The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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March 15, 2014

911 call comes up early on in probe

JOPLIN, Mo. — Mark Rohr said Friday that investigator Tom Loraine’s decision to look into a domestic disturbance call at his home in 2012 is more evidence of a conspiracy by some City Council members and city employees to oust him as city manager.

A 911 call summoning Joplin police to Rohr’s house on Dec. 29, 2012, regarding a domestic disturbance came up within the first three days of City Council-authorized investigation into two of its members, copies of the itemized bill for the probe show.

The itemized billings were obtained from the city by the Globe as the result of an open records request filed March 5.

Rohr said Friday the call was a family argument that had previously been looked at by the council without consequence.

“The 911 call was based on a misunderstanding and miscommunication that took place in December 2012,” Rohr said Friday. “It was a matter looked into by the City Council in April 2013 and dismissed.”

Rohr, who was fired without cause on Feb. 4 at the close of late-night meeting in which Loraine’s report and conclusions were given to the council, has maintained that he was never supposed to have been a target of the investigation.

But Loraine, in the Feb. 20 letter to the council, 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.

“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.”

A log of the court reporting service used by Loraine refers to “Rohr-911 Call” as being one of the items reviewed. It is listed under the date of Nov. 7, 2013, which was the third day that the investigator took testimony in the probe, according to the bill. Among other things, Loraine set up a tip line so that city employees and members of the public could offer information for the investigation.

In a billing on Nov. 19, it was noted that Loraine also was working on “whereabouts of 911 tape on Rohr.”

How Loraine learned about the police report was not clear Friday. Loraine has not responded to numerous calls to talk about the investigation since it was released last month.

An employee at Loraine’s office said Friday that he was out of town but that she would send Loraine a message that the Globe was seeking comment on his billing and the probe.

Joplin police Chief Lane Roberts said the department provided the investigator with the report and a tape of the 911 call that led to the domestic incident report.

“It was not a domestic violence report,” Roberts told the Globe. “It was a domestic disturbance. They had an argument, and the kids jumped the gun and called the police. There was no domestic violence.”

Roberts said he told the council about the incident last year.

“It was a domestic disturbance, and we determined that nothing happened other than an oral argument,” Roberts said.

Asked if there had been other reports of domestic disturbances at the Rohr house, Roberts said there had not.

Asked whether he felt any pressure because of Rohr’s position as his boss, Roberts said, “Mark never ever tried to direct me at any time” regarding the handling of incidents or arrests.

The domestic disturbance call was made to police at 2:35 p.m. on the Saturday in 2012. The police responded to what an officer described in the report as a “possible physical disturbance.”

One of Rohr’s stepdaughters had called the police, saying Rohr and her mother were arguing and her mother yelled to call 911.

Police reported that Rohr’s wife, Lois, told them that she and Rohr had argued. She is quoted in the report as telling police “It was stupid, we were yelling and I screamed ‘Call 911’ out of anger.” She told the police there was no violence, the report states. Police officers noted that they saw no marks to indicate that she had been hit.

An officer took Rohr aside and spoke with him. Rohr told the officer that one child in the house had hit a younger child, leaving a mark on the younger child’s back. “Mark got onto his stepson, and his wife got mad at Mark. Mark and Lois began verbally arguing,” report reads. It also states that Rohr said he did not hit his wife.

The officers said they then spoke more to Rohr’s wife. She told them “she felt stupid for what she had done due to Mark’s job,” the report reads. “Lois insisted nothing physical happened and no threats were made.”

The officers asked to look at the young son’s back and noted a “small, red mark.” The boy did not seem to be bothered by it, police noted.

“Due to all the statements given it was determined no action was needed to be taken,” noted one of the officers in the report.

Rohr on Friday questioned why the report surfaced again.

“Why would that come up at all in the investigation, which was to look into to Mr. Scearce’s activity with a bookie, a missing Post-It note and Mr. Woolston’s business dealings with the property?”

There has been public controversy, with residents appearing before the council and writing letters, and debate among council members about how the probe came to focus on Rohr.

Councilman Mike Seibert had previously said he saw nothing new in the investigation report pertaining to Rohr about which the council was not already aware. He could not be reached on Friday to comment.

Seibert said Rohr had spoken to the council in a closed session about the report last year. “It was a family situation, and it was explained, and I understood. The explanation I was given by Mr. Rohr was satisfactory to me.”

Woolston had said earlier that “several council members are particularly curious how the investigation, the original intent of which was supposed to be relative to possible ethics violation of two sitting council members, then turned onto council employees. We did not intend for it to include employees.”

The council member who called for firing Rohr, Benjamin Rosenberg, had said earlier that investigations “sometimes take odd turns, and this one took an odd turn.”

Some residents have appeared at City Council meetings questioning the amount of Loraine’s bill, which climbed to nearly $82,000. The council had authorized $45,000.

Loraine, in the Feb. 20 letter, said that he thought he had “unfettered” authority to look into whatever came before him.

Rohr, in response, said that much of the information Loraine investigated was based on rumors and allegations, and involved largely disgruntled employees and former employees or those who disagreed with personnel decisions he had to make.

Lawsuit

NINE PAGES of Tom Loraine’s report are about Rohr and have been withheld by the city as a personnel record. The Globe has filed a lawsuit seeking a court order to disclose the full report, exhibits and testimony. It is to be heard March 31.

 

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