It was special investigator Tom Loraine who advised Joplin officials in the firing of Mark Rohr without cause, a letter written by Loraine shows.
The letter, dated Feb. 20, was obtained by The Joplin Globe through an open-records request filed on March 5.
Loraine wrote the letter, addressed to the city in care of City Attorney Brian Head, last month after questions surfaced from City Council members and the public about the amount of Loraine’s $82,000 bill. The letter shows there was discussion between Head and Loraine before the investigator’s report was disclosed about how to fire Rohr.
Loraine wrote that the extra cost beyond the council’s cap of $45,000 for his probe was incurred as a result of taking testimony about Rohr, who then was the city manager. A split council, in a late-night session Feb. 4 after hearing Loraine’s conclusions of the investigation, voted 5-4 to fire Rohr. The letter also refers to some of that testimony as “volunteered.”
Rohr said the night of his firing: “I wasn’t even the target of the investigation, but the manner in which the investigator conducted the probe, he strayed very far from the charge. He instituted a calling line and, as a result, anyone who had a gripe with a decision I made” testified.
Rohr said then that many of the comments made about him in the report were by employees or former employees of the Public Works Department who had been disciplined. “I explained that to him (Loraine) and went into great detail in terms of explaining those comments that were made and the motivation of those comments,” Rohr said the night of his firing.
Some employees within the Public Works Department had been disciplined or demoted for problems that included the results of a software audit showing that about $150,000 in building permits and other fees had gone uncollected over a long period of time.
Loraine, in the Feb. 20 letter, said that as he took depositions in the probe that was to primarily focus on ethical questions regarding Councilmen Bill Scearce and Mike Woolston and a note from Rohr’s desk, “Mr. Rohr’s conduct loomed larger than those issues originally outlined concerning Messrs. Scearce and Woolston.”
He wrote that while taking a second deposition of Head, the city attorney, “I disclosed this problem to you and you advised me that I had full discretion to decide to expand the investigation to include Mr. Rohr and his relationship with city employees” and others. “As more witnesses were deposed, including both city employees and local citizens, it became clear that the issues surrounding Mr. Rohr could not be ignored, as they related to the core functioning of the city government itself.”
Rohr said in response on Wednesday: “I stand by my earlier comments that the report was no more than rumor, gossip, innuendoes, half-truths and baldfaced lies. Anything in that report can be viewed in that context.”
The letter does not explain those issues. Nine pages of Loraine’s report that are said to be about Rohr have been withheld from the public. The Globe has filed a lawsuit seeking their disclosure. A court hearing is set for March 31.
Loraine wrote that he was to have “unfettered” authority to pursue any subject in the investigation, and that because of the Rohr information, he informed Head “before the $50,000 figure was passed that we would definitely exceed the written authorization amount of $40,000 plus $5,000 expenses. You assured me that obtaining additional authorization would not be a problem and would be forthcoming.”
Head told the Globe earlier that Loraine mentioned to him about Jan. 15 that the costs were going to exceed the council cap, but Head said he did not think it would be much more. He also said there was no council meeting scheduled at the time at which he could ask the council to authorize more costs.
“If you did not have time between January 15, 2014, and February 5, 2014, to formally obtain additional authorization, it is of no consequence to me,” Loraine wrote to Head. He wrote that he was preparing a report according to the deadline set by the council. “Once again I cannot emphasize enough the additional time and expense resulting from the necessity of expanding the investigation to include Mr. Rohr’s interrelationship in all these matters.”
One paragraph of the letter is blacked out.
In an email Wednesday, the Globe asked Head for an explanation of why the paragraph had been redacted. While Head did not respond, Assistant City Attorney Peter Edwards replied: “The redacted part contained a short synopsis of a city employee who was disciplined. This redaction was done to protect confidential personnel information related to the employee.”
It was in the Feb. 20 letter that Loraine wrote to Head: “I recommended you not discharge Mr. Rohr for cause. Only that you consider a new course for the city under the without cause clause in his contract.”
Councilman Benjamin Rosenberg introduced a resolution at the Feb. 4 meeting calling for termination of Rohr without cause.
Rosenberg previously told the Globe that he decided during a closed meeting of the council with Loraine to call for Rohr’s firing. He said he told one of the attorneys representing the council that he wanted to do so and was given the resolution.
Scearce told the Globe that he had asked Head several days before the Feb. 4 meeting to prepare all the documents that might be needed for the meeting, including a resolution to fire Rohr.
Head told the Globe earlier that Scearce had said he wanted a resolution “in my pocket,” meaning he wanted one ready for the night of the meeting.
CITY COUNCILMAN MIKE WOOLSTON said Wednesday that the city has denied his request to disclose the nine pages of the investigative report pertaining to Mark Rohr, and accompanying documents and testimony. He filed a request for it Feb. 22 under the Missouri open-records law, saying he intended to make the documents and testimony public.