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Widow of JPD Officer Claims Intimidation from City of Joplin Officials

The widow of a Joplin Police officer who was killed in the line of duty in 2004 is claiming intimidation from Joplin city officials. Patrol Officer Timothy Nielson succumbed to injuries he sustained one month earlier when a house exploded as a result of being filled with natural gas.

Tracy’s full letter from September 13th is located below:

“Mr. Anselm and members of City Council,

I hope this letter finds you all well. There are several recent incidents that I feel need to be brought to your attention. On Monday, August 27, 2018 immediately following the City Council’s work session, I was approached in the parking lot by the City Finance Director, Leslie Haase. She stated the things I had suggested to the City Council on August 20, 2018 were unrealistic because the City has no money. She went on to say that she feels like the “bad guy” in reference to Police and Fire Department raises, and I reminded her that my address to the Council made no mention of her. Mrs. Haase then indicated that police officers know what salary they come to work for and money is not everything, further stating that even my husband knew what he was coming to work for. She reminded me that in my address to the Council, I discussed my husband’s belief in the character and integrity of the City government, council, and police and fire departments. She stated that it is no longer the City he believed it to be, and that she should know because she has been around for a long time. The clear implication was that these agencies are no longer credible. I again reminded Mrs. Haase that my address was to the Council and not intended to be a personal affront to her. I respectfully listened to Mrs. Haase and did not confront her with my thoughts, as I was very uncomfortable and caught off guard.

Later that evening, I received multiple emails from Delmar Haase, Leslie’s husband, indicating that Leslie wishes we had more time to talk, and that she recognizes the parking lot was the wrong time and place for that discussion.

While I can certainly appreciate that Mrs. Haase may be in a difficult position and tensions are likely running high, it was extremely inappropriate for the City Finance Director to approach me in the parking lot regarding my address to Council. Her statements, coupled with the immediate follow up emails from her husband, who is also the Police Chief of Carl Junction, felt intimidating and intended to change the course of my work in advocating for the Police and Fire Departments.

On September 12, 2018 at 4:50 p.m., I received a voicemail from a private number from Lynn Onstott. She presented herself as the City Public Information Officer and I asked if I would engage in a private phone call that did not pertain to city business. I texted Ms. Onstott later yesterday evening, but she would not give me the subject matter she wished to addressed. I returned her call at 8:00 p.m. yesterday. She again presented herself as the Public Information Officer. She alleged that she received an email from a news media professional about the incident with Ms. Haase and asked if I had approached anyone about it. I indicated that I had not spoken to anyone in the news media. She went on to say that she and Leslie had discussed the incident, that Leslie “felt bad for kind of unloading on [me]” and then Ms. Onstott brought up the death of my husband. She then stated that Ms. Haase asked her husband to email me and apologize, which he did not do, but he reportedly contends that his emails were not retaliatory or hurtful. She asked if I felt the conversation between myself and Ms. Haase was hurtful or intimidating. I did not feel comfortable answering that question.

Ms. Onstott then encouraged me to speak directly to Ms. Haase. I asked for other alternatives, and she suggested talking with Ms. Haase and Mr. Anselm together, or with Ms. Haase and Ms. Onstott together. She stated that after watching me, she didn’t think I was the type of person who would go to the media. She went on to defend Ms. Haase’s actions, and stated that she is not going to comment to the media because “it’s not really a City story. It’s a personal story on Leslie and Leslie is pretty upset about it…. She’s kind of tired of it…. She truly is just doing her job.” I again asked for recourse in order to address the issue. Ms. Onstott said the media has its place and as a city employee, she has to protect the integrity of the city. She then stated that “it’s not the employee that’s at fault. It’s just that the system has failed. It’s been a comedy of errors throughout the years.” She indicated that she would wait to respond to the inquiring news media until after I have had a chance to speak with Ms. Haase or Mr. Anselm.

She then stated that Mr. Haase protects his wife and people want to take care of people who are getting hurt. She suggested that I reach out to Mr. or Ms. Haase directly or speak with Mr. Anselm. She again stated that she didn’t think I would go to the media and couldn’t imagine I would go to the media. After reiterating that I had not spoken with anyone in media, she asked if I had spoken to anyone in the fire department.

Please note that conversation was recorded and is available upon your request.

Mr. Haase then emailed me this morning stating that he got “hit with a bombshell” and he denied that Ms. Haase was aware he had messaged me previously. I have attached all of the messages from Mr. Haase to this email for your reference.

I am a citizen of this community and I stated my opinions to council, which were grounded in research and potential solutions. I have no idea why these individuals are approaching me, but their contact is extremely inappropriate. I had no contact with any media outlets, yet was asked multiple times if I had. Even if I had, I have a right to express my opinion or speak to the media, and City Officials attempting to harass or intimidate me is a clear infringement upon the Constitutional rights given to us all. We need to speak up and demand more integrity from our City government when see an issue. We need to advocate and be a voice for change. Any citizen of Joplin should be allowed to address the Council without fear of being approached by a City Director, a neighboring Chief of Police, and a City Public Information Officer, who notably made their comments while acting in the capacity of their official positions and not as private citizens. I am appalled and broken hearted that our City appears more concerned with its image than honoring their duty to protect and preserve the rights of its citizens. It is truly a sad day for Joplin, Missouri.

Aside from the fact that these individuals continue to draw my deceased spouse into these conversations, that these conversations are happening so close to the anniversary of his death and the blatant disrespect this shows, there is a clear misuse of power here that was intended to keep me quiet.

Please be aware that my address to Council and my ongoing efforts to advocate for the Police and Fire Departments are not personal in nature. There is an obvious public safety issue, and it will take all of us working together in order to solve it. My intention is to help find solutions, not create more problems. That said, I will not sit quietly by while my husband’s memory is diminished, nor will I be bullied by the City Officials or their spouses. Though the message from all of them was clear, I stand down for no one.

Thank you for prompt attention in this matter.

Tracy Nielson”

In a press release, City Manager Sam Anselm had this to say:

“There have been several situations recently in which the news media has been contacted or comments posted on social media by City of Joplin employees, both current and former, regarding the recent budget discussions and the pay and fringe benefits for our public safety departments. These contacts have created inaccurate reporting and/or a disregard for the intent behind the information provided by the city. I believe this media inquiry is another organized attempt to discredit and disparage particular city employees and the city council.”

“The City will not be a party to the innuendos and gossip that has been circulating because an organized group of employees is not happy with their pay. We continue to address the pay situation for all city employees and are working to provide solutions that the organization can financially sustain. Union personnel can accept that we’re making our best effort to address employee pay or make other choices, one of which is to engage in collective bargaining, however I will no longer allow these groups to blame another city employee or the city council, either directly or indirectly, because a few of their members may disagree with the options being presented.

“These tactics represent a disrespectful behavior by city employees toward our finance director and are in violation of our rules and regulations, and henceforth will not be tolerated by the City. As the Finance Director, Leslie Haase provides information and financial reports in response to my requests for information to help our governing body make informed decisions. Her work is presented to the Joplin City Council with my support and approval, and is fair, accurate and without bias. Director Haase is one of over 580 dedicated city employees who work tirelessly to help create the type of community we can all cheer for, and I stand behind our entire leadership team for their efforts. While Joplin is not immune to the challenges communities across the country are facing, I believe we have much to be proud of in Joplin. And for me, the work of our employees is at the top of that list of accomplishments.”

This is a developing story..

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