The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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August 19, 2013

City’s Public Works Department loses another member; assistant director resigns

Joplin’s Public Works Department will lose its second in command amid a shake-up ordered by City Manager Mark Rohr.

Jack Schaller, the assistant public works director, on Monday submitted his voluntary resignation from the department. He said in his resignation letter that he will leave Aug. 30 for a job as office manager and lead engineer for a private engineering firm in Joplin.

“It is an exciting opportunity for me to be able to go to work for this top 150 engineering company, and my hope is that I will be able to continue to use my talents to serve the city of Joplin” and be part of the growth that redevelopment from the 2011 tornado will bring, he said.

Schaller, in his resignation letter, did not mention an ongoing investigation into the department ordered by Rohr, though he did outline what he cited as the department’s accomplishments.

He said the department has brought about substantial savings to the city from finding ways to cut costs such as buying road salt in the summer instead of the winter; using city crews to do stormwater work, and some construction and maintenance work, instead of hiring it all out; and using city jail inmates on mowing crews.

“It has fostered a sense of pride and accomplishment in the Public Works Department,” he said.

He said he is extremely proud of the department’s accomplishments.

“I cannot say enough about the professionalism, the willingness to go above and beyond, and the ability to be able to consistently do more with less each year and every year from my supervisor all the way down to my laborers,” he said.

He said the department has done more work in-house in the past six years “than in the previous two decades.”

The city has been investigating shortages in the building division related to code enforcement and building permit fees. Rohr ordered an investigation by the Joplin Police Department to be sure no criminal misdeeds were involved. No theft is suspected.

Rohr has cited a loss of $150,000 in building inspection and code enforcement fees, and thefts from the city garage, as part of the ongoing probe.

In addition to reassigning David Hertzberg, the city’s public works director, Rohr ordered disciplinary action against building inspection supervisor Steve Cope that resulted in Cope’s resignation. Cope said he resigned rather than be disciplined for collection policies he said were in place when he took the job several years ago.

The city manager said the losses were found in an audit that Hertzberg and Cope were not aware could be done by the city’s computer system, and that the losses had occurred over 14 years, before Hertzberg and Cope had management positions in the department.

Assistant City Manager Sam Anselm has been assigned by Rohr as the interim department manager.

Asked if Schaller was disciplined as part of the public works probe, Anselm said, “That’s a personnel issue and we don’t talk about it.”

Asked if the department has the licensed staff required for public projects, Anselm said there are two other licensed engineers in the department and that not all projects are done in-house. “We’ll just continue to outsource the projects that we have to,” he said.

“Obviously, Jack’s an important part of the organization. We appreciate what he has done,” Anselm said, adding that Schaller’s departure “will be a temporary setback.”

Anselm said he and Rohr will be reviewing the overall structure of the department.

“We’re sad to see him (Schaller) go,” Anselm said. “It’s a good situation for him, so we wish him luck.”

The city posted Hertzberg’s job as public works director immediately after his reassignment.

The City Council, in a closed special meeting Aug. 5, took a vote on seeking Rohr’s resignation that backfired when Mayor Melodee Colbert-Kean first abstained and then changed her vote after the meeting in favor of asking for the resignation, but failed to disclose the vote to the public or part of the council.

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