Monday, September 21, 2015
Scearce on Woolston vote: You're going to split this town
What the decision to accept a written statement provided by Woolston's lawyer that absolved his client of all blame did was the topic of the lively discussion that concluded moments ago at tonight's council meeting.
Mayor Michael Seibert said the decision allowed the community to "heal and move forward."
Councilman Bill Scearce disagreed with the mayor. "You're going to split this town if you do this."
Moments later, the council members voted and as they did during the telephone poll taken by City Attorney Peter Edwards, five council members- Seibert, Morris Glaze, Miranda Lewis, Gary Shaw (pictured) and Ryan Stanley voted to accept Woolston's resignation and the joint statement, while three, Scearce, Melodee Colbert-Kean, and Ben Rosenberg, voted against it.
Councilman Gary Shaw took the strongest stance in favor or the resignation and statement. Shaw labeled the state audit, the Loraine Report, and the people of Joplin who had complained about Woolston as just expressing "opinions." He said he voted to have the hearing so that Woolston would have the opportunity to defend himself and that he did so "out of respect for his long service to the city."
Shaw said if any evidence of wrongdoing had surfaced in the hearing, Woolston would have been removed from the council, so his resignation served the same purpose.
Councilwoman Miranda Lewis said that in the time after the tornado, "I do not know of a single person who could go back and say, 'Man, I did everything right.' In honor of his service to the city, I feel that it was the right thing to do to let him resign with dignity."
Councilman Ryan Stanley said he would not have accepted the statement if it had included wording saying that Woolston was not guilty of conflict of interest. "There would have had to be a great defense to prove there was not a conflict of interest." Stanley said that in honor of Woolston's service, he was willing to give him a victory on the other points and that he did not "want to damage his reputation and character."
Seibert said the city had "a very strong case, but we never did get to hear Mr. Woolston's side." The mayor said he was impressed by the portion in Woolston's statement in which he said he wanted to "avoid additional turmoil."
Each of the three council members who voted not to accept Woolston's resignation and the joint statement, spoke.
Rosenberg, who brought the charges against Woolston, took issue with an earlier statement by the city attorney that he could have met with the council in a closed session to discuss the settlement. Rosenberg noted that council members are not employees so any discussions about them need to be held in open session.
Scearce read a prepared statement and said he could not understand how "five members of this council could vote for something that is untrue. You decided the outcome of the hearing without hearing any facts or witnesses."
Colbert-Kean said she was against the joint statement and that she had no problems with accepting Woolston's resignation without it.
Before the council discussion, Edwards said the city had 20 witnesses, 50 exhibits and hundreds of pages of documentary evidence. that would have been used during Woolston's hearing.