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Independence OT probe reveals city oversight failures: 'Same song and dance and nobody's at fault'

Independence citizens want accountability following police OT probe
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Posted at 5:39 PM, Jul 19, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-19 19:05:53-04

INDEPENDENCE, Mo. — An investigation into police overtime in Independence has revealed multiple oversight failures on behalf of the city.

Dan Nelson was hired by the city as special counsel to investigate overtime that occurred among members of the police department who performed construction work at police headquarters.

COMPLETE COVERAGE: Independence police overtime investigation

The project, Nelson determined, amounted to nearly $400,000.

Nelson said the project was approved by the city. However, it wasn't clear to what extent the police officers had permission to remodel the facility.

Nothing was ever put in writing, leading citizens like Lucy Young to be angry about the lack of oversight.

"Because they didn't put it down on paper, it just makes it suspect to me that this was collusion or corruption," Young said.

Nelson said the police department should have provided the city with more details about the project, including costs of labor and materials.

He adds that the city should've also followed up and asked more questions about the breadth of the project instead of giving "loose" approval for the construction.

In March, the I-Team first revealed one police officer earned more than $169,000 in overtime for non-police related work pertaining to the construction.

Nelson said, while the police labor was inappropriate, it was of good value to the citizens since it didn't require the city to hire qualified contractors, which would cost significantly more.

Young sees things differently.

"It cheated, not only good labor that's trained to do these jobs, it cheated the citizens of Independence," Young said. "It misled people as far as what our police department should be doing— protecting the citizens on the street."

Nelson discovered that over the course of 14 months, every floor of police headquarters had been remodeled. He said it appears the police officers who accumulated overtime for the project did work the amount of hours they submitted, though he couldn't be certain.

Nelson said police were not eligible city vendors, nor were they licensed, bonded or insured. Nelson said this was a violation of the city's procurement policy.

Mike Steinmeyer, Independence City Council Member, said the city council needs to evaluate what can be done to prevent this from happening again and who should be held accountable.

"We're talking about ethical standards that's gotta be elevated," Steinmeyer said.

Young said the city manager should've taken notice of the overtime and the project.

"The city manager is a form of government, and the city manager is accountable for everything that happens," Young said. "The city council and the mayor needs to address this from the top down."

Mayor Rory Rowland took the podium during the press conference on the findings to say he's disappointed in how this project was handled.

"My goal is to change the culture of this city," Rowland said. "I am beyond disappointed with what has happened, and I feel outraged with the citizens."

Rowland would not discuss if anyone should be held accountable within city hall.

"I think it's a total farce," Young said." The people wanted answers and what we've got is, 'I can't speculate.' It's the same old song and dance, and it's nobody's fault."