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Cattlemen say Missouri agriculture chief made threats

Thursday, October 31, 2013 | 7:47 p.m. CDT

JEFFERSON CITY — Officials at the Missouri Cattlemen's Association say the state's recently replaced agriculture director had made threats against the group's leader, marking the second time in two weeks that someone has alleged intimidation by the director.

Jon Hagler was replaced on Oct. 11 as head of the Missouri Department of Agriculture with little explanation from Gov. Jay Nixon. The move came a day after another high-ranking employee, Beth Ewers, resigned while distributing a letter saying Hagler had created a work environment of "hostility, disrespect, intimidation and fear."

Leaders at the cattlemen's group told The Associated Press this week that Hagler also acted with hostility toward its executive vice president, Mike Deering, after the publication of a critical magazine article earlier this year. They said Hagler became so incensed that he made phone calls to multiple members of the group threatening bodily harm against Deering.

"He was just cussing and yelling. He said, 'You're going to have to do something with that boy of yours.' He was just really irate," said Chuck Massengill, the cattlemen's association president. "He used the f-word several times."

Hagler did not return multiple telephone and text messages left Wednesday and Thursday by the AP seeking comment.

When Nixon announced Hagler's replacement, the governor's office said in a news release that Hagler was to remain on the payroll through Thursday to assist in the transition. Nixon described Hagler as "a trusted friend and advisor" who helped make the department "more efficient and effective."

Nixon was asked by reporters last week about allegations of a hostile workplace at the Agriculture Department and whether he had ordered Hagler to leave.

"There was no causal connection on any of that sort of stuff," the governor said at the time. "You certainly have agreements and disagreements with folks, but I think when you look at the breadth of accomplishments in the agricultural sector over the last four years, I appreciate Jon's service."

It's unclear whether Nixon was ever told of Hagler's apparent conflict with the Missouri Cattlemen's Association. The group, which has about 4,000 members, carries particular sway because Missouri ranks third nationally in the number of beef cattle.

Tensions mounted in April after the association's magazine included an article by Deering bemoaning "a complete and embarrassing failure by the Missouri Department of Agriculture" to provide guidance on implementing a federal rule aimed at tracing diseased animals. The article specifically called out Hagler for not communicating with cattle farmers and said that as a result, there was "mass chaos" in the industry.

Deering told the AP that Hagler subsequently confronted him, angrily, in the Missouri Capitol hallway, then called several association leaders making threats against Deering. Other association leaders confirmed the angry phone calls.

Deering said he shared his concerns about Hagler with Zach Pollock, who at the time was the Agriculture Department's legislative liaison and had served in a variety of roles in Nixon's administration.

"I recall the situation, but I'll be honest with you, I'm not going to comment on any of that. ... I'm not involved in that stuff anymore," Pollock told the AP. Online records show Pollock left the department in September and now is a lobbyist for the Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives.

Massengill, the cattlemen's president, worked at the Missouri Department of Agriculture for more than 20 years before leaving in 2009 because of what he described as an "intimidating" atmosphere created by Hagler. His account of the workplace environment matches with what Ewers described in her email explaining her resignation.

But Hagler has sought to leave a positive impression about his tenure.

A couple of days after Nixon announced Hagler's replacement, Hagler sent an email to department employees describing them as "the best team in state government" and recounting numerous accomplishments during his nearly five years as director.

"Being the Director of Agriculture is one of the greatest and most important privileges in public service and it is a privilege that I have taken seriously each day," Hagler wrote in the email.


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