JOPLIN, Mo. —
Joplin’s mayor pro tem told City Attorney Brian Head several days before the report of a City Council-ordered investigation was to be disclosed that he wanted a resolution to fire the city manager “in my pocket” before the meeting.
That investigation was supposed to focus on two city councilmen. Head said it turned to then-City Manager Mark Rohr because special investigator Tom Loraine asked Head if he should be “looking at” Rohr. Head said he told Loraine that Loraine would have to make that decision.
The firing of Rohr, who won two national awards for leading Joplin in the aftermath of the Joplin tornado, has sparked a firestorm of public controversy.
And the cost for that controversy has mounted. Billings disclosed Thursday by Head show the costs at $82,000, nearly double the cap the City Council set for costs without further authorization.
Resident Charles McGrew told the council members at a meeting Tuesday night their actions are an embarrassment to him, saying that people he knows in other cities and states are asking “What in the H are you guys doing over there?”
He said that the use of the phrase “without cause” in the firing of Rohr is a legal term “that shields the council from having to explain” its reasons for the action. He said he thought Rohr “did his job and did it well.”
Councilman Gary Shaw gave a statement at the meeting and, in it, questioned whether some on the council knew details of the investigator’s report before all of them heard it at a Feb. 4 special meeting.
Head said that he knew some details of the probe and gave Mayor Melodee Colbert-Kean a “very short, limited briefing” despite council discussions that no one was to have any information from the report before it was given to the council as a whole.
The mayor could not be reached for comment on what she was told.
The mayor pro tem, Bill Scearce, was one of the councilmen who was to be investigated.
Asked what he knew, Scearce said, “I did not know what was in the report,” adding, “You could tell the report was going farther (than the two councilmen) by the people who were being interviewed.”
Asked how he knew who was interviewed, Scearce said, “By talk on the street.”
He would not explain the reasons he voted to fire Rohr, describing it only as a “necessary action.”
Scearce acknowledged asking Head to prepare the Rohr resolution, saying he also asked for several other documents, such as those for council censure and resignation, because he felt the council needed to be “prepared for all eventualities.”
Asked why he sought the documents instead of waiting on the full council to deliberate what they might want to do after hearing the report, Scearce said, “Every councilman can ask the city attorney to do any ordinance he wants. If the council doesn’t like it, the council doesn’t have to vote for it.”
Head said he advised Scearce against drafting a resolution to fire Rohr in advance of the meeting.
FOCUSING ON ROHR
Head, asked by the Globe on Friday who authorized the investigation to delve into Rohr, said, “He (Loraine) asked me once it appeared he was going to be looking at Mr. Rohr. This was when I was under oath (testifying) he asked whether I thought that was an appropriate course of investigation. My comment to him was that it wasn’t up to me to decide,” Head said. “That was up to him to decide whether it is within his scope or not.”
Loraine could not be reached for comment regarding that last week.
Councilman Morris Glaze asked at an Oct. 21 meeting, “Will we give him his charge?” That was in reference to the parameters of the probe.
Head said at the time he had discussed that to some extent with Loraine.
He said he told Loraine that the investigation would involve determining Scearce’s connection with a bookmaker who had rented an office from Scearce back in the early 1990s that was part of an FBI probe into gambling and corruption. Head said it also was to include property transactions involving Councilman Mike Woolston, a real estate agent, and whether he had inappropriate business dealings that benefited the city’s contracted master developer, Wallace Bajjali Development Partners.
The council then added a directive to inquire into how Scearce obtained a sticky note that Rohr had said was taken from his desk that made reference to the FBI probe.
Scearce later used that note to allege that Rohr leaked information to the Globe about the FBI probe, even though the Globe had asked Scearce about it more than a year earlier when his name showed up in federal court documents.
Councilman Mike Woolston had said last week that he thinks “several council members are particularly curious how that investigation, the original intent supposed to be relative to ethics violation of two sitting council members, then turned onto council employees. We did not intend for it to include employees.”
Councilman Benjamin Rosenberg said Woolston had stated at a council budget meeting in September there should be an investigation of Scearce. “I brought up that if Scearce was to be investigated, we should investigate Mr. Woolston. Mr. (Mike) Seibert said, ‘Yes, and anything else he finds.’ So I think Mr. Seibert and Mr. Woolston opened the door” to expanding the investigation beyond Woolston and Scearce.
Seibert said earlier that he meant that Head should also include the sticky-note incident.
Head, asked by the Globe earlier, said he gave the note to Scearce because he recognized the details on the note as being about Scearce. He said he has a duty to the council as his employer.
Shaw said at a meeting last Tuesday night, “I have concerns and questions about how part of the council seemed to know what was in the report and was directing city staff to do some things.” He questioned whether there are other council employees who need to be evaluated for their roles in the probe.
Head, asked who knew details about the course of the investigation, said, “I think that is more of a question for Loraine. I gave the mayor one very short, limited briefing just generally about where the investigation was.
