The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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March 22, 2014

Open records request made for emails between city attorney and investigator

JOPLIN, Mo. — Citing Missouri’s Sunshine Law, the Joplin Globe has requested 11 email communications from the city that occurred between City Attorney Brian Head and Tom Loraine, the Osage Beach attorney who was hired by the City Council to investigate ethical questions involving two of its members.

The emails, which were sent between Oct. 17 and Dec. 17, were referenced in the billing statement submitted by Loraine to the city on Feb. 18. The city provided a copy of the itemized bill on March 5 after the Globe requested it under the Sunshine Law.

Head, in an interview on Friday, said he does not think he had any direct communication with Loraine in those emails. He said the emails were from Loraine’s staff to him with regard to the setting up of interviews with witnesses and to the creation of a hotline that witnesses could call, among other things.

He said it is likely the requested emails will be provided within a few days.

“All of it is pretty easy to review,” he said. “We could cite attorney-client privilege and withhold them, but there is no need for that, in my opinion.”

Head said Sunshine Law requests for information with regard to the investigation have been handed off to Peter Edwards, the city’s other attorney. Head said he wanted those requests to be looked at by “completely fresh eyes.”

The billing statement makes reference to Loraine’s review of a tape on Oct. 30. It is not clear from the statement whether the tape reviewed was that of a 911 call that led to a domestic report at the home of former City Manager Mark Rohr on Dec. 29, 2012.

Rohr has said that Loraine’s decision to look into the 911 call is evidence of a conspiracy by some City Council members and city employees to refocus the investigation and oust him as city manager. The call was in reference to a family argument that had previously been looked at by the council without consequence in April 2013.

Head said, “I did not give him the tape. I don’t know precisely how he got that tape or was made aware of its existence. It might have been in the file we provided to him about that incident, but I doubt that.”

Loraine, in a Feb. 20 letter to the council, said that he thought he had “unfettered” authority to look into whatever came before him. As he took depositions in the probe, Loraine said, “Mr. Rohr’s conduct loomed larger than those issues originally outlined concerning Messrs. (Bill) Scearce and (Mike) 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.”

Rohr, who was fired without cause on Feb. 4 at the close of a 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.

How Loraine learned about the 911 tape and police report remains unclear. Loraine has not responded to numerous calls to talk about the investigation since it was released last month. Loraine’s staff did not respond on Friday to a message that requested an interview with the Globe.

“These questions are questions that Tom has to answer,” Head said. “I did not sit in on the interviews that he conducted.”

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

Head said he did not provide Loraine with the names of witnesses he should interview.

“Witnesses called on the hotline. Tom asked who is this person and could I get them to come and testify. In that sense, I was a liaison to ask someone to testify,” Head said.

“A witness list develops after one person says something about someone who they say knows something, and that in turn leads to the next witness and the next witness after that, and so on.”

It would appear from the billing statement that both Councilman Scearce and Benjamin Rosenberg had separately sought the drafting of resolutions to terminate Rohr’s employment from Head and Attorney Karl Blanchard, respectively.

Head said, “Scearce approached me a week or so before Tom presented his report to the council and asked me for a resolution that he could use to terminate Rohr. Shortly after that, Scearce told me he intended to put my name forward as interim city manager.

“When he told me that, I backed off. I told him I could not do the resolution. I could not advise on that stuff because I now had a conflict. All of the stuff that had been previously prepared, I gave to Karl (Blanchard). Here it is.”

In addition to the emails, the billing statement makes reference to 27 telephone calls that occurred between Loraine or his staff between Oct. 17 and Feb. 5. Head said most of those telephone calls coincide with the periods in which Loraine visited Joplin to conduct his investigation.

The travel expenses for Loraine, according to the billing statement, were by the hour, at a rate of $175 per hour.

An example would be an entry on Jan. 28 in which Loraine had a brief telephone conference with Head, prepared for a deposition with Woolston, deposed Woolston for two hours and traveled back to his lake home, which took four hours. The total number of hours was 6 1/2. The fee was $1,137.50.

Earlier that day, he billed 5 1/2 hours for a staff meeting, the travel time to Joplin, a brief telephone conference with Head and a one hour deposition with Rohr. That cost $962.50.

The 12 hours totaled $2,100, of which he was paid $1,400 for driving his vehicle to and from Joplin. Mileage expenses of 50.5 per mile were also charged, along with food, gas and lodging expenses that would amount approximately to $1,100 to $1,300 per trip.

According to the billing statement, Loraine made seven trips to Joplin.

Councilman Gary Shaw, who had objected at a previous council meeting to some of the fees paid to Loraine, including the payment of $175 per hour for his driving time, in an interview on Friday, said the council majority approved those costs to get the matter behind them.

“It’s old stuff now. It’s so aggravating to me,” Shaw said.

The statement also shows that court reporter costs totaled $7,765.20 and that office rent totaled $1,400. That was in addition to the  $72,290.83 invoice from Loraine which was paid in full earlier this month, according Leslie Haase, the city’s finance director. The council had authorized an expenditure of $45,000, but Loraine, in a letter to Head, said the final cost could exceed $75,000.

The city has had in its possession for the past two weeks copies of the 53 interviews that Loraine conducted, according to Councilman Morris Glaze. Glaze, in an interview on Friday, said he has spent six hours reading 40 of those interviews but could not discuss their content.

He said he has not been permitted to read 13 interviews that involved current city employees because of reasons related to personnel matters.

On tap

NINE PAGES of Tom Loraine’s report are about former City Manager Mark Rohr and have been withheld by the city as a personnel record. Rohr has declined to release those pages on the advice of his attorney. 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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