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Joplin Police conclude investigation into Public Works - KOAM TV 7

Joplin Police conclude investigation into Public Works

Updated December 18, 2013:  NEWS RELEASE ISSUED BY THE CITY OF JOPLIN (CORRECTED PER REQUEST)

On December 17, 2013, the Joplin Police Department closed their investigation into the Building and Code Enforcement divisions of the Public Works Department. The investigation was ordered in July by the City Manager to determine whether there was any criminal wrongdoing surrounding approximately $150,000 in uncollected or undeposited fees within these divisions, dating back to 1999. The investigation concludes that there is no evidence to suggest any criminal activity took place in the public works department. According to the report, there is no evidence of theft or missing money, and it reaffirms the initial findings from the City of uncollected and undeposited fees are accurate.

The concerns regarding the Building and Code Enforcement divisions were brought to light after an analysis was conducted by the City's software provider to determine whether the City was utilizing the system to its fullest capacity. During this analysis, "open fees" reports were run that revealed approximately $110,000 in open code enforcement fees, and $43,000 in uncollected building permit fees. In June, staff from human resources and the City Manager's office, assisted by the finance department, began interviewing supervisory personnel in public works regarding the uncollected fees and noted several inefficiencies in the processes used to record and handle payments/collections. Process and personnel changes within the department took place as a result of these interviews, which also led to the eventual reorganization of the public works department. In July, $11,968 in additional unprocessed payments dating from 2006 to 2011, for building and sign permits and storm water fees, were discovered in the office of the former division supervisor.

Currently, the City has implemented several changes to ensure that permit applications and fees are billed and collected in a proper and timely manner. Monies collected in PW are now being turned over to the Finance Department on a daily basis, and the Finance Department is conducting an internal audit on the processes of all departments city-wide that deal with or handle monetary transactions to ensure that proper procedures are in place. The City is advertising for a chief building official to oversee the day-to-day operation of the Building division, and the Neighborhood Improvement division (previously Code Enforcement) is now under the supervision of the Assistant City Manager.

Looking forward, long-term improvements and/or changes to policies and procedures that improve the City's delivery of service to the public will be reviewed and implemented accordingly, to assure residents that proper procedures are in place to safeguard taxpayer resources. These processes will be monitored on an ongoing basis into the future.

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Updated August 19, 2013:  Another Public Works employee turns in his resignation to the City of Joplin.

According to Interim Public Works Director Sam Anselm, Assistant Public Works Director Jack Schaller has resigned.

Schaller has taken a job with a private leading engineering firm in Joplin that's looking to expand its role with the city.

Last month the city asked the Joplin Police Department to investigate the Public Works Department over the loss of city revenue.

The city reassigned then Public Works Director David Hertzberg as Community Development Block Grant Project Manager; and, Anselm was assigned as Interim Public Works Director.

A few days later Building Code Enforcement Officer Steve Cope resigned from Public Works.

 

Updated July 29, 2013:  Amid the investigation into the revenue loss for the City of Joplin the Joplin Public Works Building and Code enforcement supervisor has resigned.

Steve Cope was set to appear in a personal hearing this Friday but resigned over the weekend instead.

An audit shows $40,000 worth of building permit fees that were not billed.  The audit, which covered 14 years, also revealed $110,000 worth of nuisance code enforcement fines that did not get collected for things such as tall grass or junk in yards.

But the department says they are moving on.

"Processes are pretty much in place, we have a council meeting every two weeks so as projects hit that level we have to make sure that they move forward," says Assistant City Manager Sam Anselm.

Public Works Director David Hertzberg was reassigned to another position last week and the city has already begun a search to fill those vacant positions.

 

Updated July 25, 2013 at 5:15 PM CST by Lisa Olliges:  Joplin city officials reveal dollar amounts of lost revenues as they ask the Joplin Police Department to investigate.

More details emerge as the city investigates a division of the Public Works Department.

The director of that department has been reassigned and now we're learning the focus of the financial questions.

City officials aren't willing to do on camera interviews citing their concerns that these are personnel issues but they are telling just how much revenue was lost - $150,000.

Building permits are required for any construction job whether business or home related, but an audit shows $40,000 worth of permit fees that were not billed.  The audit also revealed $110,000 worth of nuisance code enforcement fines that didn't get collected for things such as tall grass or junk in yards.

The audit included unbilled items over the past 14 years.

The Joplin Police Department was asked on Wednesday to investigate.

"Our investigation will be to determine if there's criminal activity going on," says Lt. Matt Stewart of the Joplin Police Department.  "If we determine no criminal activity, just poor management or poor  business practices, then our investigation will be done.  However, if we determine there's that possibility we'll determine what kind of criminal activity."

Possible charges range from simple theft up to corruption if a pattern involving specific companies or individuals is found.

Investigators will look through records and conduct interviews if necessary.

Joplin City Manager Mark Rohr would only respond to written questions:

WHY WERE THE POLICE ASKED TO DO THE CRIMINAL INVESTIGATION INTO THE LOSS OF REVENUE?

Rohr: "Because it involves money in the public realm that I am accountable for."

WHEN DID THE CITY OF JOPLIN ASK THE POLICE TO INVESTIGATE THE LOSS OF REVENUE?

Rohr: "Early on and a more in-depth one recently."

ARE THE NON-BILLINGS CONSIDERED NEGLIGENT, MALICIOUS, OR SOMETHING ELSE?

Rohr: "In my mind negligent, but we won't know for sure until investigation is done."

