JEFFERSON CITY — The Missouri Department of Natural Resources will conclude its internal E. coli investigation by Friday, department spokesman Travis Ford said.
On Sept. 30, Gov. Jay Nixon announced that the department had given him false information regarding dangerous E. coli levels at Lake of the Ozarks and appointed three men, including Ford, to investigate the situation. The governor also suspended department director Mark Templeton without pay for two weeks, a suspension that was supposed to end Wednesday but has been extended at least until Friday.
Nixon will study the results of the investigation before deciding to reinstate Templeton, Ford said.
Ford's announcement came hours after Sen. Brad Lager, R-Savannah, accused the department of a "cover-up" regarding information about the E. coli situation.
Nixon was not available for comment. His office also refused to comment, referring all questions to Ford.
Lager chairs the Senate Commerce Committee, which is conducting another investigation that was started prior to Templeton's suspension and is separate from the department's internal investigation. It is looking into information failures within the department. Lager said the department has made the more than 500,000 documents, including e-mails, internal memos and other communication relating to the E. coli levels, almost impossible to sift through.
"Someone made a decision to instead of giving (e-mails) electronically to go and print every one" and to have them scanned back in, Lager said. The department "specifically asked the vendor to not make them searchable. That's even before we talk about that someone decided to hold 5,000 e-mails they decided we didn't need to see."
Ford said that the 5,000 e-mails were withheld for legal reasons. The department released 130 of these documents following a Senate request, Ford said, adding that the department has not received additional requests since the release.
Lager had sent Nixon a letter Tuesday night requesting that the governor continue Templeton's suspension until the investigation is completed.
"Templeton has been at the heart of the problem," Lager said, adding that the fact-finding for the Senate investigation has been much easier since Templeton's suspension.
None of the evidence presented to the committee suggests that Nixon had anything to do with withholding information about the E. coli levels, Lager said. He said his committee, however, needs to investigate the problems with the flow of information between the department and the governor's office.
"What we clearly know is that information was sent from the lower level employees in DNR ... that information was relayed onto the governor's office," Lager said. "But somewhere there, it died on somebody's desk or someone made a conscious decision to not act upon that information. ... We have to figure out what happened and where this process broke down so we can make sure it never happens again."