Just as it seems the Sparta city government has taken a leap forward, allegations of misconduct by an elected official send the town’s image slinking backward.
A pair of lawsuits filed in circuit court accuse Alderman Jarrett Iorg of engaging in “discriminatory conduct.” Iorg is not a defendant, instead, the city of Sparta is the subject to a pair of lawsuits filed by two former city employees. Maria Ochoa-Velazquez sued the city of Sparta on Jan. 18, and former city clerk Sharon Mickey filed suit against Sparta on March 20.
Bolivar attorney Jerry Kirksey is the attorney for both former employees.
On April 17, 2018, the Sparta Board of Aldermen voted 4-1 in opposition to a motion to have Iorg impeached. Alderman Stephen Otten cast the lone vote to impeach Iorg and have him removed from office.
Otten described Iorg using profane language and said he has “gone after people” since he’s been part of the board. On Jan. 23, 2018, Kirksey filed the language for Iorg’s bill of impeachment, representing Mickey at that time.
“The grounds for the charges against (Iorg) include: discriminatory (harassment) against city employees, creating a hostile work environment and releasing information to the public that was intended and ordered to be closed,” the bill reads.
Among other things, Iorg has been accused of sharing information from a closed meeting with members of the public (a violation of the Missouri Sunshine Law) and harassing city employees with discriminatory language. The allegations in the lawsuits are that Iorg used racial slurs, referred to a Hispanic employee as “that Mexican lady,” and treated an employee differently than other employees based on race.
Sparta’s elected officials have been dealing with the allegations against Iorg for more than a year, and now face a pair of lawsuits seeking financial damages. Iorg is no longer on the hook for allegations of misconduct, but the taxpayers are.
If you’re thinking to yourself, “if these allegations are true, people in Sparta should just vote Jarrett Iorg out.” Well, not so fast.
Sparta faces another serious problem: lack of interest in city government participation. Iorg, Jenni Davis and Tami Guerin all ran unopposed for re-election to the Sparta Board of Aldermen. A two-year unexpired term and a one-year unexpired term both appeared on ballots without candidates filed for them at all, creating a potential write-in vote free-for-all. We will be watching and sorting out the results of those wide open elections in the weeks to come.
It’s a shame that citizens of Sparta don’t seem to want to be part of their government, especially given some positive events. Business owners Corey and Lola Smith thought enough of their city to buy and donate the building that is now Sparta City Hall and the Sparta Police Department.
At the same time, the Sparta Chamber of Commerce is experiencing steady growth in numbers and is catching on as a nice opportunity to foster a sense of community.
The publicity of the civil lawsuits comes at a poor time, considering Sparta holds a grand opening for the new city hall on April 5.
Sparta’s court cases will likely take months, if not years, to litigate. In the immediate future, it’s up to all of the city’s elected and appointed officials to work toward outcomes that are best for Sparta, and stay away from language and conduct unbecoming of public servants.