Monday, August 24, 2015

It's time to remove Mike Woolston from the Joplin City Council

Now is not the time for Mike Woolston to leave the City Council.

The time that the Council should have parted ways with the tornado mayor was the day it received Osage Beach investigator Thomas Loraine's report, which clearly showed that Woolston was taking advantage of his position on the council to benefit himself and his friends.

The attack on Loraine's report began immediately and the same approach was taken that is being taken now with the state auditor's report.

They hammer it at small points to make it seem like the reports are contaminated.

Sadly, it is not the reports that are contaminated, but those who are willing to take an action to preserve their power, position, and prestige.

We have seen it with Woolston's response to the Loraine report and with the responses the past few days of those who were named in the state audit.

Thomas Loraine's mistake is that he did not include some of the materials from his interviews in his 30-page report. It is not Loraine's words that show that Woolston has not place on the City Council. Woolston was the one who made that abundantly clear. When Loraine suggested that the Council needed to do something about Woolston, his reasoning for the warning was probably found in the following section of his interview with the City Council member. It begins with Loraine and Woolston discussing Woolston's dealings with Charlie Kuehn of Four State Homes:

Loraine- Now Charlie has expressed some concern for you not making any money. What’s that all about?”

Woolston- He’s just a standup guy, I guess. He knows that nobody can survive without making an income. And I’m fortunate enough that I’ve had income from other real estate transactions and so although it’s difficult to give those up still I can survive and make a living based on my other properties and other transactions I’ve been involved in.

Loraine- What was it he was trying to do to help you make money?

Woolston- He’s not necessarily trying to help me make money, but we continue to work together on various projects. He has a number of investors with whom he works; several of them are building commercial buildings. We are working together to find tenants for those.

Another instance is the Salvation Army building. Once they’re ready to put their building out for bid, I’m trying to have a contact with them such that we would have an opportunity to take their request for bid, put a bid together, and submit it to them so he might get the construction work on the project. So we continue to work together because I think we have a mutual interest in rebuilding the city in a positive way and influencing what our city looks like going forward after the tornado.”

Loraine- Of course, Charlie also wants to make money.

Woolston- Sure.

Loraine- And I assume you do.

Woolston- Correct.

Loraine- So I mean the road you’re following in this regard is going to be lined with mine fields.

Woolston- Sure.

Loraine- And that’s something you’re willing to put up with and be an alderman?

Woolston- For now, yes.

Loraine- “How would the city identify projects that Charlie is thinking about that the city doesn’t know about yet, but you do?”

Woolston- The city to my knowledge wouldn’t have any way to identify something that he’s just thinking about.

Loraine- And working on.

Woolston- At some point through the permitting process he has to initiate some kind of action to get the City’s approval for building permits or zoning or alley vacations, or whatever the case, and the City would know at that point, in addition to my disclosing that I had some involvement with him on a particular project.

Loraine- And I assume that on those kinds of projects you’re going to be acutely aware that you need to abstain and not talk to zoning people.”

Woolston- Certainly.

Loraine- And of course, as I understand your city, if you as an alderman talk with somebody in the Zoning Department trying to favorably impress them to make a decision you could be impeached for that.

Woolston- I probably could. I talk with them frequently on Charlie’s projects and other projects. It’s never to lobby for what he’s doing. And frequently when I go down there, I’ll let them know that I’m there as a private member of the community as opposed to a council member requesting information.

Loraine- But it also identifies to those zoning people or those people in the City that this is a project that you might be involved with and maybe they’re going to treat it more gingerly.

Woolston- Obviously, they know that I’m a council member and I worry about on occasion because I’m sure that we as council members get treated a little differently than any other private citizen when we go in making essentially the same request.

Loraine- I’ll guarantee you do.

Woolston- Sure.

Loraine- I mean they work for you.

Woolston- Sure.

Loraine- So that could cause some degree or consternation on the part of an adverse decision by those City employees. Do you understand that?

Woolston- Yes.

Loraine- And you still choose to do that?

Woolston- Yes.

Loraine- You know, it’s a matter of you making money, I suppose.

Woolston- Sure.

Loraine- And not giving up political power in the city. Is that right?

Woolston- Right.

