By Linda Greer

SENECA, Mo. - Mayor Gary Roark told a former city employee Monday night that Seneca has 24-hour police protection, allows employees to drive city vehicles home and has a police chief who lives outside Newton County.

Roark's statements were in response to a list of questions posed to the council by resident Morris Dragoo.

"I'm trying to find out why the city allows employees, especially those who live in Joplin or Neosho, to drive city vehicles home," Dragoo said.

Roark said it was common practice for cities to allow on-call employees such as the dog catcher and Public Works employees to drive a vehicle home so they can respond quickly to situations after working hours.

"We are very open about what we do," Roark said. "Why is it that things get so blown out of proportion?"

Dragoo said that the city ordinance states that employees must live within the trade area of Seneca, which would not include Neosho or Joplin. Law enforcement and city crews would not be able to respond quickly enough if they did not live close to town, he said.

Roark said the personnel policy states that employees must live within 23 miles, but that the policy was written long ago and needs updating.

"I'd be tickled to death if everyone who worked for Seneca lived in Seneca," Roark said. "But we pick the best people for the job."

Dragoo also asked whether the city has 24-hour police protection.

Police Chief Doyle Shields, who is also the Public Works director, said the city has an agreement with the Eastern Shawnee Tribe that its police force will respond to emergencies in Seneca.

Dragoo also asked if the city has a full-time police chief. "Why is it that I never see him on the street or in uniform? I never see him write tickets."

"In my opinion, Doyle Shields is one of the best police chiefs we've had in Seneca," Roark said. "I don't even consider that a valid question."

Roark said Shields volunteered to take on the extra responsibilities of running the street and parks departments because work had not been completed on time.

Dragoo said he did not understand why the police chief would be authorized to drive a police vehicle home every night when he does not live near Seneca.

"I don't know where you're coming from with all these questions," Roark said. "If people would come to the City Council meetings, they would know how we do business."

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