if his tires could be fixed quickly, but was told he had to wait in line.

“I asked city staff if we had a contract with anyone else and was assured we did,” Rohr said. “I am quite comfortable with that decision and it had nothing to do with a bid.”

Staff writer Susan Redden contributed to this report.

911 report

Investigator Loraine’s billings showed that he focused on Rohr’s 911 report in the first days of the investigation, though that was not part of the charge given to him by the council to investigate.

 

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