Sunday, September 13, 2015

Globe takes different approaches to Tupper, Woolston cases

The censure hearing for Joplin City Councilman Mike Woolston will take place Monday night and the Joplin Globe, the area's newspaper of record, has still not printed one solitary investigative article on the events that have led to the charges against the former mayor.

Globe Editor Carol Stark might say that the Globe has reported the allegations and has noted that Woolston says he is innocent on all charges.

Then the newspaper will cover Monday night's hearing and the result and that is all any newspaper has to do.

Perhaps so, but it is not the way the newspaper handled the situation the last time a censure hearing was held for a Joplin City Council member.

When Jon Tupper, a council member and like Woolston, a former mayor, was cited for violations of the City Charter in 2008, the Globe was filing Sunshine Law requests and making efforts to interview witnesses, 

The allegations against Tupper occurred during the first year that Stark was the Globe's editor after Edgar Simpson resigned to take a position as chief of staff for the Ohio attorney general.

Not only was the Globe's editor during the Tupper situation the same, but so was the reporter, Debby Woodin, who has done the lion's share of the coverage on both Woolston and Tupper.

Tupper was voted off the City Council by a 7-1 margin after the council found that he had violated the City Charter by attempting to have Parks and Recreation Director Jerry Calvin and others who worked for Calvin fired.

Ironically, Woolston was one of those who voted to have Tupper removed.

The Globe's coverage of the two council members differs in every way except one- the role played by former City Manager Mark Rohr.

The newspaper was willing to spend thousands in 2014 in a court battle to have the Loraine Report  revealed to the public and then did everything to discredit it, concentrating on its cost and on the idea that Loraine went out of his way to go after Rohr, who was fired the day the council received the report.

And though there were many allegations, in sworn statements from respected Joplin citizens, about Woolston, those were glossed over, as the Globe concentrated on the portions concerning Rohr 

Globe Editor Stark came under criticism in the Loraine Report (something I cannot recall ever seeing mentioned in the newspaper) for her willingness to take information provided to her by Rohr and using it to go after Rohr's enemies, in this case Councilman Bill Scearce.

The Globe ran one lengthy investigative story after another about Scearce's connection to a gambling operation that had been run out of one of his buildings 20 years ago, something that never resulted in any charges or even any mention of charges against Scearce, but then ignored allegations of far more substance against Woolston. The attacks on Scearce came after Rohr became convinced that Scearce was the ringleader of an attempt to fire him that failed by one vote in August 2013.

A check of the Globe's reporting on the Tupper case shows that the same dynamic was in play. Tupper had threatened to have Rohr fired and suddenly Stark and Woodin were using the full force of the newspaper's power against Tupper.

From the June 18, 2008, Globe:

City Manager Mark Rohr has submitted a written statement corroborating that Councilman Jon Tupper said he would try to take Rohr's job if director Jerry Calvin and two other parks department employees were not forced out of their jobs. Rohr's statement now might have made him the target of an ouster effort by Tupper and two other council members.

At that point, Rohr's written statement had not been made public. Later in the article, Woodin explained how the newspaper had obtained the statement:

Rohr's written statement, in the Tupper investigation, was obtained by the Globe as the result of an open records request. It appears to back up allegations revealed in e-mails of city employees obtained by an earlier open records request. Those allegations stated that Tuper threatened to go after Rohr's job if Rohr did not get rid of Calvin and two other parks department employees.

From all appearances, Rohr spoon fed information to Stark and Woodin, and his role in that case was covered by Sunshine Law requests.

Even more revealing was an article published exactly one month earlier, May 18, 2008, which was apparently not written by Woodin. The byline reads "From Staff Reports."  Usually, that byline is attached to news releases, which the only thing any staff member contributed was typing. In this case, it appears the byline may have been used to prevent any indication that a Globe editor, most likely Stark, was involved in the writing.

From the article:

The Joplin City Council will be asked at its regular meeting tonight to once again consider disciplinary action against fellow council member Jon Tupper.

Tupper faces two cases of alleged wrongdoing.

One case involves some city employees. City administrators have not made public any details surrounding that case except to say that some employees made allegations against Tupper to the city's Human Resources Department. The department director referred the case to the city manager. He and Mayor Gary Shaw forwarded the case to the city attorney, Brian Head, who on Friday said he should not discuss the case except to say that it likely would come before the council tonight and that details of the investigation would become public then.

The day after the Globe reported the probe, Tupper filed an unsigned request with city administrators seeking hundreds of page of city documents, most of them related to the Parks and Recreation Department and city sports venues. Tupper also asked for some time sheets and expense sheets of several city department heads and supervisors, and a few rank-and-file employees in the parks and tourism departments. The Globe has filed an open records request for Tupper's request and for any documents turned over to Tupper. A copy of Tupper's request was received by the Globe on Friday by  mail.

It was sent anonymously.

Knowing what we know from the Scearce situation, it does not seem to be any stretch of the imagination to say Rohr provided the Globe with its information, and with detailed instructions on what documents to seek.

Contrast this with the Globe's handling of the Woolston investigation. For the Globe to provide its readers with a thorough examination of the allegations against the councilman, it did not even have to file Sunshine Law requests.

The documents are everywhere.

The Loraine Report contained much damning evidence against Woolston and the worst of it comes from Woolston himself. None of it was ever examined in Joplin's newspaper.

The state audit of the City of Joplin also contains much information that builds upon the Loraine Report.

The minutes for the Citizens Advisory Recovery Team (CART) show Woolston attempting to discourage attempts to vet any company except Wallace Bajjali for master developer.

City Council minutes show that despite all of his abstentions that Woolston has voted on issues that involve his business partners.

Why hasn't the Globe fulfilled its obligation to be the watchdog of the people?

Perhaps it is age. Carol Stark and Debby Woodin are seven years older than they were when the Tupper situation surfaced. Maybe they no longer have the energy to dig into public documents.

Maybe Woolston is connected to different people than Tupper was and those people prefer the Globe not to investigate the tornado mayor.

Perhaps it is more difficult for the Globe's editors and city reporters to know which documents to seek without Mark Rohr holding their hands.

Whatever the reason, the Globe has shown no initiative in its coverage of the case or in much else that has to do with possible misdeeds in the years following the tornado.

At a time when the city of Joplin desperately needed a watchdog to protect its interests, all the Globe provided was a toy poodle.
For more information that you never read in the Joplin Globe, try Silver Lining in a Funnel Cloud: Greed, Corruption, and the Joplin Tornado. It is available locally at Always Buying Books, Changing Hands Book Shoppe, and The Book Guy in Joplin, Pat's Books in Carthage and Cato's Connection in Lamar. The book is also available in paperback and e-book formats from

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