Shortly after Woolston made those statements, he ended the interview with Loraine with this comment:

The public needs to have confidence that there’s nothing underhanded going on at the Council level. If the public believes that the Council is doing something under the table or something that’s improper- that’s why I called for the investigation of Mr. Scearce and the FBI file because the public has those questions and until they get answers those questions are going to continue to be out there…If the public has questions about me and my involvement, I’ll be happy to visit with any of them and answer any questions because I’ve done nothing wrong.”

Loraine's interviews with members of the public made it clear that Woolston had used his position on the city council as he worked to convince property owners in the area of 20th and Connecticut to sell to Four State Homes, though he did not tell them for whom he was working. In at least one case, Woolston referred to people who did not want to sell their property as "stupid."

While Loraine did not have subpoena power, his assertions on what had happened to he parcels of property that were purchased by Four State Homes thanks to the intervention of Woolston proved to be on the money, literally and figuratively.

Woolston picked up the property for Charlie Kuehn and Four State Homes, then the Joplin Redevelopment Corporation bought them from Kuehn at heavily marked up prices. In one case, as the state audit showed, the price leaped from $35,000 to $162,000.

All the while, Woolston was pulling a Chinese wall operation, working for Kuehn, who was working with Wallace-Bajjali, but never working specifically with Wallace-Bajjali.

Woolston was convinced that this legal hairsplitting enabled him to continue this arrangement. He then protected himself by abstaining from council votes.

At some point though, Woolston, while trying to make sure that what he was doing was legal, began confusing legal with ethical. A councilman who uses his position to influence employees while claiming to be acting as an ordinary citizen has crossed an ethical line.

A councilman who uses knowledge he would not have about development of the tornado-stricken area of Joplin if he were not a city official to benefit a business colleague has crossed an ethical line.

A councilman who has knowledge that he is making deals on property that are going to be flipped and cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars has crossed an ethical line.

The City Council should have removed Mike Woolston when the Loraine Report was released, or at the least, censured him.

The proper move for the good of the City of Joplin would be for Woolston to resign. He is the one who has made it clear that he is being investigated by the FBI. From all appearances, the FBI has plenty to investigate.

Now that the state audit report has connected the dots, there is no reason for Woolston to remain on the City Council. If he does not resign, the council needs to take steps to remove him.


Anonymous said...

Hell, the City Council needs to do the right thing and vote him out. Let's see if they have the guts to start cleaning up their mess.

kitty chiwawa said...

Several of them on the CC need to go. Just sayin'...

Anonymous said...

You may call this crossing an ethical line, but is is fraud, pure and simple, and people go to prison every day for exactly this kind of fraud. This man needs to be tried and convicted for what he's done.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Woolston should have been forced out by the rest of the Council back when the Lorraine report was made public, however, the problem is the same now as it was then. Unless he is indicted, those that stood to benefit from his involvement will work behind the scenes and publicly to keep him in place. This issue is not about the failure of any one person, but a concerted effort by a select few who were deemed "community leaders" and who were all involved heavily in the city affairs to advance their own special projects and interests, the City management (certain Council members and city manager), and the Chamber. Simply list the members of each, side by side, and you will begin to see how and why this became such a disaster for the community. Add to that the behind the scenes activities and lack of accountability or an appropriate checks & balance system, and you have the recipe for corruption, irresponsibility, and lapses in ethics.

Anonymous said...

Go Benji! Lay out the facts in the Council meeting. Well done!!!

Anonymous said...

The City Council just voted in favor of holding an evidentiary hearing on Woolston on Aug. 31st. If they find him guilty of the 1st charge with 5 votes, he will automatically be removed from Council. He has indicated his objection and the probability that he will pursue legal action to stop/delay the evidentiary hearing.

Anonymous said...

He ought to just take the 5th.

Anonymous said...

More then just Mike Woolston needs consequences ! How about the other city officials - like Seibert for one- who went along with Wallace Bajali. Cut ties with chamber, vote off the members who went merrily along with the Master Developer-

Woolston shouldn't be the only scapegoat- there are quite a few more just as guilty.

Anonymous said...

Two people that should be subpoenaed is STEVEN PREVOST AND NANCY GOLLAN. those TWO were in charge of assets and accountin. Wonder if they knew that Wallace was stealing that much from the partnerships. I remember an investor asked both pinheads via a telephone conference in October 2013 what their salaries were and they never responded. Ignored the question. Both criminals.