Widow of fallen Joplin police officer speaks about alleged harassment from city officials
A Joplin woman speaks about what she feels has been harassment from three city officials. It’s an update to a story we first brought you last week. Tracy Nielson is the widow of Joplin police officer Tim Nielson, who passed away 14 years ago from injuries sustained while on duty. Ms. Nielson spoke to Joplin’s City Council last month and proposed ways to raise the salaries of police and firefighters.
Ms. Nielson says the past few weeks have been bizarre. Nielson, during her presentation to City Council, never mentioned the name of Joplin’s finance director. Nielson says despite this, city officials have been trying to say she has been targeting the finance director.
Nielson has launched an official complaint against the City of Joplin, alleging harassment by city officials.
“Citizens should not have to be afraid at a City Council meeting because they’re going to get confronted by city officials,” says Nielson.
One week after Nielson addressed City Council about Joplin police and firefighter salaries, Nielson says she was approached in City Hall’s parking lot by Joplin’s Finance Director Leslie Haase.
“She said she felt like the bad guy,” says Nielson. “She felt like if the police department and fire department didn’t get a raise, that she would be the bad guy. She said that I had made a statement that my husband believed in the character and in the integrity of the city government, the City Council, and the police and fire departments. She said it’s not the same City that it used to be, and I would know because I’ve been here for a long time. The indication to me was clear, that the City is not credible anymore. And that made me really sad. We ended the conversation. I got into my car. Before I even got home, I had gotten messages from Delmar.”
Delmar Haase is Leslie’s husband. He’s also the Carl Junction police chief.
“If you’re the police chief, you carry weight of authority with your statements, even if you don’t think that you do,” says Nielson. “So to have the police chief of Carl Junction say, hey, you and my wife need to have a chat…yeah, that’s intimidating. I don’t want to have a conversation with Leslie Haase. I already had a conversation with Leslie Haase and I didn’t know what to say in that moment and I’m not going to know what to say in a future moment because it was inappropriate to begin with. All I did was ask for them (City Council) to look at giving raises. I shouldn’t have been stopped in the parking lot by the finance director and chastised and scolded like a 12-year-old kid.”
Nielson’s concerns made their way to our newsroom before her official written complaint. We reached out to the City’s public information officer, Lynn Onstot, and City Manager Sam Anselm.
Onstot called Nielson.
“I did record the conversation because I don’t know who witnessed the conversation between myself and Leslie,” says Nielson.
“I know this is awkward,” said Onstot during the phone call. “I’m the public information officer for the City. With that said, I get media requests. We’ve been contacted by KOAM. Jordan Aubey, specifically.”
“I don’t know what that means, exactly,” says Nielson during our interview with her. “I don’t think the media is evil. I don’t think me talking to the media makes me a bad person. It was very clear that that was not something she wanted me to do.”
Nielson asked Onstot during the phone call about proper protocol to talk about her concerns.
“There’s really not a specific protocol,” said Onstot during the phone conversation. “It’s whatever you’re comfortable with. Obviously, it was between you and Leslie.”
“It was never, can I take a report from you? Can I refer you to human resources? Can I make this better for you? It was, are you going to the media, have you gone to the fire department, and if you have a problem, talk to them directly,” says Nielson during our interview with her.
Onstot said during the phone conversation with Nielson, “Have you talked to the fire department about it?” Nielson replied to Onstot, “I mean, I’ve talked to my friends, but those were personal conversations that I don’t feel like…”
Nielson wants someone at City Hall to tell her if the City’s ethics code was violated.
“Can we say to the public, you have a right to speak without being approached by city officials? This is not about Leslie Haase. This is not about Lynn Onstot. This is not about Delmar Haase. This is about a finance director and a chief of police and a public information officer misusing their power to shut down a citizen’s opinion,” says Nielson during our interview.
Watch the associated video for the full phone conversation between Onstot and Nielson. Note: Joplin’s firefighter’s union has not issued an official statement regarding these harassment allegations.
City Manager Sam Anselm told us in a statement that these harassment allegations are being investigated, but wouldn’t tell us if human resources will be involved. We asked every City Council member for a statement regarding this story. The comments from those who replied are below.
Councilwoman Diane Reid Adams
“I would like to let Tracy know that she is in my prayers and I am so sorry that this happened during a time when she and her daughters are remembering Tim’s passing. Her speech to the council was from her heart and reminded all of us what our public safety officers face every day.”
Mayor Pro Tem Ryan Stanley
“The City has a process in dealing with citizen complaints against City employees. That process is handled by the City Manager and Human Resources. With all employee performance discussions, it is not appropriate for me, a City Councilman, to make any formal statements regarding any City Employees.”
Mayor Gary Shaw
“The story you are working on is a personnel issue with an employee of the City manager and something that he is dealing with.”
Councilman Taylor Brown
“This is a personnel matter, and there is a system in place that this complaint will be processed through.”
Councilman Anthony Monteleone
“As a Councilor, it is not appropriate for me to discuss complaints or employee performance issues involving City employees. The City has a process in place for handling these, which is the responsibility of the City Manager along with Human Resources.”
Councilman Doug Lawson
“I have not spoken personally with Mrs. Nielson or Mrs. Haase regarding their mutual conversations. Mrs. Nielson spoke to the council with clarity and passion. No one can doubt the sincerity of one who has personally experienced the sacrifice that our police risk every day. I very much appreciate her willingness to share with the council. It is regretful that she feels that her presentation was not received with the respect that it clearly deserves. I am convinced that there was no intention on the part of any city official or Mrs. Haase’s husband to intimidate or belittle Mrs. Nielson in any way.
There are some who apparently think that creating an adversarial relationship between the city and employees will somehow be helpful. There are those who will use this unfortunate incident to further divide our city. This is, in my opinion, a mistake and anything but helpful. Mrs. Haase, the wife of a police officer, is not unfamiliar with the challenges that our police and fire personnel face. She has been given the difficult and thankless task of finding funding for well-deserved pay increases for our first responders while simultaneously being tasked with maintaining a balanced budget. Sadly, a review of social media will find her to be the target of a few in Joplin who treat her with disdain and seem to enjoy blaming her when they don’t get their way. Blaming the messenger is easy but futile. Some seem to think that if the council votes yes, money will just appear. Mrs. Haase knows this not to be true.
Every member of the City Council sees the need to keep our best police officers and firefighters. The council recognizes that pay is one important component of job satisfaction and employee retention. We all want to see that increase in pay. We also have an obligation to the citizens of Joplin to live within the means that the taxpayers have provided.”
Councilman Phil Stinnett
“This involves a city manager employee, and is a personnel matter which is not Council’s area of responsibility. Also, the Mayor is the Council’s spokesperson.”
Statement from Delmar Haase
“Direct messages were sent by me, as a private person to a person I considered a friend and held in great esteem. I have the utmost respect for Tracy Nielson. When a close friend needed services in her chosen profession, I contacted her for a referral. I knew of no animosity. Neither message was sent with any ill intent.
The messages were sent from a personal account and do not reflect on my employer or the position I hold with my employer.”