Joplin City Councilman Mike Woolston said Friday that he is seeking full disclosure of the controversial council investigation report because it has damaged the council’s credibility and could derail the tornado recovery.
“My intent is to address those allegations against me and to make the report public in order to answer questions from the voters prompted by the conclusions drawn in the report,” he said at a public statement he gave Friday in City Hall.
But Friday night he said by phone that he did not hold out much hope of obtaining the report section.
Woolston said he filed an open records request for a full copy of the report with the city clerk’s office with the understanding that the city attorney decides whether the request can be granted.
“I stated I wanted it because I was going to make it public, but I would anticipate that my request will be denied,” as was an earlier open records request for the entire report made by the Globe.
He said that in addition to addressing the allegations against him, he wants to try to obtain the full report because of concerns about the firing of Mark Rohr as city manager earlier this month.
“Ultimately, I am hopeful that the public will be told why the council chose to terminate Mr. Rohr,” he said, adding that while he believes the public has a right to know why Rohr was fired, “I am extremely concerned that his termination will become a priority in our city.”
The Globe on Feb. 6 filed an open records request asking for the full report because public copies do not contain the portion involving Rohr. Both the city and Rohr have declined to release it. The city attorney and Mayor Melodee Colbert-Kean, Mayor Pro Tem Bill Scearce and council members Jack Golden and Benjamin Rosenberg have told the Globe it is considered to be part of the city’s personnel file on Rohr and that it would violate his privacy rights to disclose it.
A special investigator, attorney Tom Loraine of Osage Beach, was hired by the council in November to look into separate questions to determine if Woolston had engaged in any misconduct by brokering property deals on land that is to be the location of a new Joplin Public Library. Woolston said he waived commissions on those sales, which could have amounted to $30,000 to $40,000, and abstained on city votes involving them.
The investigator also was to look into whether Scearce had violated any council ethics or policy in connection to his association with or statements about a man to whom he had rented an office in the early 1990s. That man last year was sentenced in a federal gambling case in Joplin.
The investigator’s report virtually absolved Scearce of any wrongdoing but concluded that Woolston should resign or divest himself of his business dealings while serving on council.
The probe expanded into the city’s contracts with the city’s hired master development firm, Wallace Bajjali Development Partners, and into Rohr’s performance as city manager. “It should not have involved city employees,” Woolston said of his intentions for the investigation.
About a third of the report is said to have involved Rohr. Though other parts of the report have been released to the public, that part has been withheld by city administrators, citing it as a personnel record under Missouri law.
Council members said the investigator took the council’s copies of the report, which they saw only one time. Some of them said that the city attorney has one full copy that they can look at under the attorney’s supervision.
Woolston said public controversy and attempts to sort out the details regarding the manner and cause for a 5-4 vote to fire Rohr could play out over several months or a year.
“In that time, if his issues remain as the primary focus, we’ll lose sight of what I believe must be our highest priority and that is the tornado recovery. The tornado recovery, or lack of it, will affect Joplin for decades to come. It is absolutely imperative in my view that we maintain a laser-like focus on our rebuilding effort.”
Woolston, asked if the council discussed Rohr’s performance in the Feb. 4 meeting where the report contents were revealed, said, “There was some discussion of his performance.” Asked if he heard any new information in the report that warranted firing Rohr without cause, Woolston said he did not. Part of the council had tried to get Rohr to step down in August for undisclosed reasons. After that unsuccessful attempt, Scearce and Benjamin Rosenberg said they intended to work with Rohr.
Asked if Woolston heard anything in the meeting about the report that warranted termination of Rohr with cause, he said that he heard nothing that rose to that level.
The report recommended stopping work with Wallace Bajjali until further safeguards could be put in place regarding fees that are allowed under city contracts. Council members told the Globe earlier they did not intend to break off work with the firm.
Woolston is a candidate for re-election.
He is one of six seeking two general seats that are to be filled in the April 8 election. The other incumbent in that race is Trisha Raney. They are challenged by Jim West, Ryan Stanley, Miranda Lewis and Harvey Hutchinson.
Hutchinson on Friday also issued a written statement calling for full release of the report. He said that he would call for a forensics audit of the Wallace Bajjali transactions.
The city attorney and the finance director oversee those contracts and payments, which also have to be approved by the two city boards, the Joplin Redevelopment Commission and the City Council.
The council had a 4 1/2 hour closed meeting to review the contents of the Loraine report on Feb. 4, after which the panel convened in open meeting for release of the report to the public. At the close of that session, a resolution to fire Mark Rohr was presented and approved 5-4.