Independence mayor says OT investigation report ‘unlawfully’ leaked to media

0

A leaked report detailing the findings of an Independence investigation into police overtime has raised even more controversy about the investigation.

After Monday night’s city council study session, Independence Mayor Rory Rowland repeatedly raised his voice during a three-minute speech, lambasting the person who published the report.

Kansas City attorney Dan Nelson has been hired by the city to investigate how a police officer earned some $160,000 in overtime last year for completing construction work. Nelson reported some of his findings last week to reporters, but refrained from naming people.

A full report of his findings was made available to the board, but has not been made public.

Monday, just before the board meeting, Fox4 aired a story with some details of the full report. Kansas City Television said it obtained a full copy of the 57-page report.

Rowland claimed the report was “illegally shared” with the outlet and said it was only given to a “very limited” number of people in the city.

It is unclear what law might have been broken by releasing the report. Rowland could not be reached for comment on Tuesday. A city spokeswoman who went public with her comments did not respond to a request from The Star.

The Missouri Sunshine Law, which governs public meetings and records in the state, provides certain exemptions from public disclosure, but almost never require documents or meetings to be closed.

Rowland said the document contained “privileged attorney-client information and confidential personal records.”

He said releasing the report would result in increased legal costs for the city, which he said should “defend this action.”

“It won’t hold,” Rowland said. “It’s not the city I know. It’s not the city I want us to be either.

Rowland’s reprimand is the latest wrinkle in a scandal that first erupted in February, when City Manager Zach Walker said a whistleblower raised concerns about a police officer’s apparently excessive overtime payment .

Constable Kevin Nightingale racked up 2,800 overtime hours last year for doing construction work at the police department. In February, Walker said the police department was not authorized to carry out the work and said there may have been “fraudulent activity”.

The city manager hired Nelson’s law firm to investigate the matter. Nelson is a former deputy chief prosecutor in the Jackson County District Attorney’s Office and previously worked as an assistant U.S. attorney in the Kansas City office of the Western District of Missouri.

The city spent $100,000 on Nelson’s review and approved expenses of up to $16,000 for an outside public relations firm to consult on the matter.

At a press conference last week, Nelson shared a summary of his findings, which included “significant miscommunication” between the police and the municipal authorities.

He said City Hall had verbally agreed to some renovations to the police department, but police officials did not have express permission to use in-house staff and overtime pay to complete the work.

The investigation revealed that city leaders never followed up with police personnel, who work across from City Hall. Instead, the police command brought in in-house employees for complex construction work without soliciting bids as required by city policies. These unlicensed, uninsured and unbonded police department employees create liability issues for the city, Nelson concluded.

Yet he found that a significant amount of complicated work had been done at “good value” for taxpayers. Renovations to police department headquarters totaled about $398,000, about half of which went to labor.

While he gave a summary of his findings, Nelson did not provide details about Nightingale, the police chief or the city manager. These details would be included in the full report.

The Star requested a copy of the full report, but was refused by the city. The city said all files from the overtime investigation have been closed except for the presentation of Nelson’s slide show and a document outlining the proposed policy changes.

“At this point, since someone has apparently already posted it, I think we should just make it public,” Brice Stewart, a council member representing the city’s Second District, told The Star on Tuesday.

Stewart said he was “torn” by the question. He understands that there may be privacy issues regarding individual employees.

“But when you talk about high-level leadership positions like city manager and police chief, you know they’re the face of the city,” Stewart said. “Citizens are paying their salaries and they should probably know what happened.”

Stewart said board members had brief access to Nelson’s report during an executive session last week. The city also made the document available to council members through an electronic portal, he said.

Councilman Dan Hobart, who represents the city’s fourth district, did not say why the report could not be made public. But he said the disclosure would interfere with city officials’ plans to change overtime policies.

“Someone released the report on their own a week after it was made available to a very limited number of people,” Hobart said. “This action interferes with the work of council and the city manager’s office dealing with the findings of the investigation and making changes going forward.”

Councilman Mike Steinmeyer, who represents the city’s Third District, said he was unaware the information had been released until the mayor’s comments Monday night.

“I had no idea what happened,” he said. “Like everyone else, I was shocked that this came out.

Steinmeyer said he pushed city leaders last week to release at least a redacted version of the report. Last week, reporters asked the mayor if the city would release a redacted version of the report but would not respond.

Rowland, who was elected mayor in April, focused its campaign on ethics reforms. He said he wanted to change the city’s culture and reduce scandals.

And he often talks about transparency. He ends most board meetings with a common refrain: “We can’t handle a secret. “

But on Monday, the message he shouted from the stage was the opposite.

“When information is leaked, our employees cannot trust us. Our employees can’t trust us to solve problems,” Rowland said before angrily banging a gavel.

Share.

Comments are closed.