WHY IS THE CITY DECLINING ON-CAMERA INTERVIEWS ON A PUBLIC MATTER?

Rohr: "Because not allowed to discuss anything in areas of personnel and criminal investigation."

WILL THERE BE AN ATTEMPT TO RECOUP THE CODE ENFORCEMENT FINES AND THE  BUILDING PERMIT MONIES WHICH WERE UNBILLED? 

Rohr:  "I can't comment on this until the police investigation is completed."

Until the police investigation is completed Rohr also said he can not comment on which companies did not pay for permits, whether there is evidence of preferential treatment, or if the unbilled building permit fees involve more than one builder, contractor or project planner.


Updated July 23, 2013 at 5:25 PM CST by Lisa Olliges:  The Joplin Public Works director is reassigned in the midst of an internal investigation.

City officials plan to review and possibly revamp the Public Works Department after Director David Hertzberg was reassigned to a new position.

The Public Works Department handles capitol projects of the city like road widening and wastewater but also transportation, fleet maintenance and recycling.

An investigation is still ongoing in the Garage and Building Divisions of Public Works.

Assistant City Manager Sam Anselm says the investigation was prompted in part by an arrest we reported Monday and some issues were discovered internally.

"Earlier this year we conducted an audit of our software we use for financing building permits and fleet maintenance and things goal with that was to learn from the vendor are we using the system effectively as we can information came to light out of that," says Anselm.

A media release from the city manager stated problems resulted in a loss of revenue for the city.

Hertzberg has been reassigned to the new position of Community Development Block Grant manager, a change that results in a $30,000 or more pay cut.

 

Updated July 22, 2013 at 4:50 PM CST by Kelly Reid:  A former City of Joplin employee is no longer in his position after an investigation leads to criminal charges of theft.  Joplin's city manager sent a statement Monday morning saying a city worker had been arrested and changes are coming to one city department.

Jeramy Jasperson worked for the Joplin Public Works Department.  Now, he's charged with misdemeanor theft after internal and police investigations.

"During their internal investigation, if it's found that there might be some criminal activity they'll ask us to do the criminal investigation, which is separate from the internal investigation," says Lt. Matt Stewart of the Joplin Police Department.

Jasperson was stopped after his shift at the Joplin city garage.  Police found a bottle of refrigerant and a case of oil.

"The City has no tolerance for this type of activity by any of its employees," Joplin City Manager Mark Rohr says in the statement.  "The actions are not taken lightly and they were implemented after a thorough review and investigation."

Rohr states administrative changes have and will be made to the department, but there's no word on what those changes are, and no one at the city agreed to an interview on Monday.

If convicted on the charge, Jasperson could face up to a year in jail along with a $1,000 fine.

We contacted Joplin's Mayor Melodee Colbert-Keen who said the city council hadn't been made aware of the personnel changes.

 

Updated July 22, 2013  at 3:35 PM CST - NEWS RELEASE FROM THE JOPLIN POLICE DEPARTMENT:

Ex- city employee charged with theft

The Joplin Police Department has charged a former employee of the city garage with misdemeanor theft, following a criminal investigation.

The charge stems from a car stop conducted on Jeramy Jasperson, who at the time was employed as a mechanic at the Joplin City garage.  A patrol officer conducted the stop at the request of a Joplin detective on the evening of June 24, 2013 at 2207 hours.  The car stop led to recovery of a bottle of refrigerant, along with a case of oil from the vehicle.  Jasperson had just left his work shift at the City Garage when the car stop was conducted, and the items were recovered.

The result of the investigation led to the formal filing of charges against Jasperson for misdemeanor theft.  Jasperson is no longer employed with the City of Joplin.  The court case is still pending in the Joplin Municipal Court.

The investigation was initiated after a request by the Office of the City Manager.

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Posted July 22, 2013 at 11:32 AM CST:  A former employee with the city of Joplin is charged with misdemeanor theft and now changes could be on the way for the city's Public Works Department.  The Joplin Police Department is investigating the case.

Jeramy Jasperson has been charged with misdemeanor theft.

City manager Mark Rohr says the city has a no tolerance policy for any type of criminal activity by any of its employees.  In addition to the charge Rohr says certain structural changes need to be made within the department.

We'll have more on this developing story tonight on KOAM News and Fox 14 News at 9.

Statement from Joplin City Manager Mark Rohr:

My office was recently made aware of potential criminal activity taking place in a division of Public Works. Based on this, I ordered the Police Department to investigate. This has resulted in the filing of a misdemeanor charge against a former City employee.

The City has no tolerance for this type of activity by any of its employees. When something such as this occurs, we take it very seriously. In addition to the charge, certain structural changes need to be made within this division. Accordingly, corrective personnel actions have taken place in this area to insure that we measure up to the highest expectations our citizens expect and deserve. These actions are not taken lightly and were implemented after a thorough review and investigation.

In a separate matter, I learned of other management issues within the Building Division of Public Works. After a thorough investigation, we believe no theft has occurred, although the problems did result in a loss of revenue for the City. Again administrative changes have and will be made to rectify this situation. In handling matters such as these, I want to be as forthcoming as possible, but due to the criminal and personnel nature of these matters, I am unable to provide further details.

Overall, operations of the City remain strong. The administrative team has managed these developments in a manner to create little or no disruption within the City and for our citizens. We continue to work towards our goal of making Joplin bigger and better than it was prior to the natural disaster that struck our city in 2011.

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