The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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April 1, 2014

Council to decide whether to appeal ruling

JOPLIN, Mo. — The Joplin City Council is to meet in a special session Thursday afternoon to decide whether to appeal a local court ruling that ordered the release of certain documents to the public.

The council is to meet at 5:15 p.m. Thursday. The agenda lists a vote on going into closed session pertaining to legal action, causes of action or litigation, and privileged communication between the council and its attorneys.

In the meantime, an attorney representing the city has filed a notice of appeal in the case.

City Attorney Brian Head said the notice is intended to keep the documents under wraps until the council decision.

“I believe the notice operates as a stay until such time as the council decides whether to appeal,” Head said. “If the council decides not to appeal, the notice will be withdrawn,” which would clear the way for the documents to be released.

Joplin lawyer Charles Buchanan, who represented the Globe in a lawsuit that sought release of the documents withheld by the city, said the filing of the notice prevents the release of the documents until the notice is withdrawn or dismissed.

The Globe sought a writ ordering the city to release a portion of a City Council investigation report about Mark Rohr, who was fired as city manager Feb. 4 after the report was heard by the council. The council held an open meeting that night, but went into closed session to hear the entire report. The council reconvened in open session, and part of the report was read by the private investigator, attorney Tom Loraine, who had been hired by the council. After that, a motion was made to fire Rohr without cause, and the motion carried by a vote of 5-4.

The investigation was to focus on the ethical conduct of two council members, Bill Scearce and Mike Woolston. Instead, its focus turned to Rohr.

A portion of the report dealing with the two councilmen was released, but the city has withheld the part about Rohr and has denied public access to some exhibits of the report and to testimony taken in the investigation. The city administration contends that the Rohr report is a personnel record that is closed to the public because it contains information regarding his job performance.

The Globe contends that the report was done by a consultant, and that under Missouri’s Sunshine Law it is open to the public. A contract with the investigator specified that the report was to be an open record. Additionally, the council heard the investigator’s report in a closed session citing an exemption of the law pertaining to litigation, not to personnel records.

Jasper County Circuit Judge David Mouton ruled Monday that the documents must be made public. His order requires the release of the documents at noon Friday unless there is an appeal.

Meeting place

THE CITY COUNCIL WILL MEET at 5:15 p.m. Thursday in the fifth-floor informal conference room at City Hall, 602 S. Main St.

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