The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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February 14, 2014

City continues to deny access to report on Rohr

A number of documents were released Friday in response to an open records request by the Globe, but the city declined to release the part of a council investigation pertaining to the fired city manager.

Ten pages of the report of special investigator Tom Loraine regarding his probe of council issues have not been released to the public. City officials said that part of the report was about the ousted manager, Mark Rohr, and were considered part of a personnel action. After hearing the report behind closed doors, the council on Feb. 4 voted 5-4 to approve a resolution to fire Rohr without cause.

“The city has received numerous questions regarding the recent termination of Mr. Rohr, and the withheld 10 pages from the investigator’s report,” said Mayor Melodee Colbert-Kean in a written statement issued Friday. “As a governmental employer in the state of Missouri, we are bound by statute and city rules to protect the privacy of personnel documents held by the city, therefore we cannot release these pages.

“Please address your requests for the release of (the) 10 pages to Mr. Rohr. If the city were to release this portion of the report, or even comment on the contents, not only would we be violating the law, but we would be putting the city at a significant legal risk.”

The records request did result in the release of Rohr’s employment agreement.

Rohr on Thursday had said he believed he was entitled to a hearing under City Charter requirements. City Attorney Brian Head responded that the charter outlines the steps to be taken when a manager is to be removed for cause, but does not apply to termination without cause.

The job agreement, signed on Sept. 20, 2004, states the following pertaining to release without cause: “In the event employee is suspended or terminated as city manager by the city, and during such time that employee is willing and able to perform the duties of city manager, then and in that event the city agrees to pay employee cash payments equal to his monthly salary so long as he remains unemployed, but not to exceed six months from the date of his termination.”

If Rohr had been fired for cause, he would have been owed whatever pay was due at the time of his release, but no severance, according to the terms.

Rohr could not be reached Friday afternoon, but on Thursday had said he believes that under the charter he is entitled to a personnel hearing. “The charter is the constitution of the city,” he said. “I do not believe a contract or any individual attorney can countermand what the charter says.”

He also said at that time that he would have to seek legal advice before deciding whether to request such a hearing. If he were to ask for a hearing, he would need to do so, according to the charter, within 15 days of his firing, which was on Feb. 4.

The Globe last week asked Rohr for copies of the probe report pages that pertained to him, but he declined, again saying that he would first need to talk with a lawyer.

The Globe also sought the charge that was given to the investigator and the cost of the investigation.

While it had been said at a City Council meeting that the fee was $150 an hour, that was misstated. The fee was $175 an hour, said Head, the city attorney. The council had set a cap of $40,000 plus $5,000 for expenses.

The documents show that Loraine was paid a total of $28,958.47.

Other items requested and the city’s response:

• Callers to a hot line established for the probe. “The city is not in possession of the names of all callers. However, please note that press copy of the report does indicate the names of every person who was interviewed and the date of the interview.” The Globe published the report, including the pages that listed those witnesses, on www.joplinglobe.com.

• Transcripts of the testimony. “Transcripts of the interviews conducted by Mr. Loraine are not in the possession of the city and have not been presented to the City Council and, as such, are not a public record,” defined by the state open records law, read the city’s response.

“Even if the transcripts were considered a public record they were created under the auspices of Garrity v New Jersey 385 US 493 (1967) and with respect to employees of the city are closed records pursuant to section 510-021 (3), (13),” the city replied.

Also released were the land assemblage agreement and payments made to Wallace Bajjali Development Partners for land transactions that were subject to the investigation report.

Emails among City Council members regarding the investigation were requested, but the city clerk reported that “there have been no emails.”

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