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Joplin councilman speaks about city investigation launched again - KOAM TV 7

Joplin councilman speaks about city investigation launched against him

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A Joplin city council member says he welcomes an investigation into alleged wrongdoing by him in rebuilding parts of Joplin.

This is the second investigation council members have approved.  The first involves Mayor Pro Tem Bill Scearce.  Scearce was the landlord to a man who pleaded guilty to an illegal gambling operation.

City council Monday night unanimously voted for this latest investigation now involving Councilman Mike Woolston.  Woolston himself voted for the measure.  The measure was proposed by Councilman Benjamin Rosenberg, who says he's received complaints from several constituents, including realtors.

Woolston says misunderstanding has lead to questions.

"I'd like to get those answered," says Woolston.

Woolston says until he answers those questions, there will be accusations.  Other council members say Woolston used "inside information" to buy land after the tornado, knowing the city's master redeveloper would probably buy it back, perhaps at a higher listing price.

"My perception of what people mean when they say insider information is that someone has utilized information to personally profit from acquiring those properties," says Woolston.  "Since I didn't acquire them in my own name, I don't consider that using insider information."

Woolston says he's been working as an agent for a developer.

"It means we approached people that owned the properties, on behalf of the developer, and when the properties were purchased, they were put into the developer's name or his name personally," says Woolston.

Woolston says he's been doing this for about a year, before any city master redeveloper contract was officially signed.  He says the only commission he received was for about $2,500, a project on Connecticut Street.

"It was residential, and their plan was to develop it and rebuild their office that was there on a more commercial type of basis," says Woolston.

The deal was inked just before Joplin signed a contract with master redeveloper Wallace Bajjali.

"Any properties that were closed at that point, I waived my commission fee...simply because there might be a conflict of interest," says Woolston.

Councilman Woolston admits he knew land he helped purchase after the tornado would eventually be redeveloped, and says he speculated about Wallace Bajjali.

"Because Wallace Bajjali talked about partnering with different companies on different projects," says Woolston.

Woolston says he was just using his resources as a realtor, and that's the bottom line.

"Anytime, any real estate agent is involved in a transaction, they have inside information, because they are privy to the details," says Woolston.

Mayor Melodee Colbert-Kean issued us this statement about the investigation into Woolston:  "To ensure public trust of any type of allegations, we take them seriously and bring them before the city attorney and he gives us direction.  If a council member has any concern about our employees or our council members' behavior that may raise questions, we feel it's our duty to address those concerns in a civil manner through our city attorney and his advice.  I believe all council members have the city's best interest at heart."

City attorney Brian Head says he's still deciding who will investigate both Scearce and Woolston, but says he would like the person or people to have been in law enforcement and not from the Joplin area.

The investigations into Scearce and Woolston will use tax payer money, but officials have not figured the cost.

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