SOME RESPONSES FROM BILL SCEARCE
I have been somewhat surprised that various members of the Bloc of Five on the City Council have not been more forthcoming to defend their recent actions that have created much public outrage. I thus sent an email to my elected representative on the council, Bill Scearce and posed some pointed questions. He responded and offered to again talk with me on such matters.
We met, privately, on Monday morning in his office. This blog reports the results of that one hour conversation. I asked Bill at the start if he wanted the discussion to be private or “on the record”. He agreed that anything he said was fair game for publication. Thus what I write in this blog is essentially with his permission, in order to respond to my various points and questions.
I begin by listing the specific questioned asked by me. I add his responses and any follow up comments that might be pertinent.
1. “Do you believe the City Council should terminate the contract with WB as the Master Developer? Bill said “NO”. He went on to say that he wants WB to succeed. Later on he elaborated that he was disappointed in the lack of actual building on the part of the Master Developer.
2. “When the City Attorney gave you the “post it note”, written by Rohr, why did not you or he, the attorney, immediately raise the issue with the city council? As well why could not the city attorney himself have conducted an investigation and reported the results to council? That would have saved the city considerable money for a third party investigation. Bill replied “I don’t know”. There was no further elaboration on that point.
3. “Do you believe that Mike Woolston violated the rules related to ethics in regards to his duties as a member of city council?” Bill replied “I don’t know” and no further elaboration was offered.
4. “How would you expect a new city manager to conduct business differently from the manner in which Rohr did so? Do you have any good candidates in mind to become the next city manager in Joplin? Bill replied, “The new manager should not try to be a one man show”. He also said he has no candidates in mind to fill that vacant position. He told me that council will authorize about $16K to $19K to employ a search firm to find qualified candidates.
5. “You voted against TIF. If the issue was raised again before council would you vote to dissolve or change in any manner that tax “system? Bill replied, “Yes” (meaning he would change the current system) and would “place more power in taxing agencies”. He did not elaborate on what, exactly, that meant, to place more power in taxing agencies.
6. “Do you believe it is proper for an elected official at any level of government to respond to a reporter’s question with a blatantly false statement? Bill replied, “YES”. (I read the question to him a second time to be sure he understood my question. He continued to reply “Yes”). I then followed up by asking him, “Was your public denial of any knowledge of gambling activity in your rented facility blatantly false?” Bill replied, “NO”. He then elaborated that he “misunderstood the question” asked by the Globe reporter and later called the Globe to correct his response.
I showed my questions to be asked of Bill to my wife, Janet, before attending the meeting. She added four more questions and asked the he be told they were coming from her. I did so and list both the questions and responses below.
1. “What do you think about the citizen outrage over Rohr’s firing? Bill replied, “I know more than they do”. I followed up with, “Do you think it (the outrage) will affect the outcome of the April election?” Bill replied, “YES”, with no further elaboration.
2. “What do you think about the PAC? Bill replied, “I hate it.” He elaborated that in his view it was a group of special interests trying to buy an election, a local election.
3. “What effect do you think all the controversy – Rohr firing, accusations from all sides, focus on the Bloc of Five – has done or contributed to moving Joplin forward?” Bill replied, “Please don’t refer to it as a Bloc of Five. Consider if you will instead the Gang of Four”.
4. “Do you believe a situation has been created by you and others that has made Joplin the “laughing stock” of Missouri and surrounding States has is often said today?” Bill replied, “Those people making such statements are in fact in the minority, not the majority of citizens in Joplin”.
OK, so much for specific questions asked and answered. I now provide the tone or nature of deeper discussions with Bill about why he is voting as he has been doing in recent months on matters related to Mark Rohr, TIF, challenges to the Master Developer and other redevelopment related issues. I attempt to accurately reflect the content of that discussion and provide, as best as I can, Bill’s views expressed to me.
Note if you will that I did not attempt to argue with Bill on his various points or responses. My goal was to understand why he has voted and spoken as he has done so for several months now on issues of grave importance (my view at least) to Joplin.
Bill continues to oppose TIF. He feels that it is a “reallocation of voter approved tax dollars without general public input”. I believe it is fair to say that Bill feels that city government can stimulate redevelopment by careful use of existing zoning practices and there is no need for infusion of future tax revenues to achieve that goal of broad and visionary redevelopment.
Bill stated that there is about 363,000 square feet of empty (commercial, office and retail) space in Joplin right now. There is no need for a Master Developer to build more such facilities using tax dollars as incentives to do so, according to Bill. When I brought up such matters as “green spaces”, better transportation, a different blend of socio-economic mixes in neighborhoods, he responded that good zoning decisions could achieve such goals.
I asked Bill, pointedly, if he supported the vision of CART. He essentially said “NO” but elaborated. He explained that in his view CART was NOT an opportunity for the general public to provide adequate input and the output of CART was nothing more that “special interests” putting their goals in place.
I would add my impression that Bill feels those “special interests” behind CART is the same group of people that have formed the PAC, or Joplin Progress Committee.
Finally, I asked why he feels that the expressed public outrage currently being seen in the Globe was a minority view. Bill said, “The Globe has taken a position against me”. He also said that Carol Stark is refusing to publish letters (“I can name names”, he said) that support his positions and that of four other council members.
Just before we concluded our hour or so discussion I told Bill that I would indeed (and with his permission) be writing on this meeting and what he revealed therein. He smiled and said “Be nice to me, please”!! I assured him I would do my best to report accurately his views but explained that in my opinion some of his views would be seen as “explosive”.
Bill then was very serious and explained to me that he knew full well when Rohr was fired there would be a public firestorm. He voted as he did because he thought it was best for Joplin to take that action. He also insists that he cannot elaborate further on “all that he knows about Rohr” because he is bound to protect “Rohr’s privacy”. He added that HIPA laws are clear and if he publicly proclaimed all that he knows then Rohr could well “sue him”.
I leave my own reaction to this discussion for another blog. But I will say that Bill Scearce met with me face-to face, knowing full well that I oppose his actions on council of late. He explained as best he could why he has voted the way he has done so on very important matters and stands by that position.
I give him credit for being forthright with me in this meeting and told him exactly that.