“As far as me going to talk to Mr. Scearce or whoever, that simply didn’t happen. Everyone seems to believe I knew the details, and I didn’t. I knew some, but I certainly didn’t know it all.”
Asked if he told the mayor that Loraine had asked whether to pursue Rohr, Head said he doesn’t remember. “I could not say and be certain, it’s been long enough ago. It was short and limited,” he said of his briefing for the mayor.
Scearce, asked if the mayor told him about the briefing, said she did not.
Head, asked if he should have given the update to the council as a whole rather than the mayor alone, said, “You could, I suppose. But two of the council members were under investigation so I don’t believe it was for them to have information. Hindsight is 20/20, but it didn’t seem at the time that I should have.”
The mayor could not be reached for comment for this report.
As to when the resolution to oust Rohr was written, Head told the Globe “Scearce approached me days prior (to the report meeting) and told me he wanted a resolution written. I told him I didn’t think that was a good idea.”
Head said Scearce then told him that he (Scearce) intended to make a motion to appoint Head as interim city manager.
“At that point, I pushed back” from representing the council and asked the city’s outside counsel, Karl Blanchard, to take over the role of council legal adviser, Head said. He said he told assistant City Attorney Peter Edwards and Blanchard “you guys have to make these conclusions” about how to advise the council once the investigator went through his report with the council. “They were there to advise the council, and I took myself out of it.”
He said he had drawn up some documents on how the council should proceed if someone wanted to resign or to call for removal, “not knowing what the recommendations were going to be.”
Asked if Scearce said why he wanted a Rohr resolution, Head said, “I believe what he said was that if there is anything in there at all about Mark ‘I want to have that in my pocket.’”
In an interview last week, Scearce said, “At the time I asked for the resolution I did not know what was in the report. I asked for that resolution as a contingency for if there was something in the report. In the opinion of a majority of the council, that was a necessary action to take after receiving the report.”
Rosenberg, who has acknowledged in the past that he, Scearce and another councilman, Jack Golden, are best friends, presented the resolution the night of the meeting to terminate Rohr. Rosenberg said he made a decision during the council meeting to do that and told the council’s attorney of his decision. He said he was handed the resolution by Blanchard and told to read it to call for a vote on it.
Rosenberg has twice said that Rohr’s dismissal was sought because the investigation took “an odd turn.”
Scearce, asked if he had told other council members he had the documents prepared in advance of the meeting, said he did not.
COSTS OF PROBE
The Globe, in an open records request filed Feb. 6, asked for the disclosure of Loraine’s charges for the investigation. The city’s reply on Feb. 14 showed $28,985.
The council had agreed to cap the costs at $40,000 in attorney fees and $5,000 in expenses unless further authorization was approved.
Four days later, Head told the council at a meeting that there had been more bills submitted and Loraine’s charges exceeded the cap by about $22,000. The council asked for a detailed listing of the charges before it would discuss whether to pay them or not.
The Globe filed another open records request on Wednesday, seeking the additional charges.
Head, on Thursday sent a response to the Globe and sent the detailed charges to the council. They total $81,819.90. Of that, $72,654 was for Loraine’s fee, and $9,165 was for costs to pay court reporters who took the testimony and rented office space in Joplin.
Head said he told Loraine of the cost: “Early on the discussion was simply when you see you’re going to go over the cap, let me know and we will go back to council and get authority.”
He said he was not aware of all the billings until it was too late. “Had we been aware we would have gone to council,” Head said. “Then there were two more billings, and it was apparent he had gone over by then, but it was already done.”
Councilman Morris Glaze said he wanted to know more about the testimony that went along with the report and asked Head for that. He said he was told he had to arrange an appointment with Loraine to do that and there would be a charge for it.
The Globe asked Joplin attorney Bill Fleischaker for a lawyer’s view of standard operating procedure in such matters. He said an ethics rule provides that whatever is in a client’s file belongs to the client. If there is testimony, a client should be allowed to listen to the tape of it for free, but there could be a charge for transcription if the testimony had not been already transcribed.
Head said, “We physically don’t have them,” referring to the transcripts or tapes of testimony in the case, “because the investigator has possession of them.”
Loraine could not be reached to say why.
The dates and amounts of billings for the City Council investigation along with city notations as to whether they have been paid are:
Nov. 12, 2013 $9,155.61, paid
Nov. 27, 2013 $14,552.36, paid
Dec. 18, 2013 $5,277.50, paid
Jan. 15, 2014 $14,376.35, unpaid
Feb. 10, 2014 $24,742.88 (received Feb. 13, 2014), unpaid
Feb. 11, 2014 $4,550.00 (received Feb. 18, 2014), unpaid
Jan. 6, 2014 $7,164.20 (Holliday Reporting Service), paid
Feb. 10, 2014 $601.00 (Holliday Reporting Service), paid
Nov. 22, 2013 $700.00 (law office of Juddson McPherson), paid
Dec. 10, 2013 $700.00 (law office of Juddson McPherson), paid