Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Monett officials respond to corruption allegations

Monett officials, as expected, are denying corruption allegations leveled against them by former public works superintendent Mark Blackwell.
In documents filed Tuesday in U. S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri, city officials denied nearly everything Blackwell alleged except his charge that they did not give him any written reprimands before they fired him. They said they did give him oral reprimands.
Blackwell filed his lawsuit in August, alleging that Monett City Councilman Jerry Dierker has misused his position to pad his pocketbook.
Blackwell, who was fired from his position in October 2004 after working eight years for the city, a dismissal he attributes to his attempts to blow the whistle on Dierker. In addition to Dierker, Councilman Don Roberson and Mayor Jim Orr are listed as defendants.
In his petition, Blackwell said Dierker:
-"used city funds and employees to further his own private construction and development projects, including the use of stormwater pipe purchased by the city, in Dierker's private construction projects, using employees paid by the city
-"used his position to improperly prevent or discourage construction and development projects which competed with his private projects
-"improperly utilized his position to coerce private developers and contractors to utilize the services of specific providers who were Dierker's friends or business associates.
Blackwell says that on or about June 1, 2004, "in response to Plaintiff's efforts to discover whether budgeting and accounting problems existed with respect to city projects, City Council member Jerry Dierker ordered the reassignment" of Blackwell's administrative assistant and failed to replace the assistant. After that time, Blackwell was not given access to accounting records to determine whether "proper budgeting and accounting procedures were being followed," according to the lawsuit.
On June 18, Blackwell met with Mayor Orr to discuss those concerns, as well as his concerns about what he considered to be improper activities by Dierker. The same concerns were discussed during a July 20, 2004, meeting with Orr and Dierker, the petition said.
On Aug. 17, 2004, Blackwell met with Roberson, going over the same concerns. He also took those concerns to others, including "retired public officials, leaders of the business community," and with other city employees," according to the lawsuit.
The situation came to a head at a meeting called by the mayor on Oct. 5, 2004. Others attending the meeting, the petition said, were Roberson, Dierker, and City Clerk Janie Knight. "At the personnel meeting on Oct. 5, 2004, Commissioner Roberson claimed that he was unable to reach (me) by phone on Sept. 15, 2004, and that therefore the commissioners and mayor determined that (I) had taken off work without reporting the absence."
At that point, Blackwell was given the option of signing his name to a resignation letter that was typed and ready for him. Blackwell refused. The mayor handed Blackwell another pre-arranged letter telling him he was fired.
Blackwell says those actions were not allowed under city policies, since he had never received any written reprimands or any other type of formal discipline and besides, the petition said, the "purported justification for terminating Plaintiff's employment was a pretext" and had nothing to do with the reason he was fired.
Blackwell says the firing was retaliation and violated his First Amendment right to freedom of speech.
Monett city officials say Blackwell "had no legitimate expectation of continued employment, that (he) was an at-will employee" and that he "was not terminated for any improper reasons."

No comments: