New Missouri House panel to probe agriculture agency

Tuesday, November 5, 2013 | 7:38 p.m. CST

JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri House Speaker Tim Jones said Tuesday that he is creating a special committee to investigate allegations of a hostile work environment in the Department of Agriculture under the agency's recently replaced director.

Jones said he wants the new panel to conduct a thorough review of the agency's workplace practices.

The committee's creation comes after Gov. Jay Nixon announced the replacement of Agriculture Director Jon Hagler on Oct. 11. A day earlier, another high-ranking department employee distributed a letter saying she was resigning because she was tired of "working in an environment of hostility, disrespect, intimidation and fear."

Hagler told The Associated Press last weekend that the timing of the letter and his departure were coincidental. He described himself as a tough but fair manager who set high expectations, and he denied that he led with hostility or intimidation. Hagler said he had previously informed Nixon that he was ready to leave the department, though the governor's office chose his departure date.

Jones, R-Eureka, said he has "heard from many Missourians who are deeply concerned by the allegations" against Hagler and that he wants "to root out any abusive behaviors" in the department.

He said the new Bipartisan Investigatory Committee on State Department Workplace Abuse will be led by Rep. Casey Guernsey, R-Bethany.

"We have heard enough to have reason to believe inappropriate behaviors were commonplace within the department and a direct manifestation of the managerial style of the former director," Guernsey said in a written statement. "In addition to the already reported allegations, I have received word of other alleged improprieties that warrant a full investigation."

Guernsey said the panel could hold its first hearing later this month.

Last week, Jones asked a different committee to hold a hearing on the appointment process used by Nixon's administration in light of allegations about a hostile work environment in the agriculture and labor departments. A former labor department employee has filed a complaint alleging gender and age discrimination against that agency's former director.

Jones said Tuesday that both panels will proceed.

Nixon spokesman Scott Holste declined to comment Tuesday about the new committee. Instead, he referred to a statement he issued last week after Jones' initial committee announcement. Holste said then that the governor tries to foster a workforce that is "professional in demeanor and inclusive in its composition" while also being productive and accountable to taxpayers.

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