The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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March 3, 2014

Former Joplin city manager calls for ‘higher order’ in city; Rohr says ‘maverick’ investigation full of ‘rumors’

Mark Rohr called on Joplin residents Monday night to overcome the “good old boys” and restore a “higher order” in City Council leadership.

Rohr, who had served as Joplin city manager for nine years, filed a request to speak to the City Council at its Monday night meeting in response to his firing Feb. 4.

Rohr said he was judged in a “maverick” investigation by “rumor, gossip, innuendoes, half-truths and bold-faced lies,” in the report of an investigation that the City Council had authorized into two council members and how one of them obtained a note that Rohr said had been stolen from his desk.

One of those two, Bill Scearce, was investigated for his association with a man who ultimately was convicted of bookmaking. Scearce had rented the man office space in the early 1990s. The council also wanted to know how Scearce came to have a sticky note in Rohr’s handwriting citing some aspects related to the FBI’s gambling probe.

Another councilman, Mike Woolston, was investigated for brokering property sales at locations that now have been purchased for a city project to build a new public library.

“The report I saw was nothing more than gossip, rumor, innuendo, half-truths and bold-faced lies,” Rohr said. “If that’s what we’re going to pay $82,000 for or whatever the number is for that, those who controlled and participated in this conspiracy ought to be ashamed of themselves. And you will pay for your participation in this world and in the next.”

Rohr has been asked by the Globe to disclose the nine pages of the report of that investigation pertaining to him, but has declined, citing the advice of an attorney. The city also has been asked to disclose it, but has declined, saying it is a personnel record. The Globe has filed a lawsuit seeking a court order for its release.

Regarding the testimony of some city employees or former employees named in the report, “I want to say that being a city manager is not a popularity contest,” Rohr said.

He said those who feared him were likely not doing their jobs.

“What is important as city manager is that you demonstrate leadership and make difficult decisions to advance the city as a whole. Results are what are important, especially when you are rebuilding a third of your city.”

Rohr listed the accomplishments under his administration: a seven-fold increase in the city’s general fund, downtown redevelopment, construction of the Joplin Athletic Complex, public transit and the 2011 tornado response as well as others.

Rohr said Joplin residents have given him more than he has given, but that he had a final message.

Quoting Edmund Burke — “The only thing necessary for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing” — Rohr said, “If you want your city to be governed by good old boys with stories of illegal bookmaking and FBI investigations, Sunshine Law violations, stolen Post-it notes and wayward investigations, then do nothing. If you want a higher order in your city for yourself and for your children, it is up to you to make sure that higher order is restored.

I wish you luck and pledge my support in any way that I can.”

He both arrived and left to applause from a number in the audience with one resident calling to him, “Mark, we love you,” as he walked out.

Two residents spoke in favor of Rohr and against the City Council’s 5-4 vote to fire him.

Kim Seavy said he was concerned about the contents of the report and the costs charged by the investigator. He questioned why charter requirements for suspending and removing a city manager were not followed. “There is a three-point procedure here, and none of it was followed.”

He also asked why the investigator has billed nearly double the authorized costs and did not deliver what he believed were the agreed upon aspects.

Maurice Filson said some members of the council had removed a city manager who brought the city national acclaim in the aftermath of the 2011 tornado “for your own selfish agenda instead of ours. Until you recognize that we do not work for you, but that you work for us, the city is going to be stymied.”

The council held a public discussion on the investigator’s bill, which amounts to $81,819. The council had authorized up to $45,000 for the investigator and expenses without further authorization.

Councilman Morris Glaze said he was told that if he wants to read any of the testimony that was part of the investigation, he has to call the investigator, attorney Tom Loraine of Osage Beach, and pay more money for it to be read to him.

“It’s our document,” he said of the entire report and the accompanying testimony. “I want it.”

Council members also discussed duplicate charges, such as billings for mileage and for gasoline.

Councilman Gary Shaw said there is a charge of $1,400 for office space and questioned why an office had to be rented when the city has office space that could have been used at no charge.

He said the council had a contract that specified the cap for the fees without Loraine asking if the council was willing to pay more.

“I think we need to have him here to answer some questions,” he said.

Scearce said the council voted 8-1 to accept the report and, because of that, the panel is obligated to pay the bills.

Councilmen Mike Seibert and Woolston said they were not in favor of paying the extra bills.

Councilman Benjamin Rosenberg made a motion to pay the bill, minus any double billing, and require the investigator to deliver the file to the city. “I think he should explain how he did the investigation and then be paid.”

Shaw said he wanted Loraine to answer questions about the probe and Rosenberg suggested that the investigator write a letter to the council.

The same five council members who voted to fire Rohr voted to approve Rosenberg’s motion: Rosenberg, Scearce, Jack Golden, Trisha Raney and Mayor Melodee Colbert-Kean.

New job

Mark Rohr last week was offered the city manager’s post at League City, Texas.

 

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