The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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March 17, 2014

Council hears criticism on probe, Rohr dismissal

The Joplin City Council on Monday night again heard criticism from residents upset about the dismissal of Mark Rohr as city manager and related issues, and one resident said he has asked for an investigation by the state.

Kim Seavy told the council that he had contacted the attorney general and the state auditor’s office. To questions after the meeting, Seavy said he was waiting to hear if the auditor would undertake a probe or if petitions would have to be circulated to demand a petition audit by the state.

Seavy told the council that it had failed to look out for city funds by paying more than the agreed-upon amount for a council ethics investigation conducted by attorney Thomas Loraine.

“The contract was clear and specific in the amount and the scope, and neither were followed,” he said. “Those who voted for paying more owe residents an apology or a resignation.”

The investigator’s bill totaled $81,819. The council had authorized up to $45,000, plus expenses, without further authorization. The probe was sought to look into ethical questions concerning Councilman Bill Scearce’s long-ago association with a man ultimately convicted last year of bookmaking, and Councilman Mike Woolston in connection with the brokering of property sales at locations that now have been purchased for city redevelopment. The probe expanded to focus on Rohr, and the council voted 5-4 to fire him on Feb. 4, the same night it received the investigator’s report.

Directing his comments to the five council members who approved the action and to City Attorney Brian Head, Seavy also said the council did not follow the Home Rule Charter in firing Rohr.

“I’ll not remain silent; this has angered me,” he said. “By the time we get done you’ll understand.”

Both Seavy and Charles McGrew had addressed the council at earlier meetings.

McGrew on Monday night said he had been told earlier to be patient, but that there still were no viable answers about why the council had dismissed Rohr or paid the investigator more than was originally specified.

“Some council members paid it with no questions asked,” he said. “So does that mean anybody can overcharge the city?”

He said residents don’t understand why the investigator was allowed to go beyond the specified scope of the investigation.

“We need some answers,” he said. “The citizens deserve to be in on it. I’m a little angry.”

The comments brought no response from any of the five council members who voted for Rohr’s firing or to pay the remainder of the Loraine bill.

But Councilman Gary Shaw told McGrew that he is “working on getting you some answers.”

“I’m a little angry too,” Shaw said. “There are some things we can’t talk about involving employees, but you do have a right to know.”

In other business, the council heard comments on a proposal to institute curbside recycling in the city. The measure is on the ballot, for an advisory vote, on April 8.

Katrina Richards of the Young Professionals Network of the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce said her group and other business leaders in Joplin support curbside recycling.

“Surveys we have conducted show people favor it, even if they have to pay more,” she said.

A number of network members and others who support recycling attended the meeting and stood to show their support.

Another resident, Mike McGraw, said he does not believe residents favor recycling, especially if it results in higher costs. He questioned the purpose of an advisory vote that would not bind the council. He also questioned potential costs since the council has not approved a contract with the hauler.

Head, the city attorney, and council members agreed that the vote is advisory. But Councilwoman Trisha Raney said she would support whatever decision is expressed by voters.

“I don’t think it will pass, and I hope you’ll abide by the vote and not the noise,” McGraw said.

State grant

THE JOPLIN CITY COUNCIL on Monday approved an ordinance outlining plans to spend $14 million from the state to repair and replace sanitary sewers, storm sewers, streets, sidewalks, curbs and gutters in the tornado zone. The funds, authorized by the Legislature and allocated through the Missouri Department of Economic Development, are to be used for infrastructure repairs not covered by federal Community Development Block Grant funds.

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