(JEFFERSON CITY, Mo.) The governor will start 2021 without a top official in Missouri's Veteran Commission after Tim Noonan, the commission chairman, quit on the eve of the New Year.
“I would’ve run this thing as long and as hard as it took but what a fundamental value gets crossed it’s a straightforward decision and one of my fundamental values was crossed so I wish the team the governor, everybody, the best to get it fixed," Noonan said.
His resignation happened hours after the state Attorney General, Eric Schmitt ordered Noonan to release a 415-page investigative report and Gov. Mike Parsons addressing the issue at a news conference Wednesday.
"The veterans will be a priority. I’m not going to worry about everybody’s personal lives that sit on the commission, or the chairman. I’m just going to absolutely worry about the veterans and that’s my whole focus," Parsons said.
The Governor was responding to a question about whether he planned to make changes to Missouri Veterans Commission leadership in connection to an external review of the COVID-19 outbreak in Missouri's 7-state veteran's homes.
Parsons directed the commission chairman of Missouri Veterans Commission (MVC) to investigate how nursing home staff, state employees, and state officials responded to the pandemic following the death of dozens of Veterans across Missouri-run homes in September. To date at least 154 veterans have died in Missouri's care and of that, at least 39 were at Cameron Veterans Home.
After a competitive bidding process, Noonan hired Armstrong-Teasdale and the firm began its investigation on October 12. A summary of the findings was released in December. It cataloged failures up and down the chain of command to plan, see, and respond to the coronavirus outbreak in the homes.
But that was only the summary. News agencies began pressing Noonan to release the full 400-plus page report which he refused saying it was not a public document. He said the contract with Armstrong-Teasdale specifically called for a public summary of the findings and a detailed report.
"We specifically constructed the contract so that we could take constructive action without being distracted," Noonan said about the contract's language and the reason for shielding the full report from public view. "I do not believe that having that information publicly available does anything to drive a different outcome relative to what we are trying to do in the commission."
Last week, Parsons office and Schmitt's office sent letters to Noonan telling him his interpretation of the contract was wrong and the full report was fair game for a sunshine request. Noonan said he disagreed but would release it.
He said it was frustrating to hear Schmitt and Parsons make comments to the public about the report when he had asked for them in private more than a month ago.
“I couldn’t get an answer from the Governor’s office I’d ask a question of and written form on 23 November and it took a spectacle to get an answer," Noonan said.
In emails starting Nov. 23, Noonan asked the Governor's Office and the Attorney General's Office whether releasing the documents create liability risks and whether he should wave an attorney-client privilege by releasing the document. He included copies of the emails and his concerns in his resignation letter.
Noon said the full report could be used as a roadmap for frivolous lawsuits.
“What is the impact of releasing the names of frontline caregivers workers and workers when they been working 80, 90 to 100 hours a week? What’s the purpose of that? How does that help solve the problem? In addition, it is also prudent not to create a roadmap for a frivolous plaintive lawsuit," he said.
The failures cataloged in the report are not just by frontline caregivers, they can be traced all the way to the top of the command chain to the Fusion Cell, the Governor's handpicked team tasked with the state's response to the pandemic, and MVC officials.
"I think the investigation specifically in the more detailed report points to a significant lack of accountability up and down the chain of command,” Noonan said.
He added the Commissioners have taken responsibility for the mistakes that led to more than 150 veterans losing their lives to COVID-19 but the Fusion Cell had the same data as MVC officials on September 10th and did nothing.
Noonan added he was willing to shoulder the responsibility as the Chairman up until the Governor's remarks Wednesday made clear he was going to do it without the Governor's support.
“I was completely prepared to drive it forward. But I simply can’t win when one of my fundamental values gets crossed which is that I’m working for a guy that’s not worried about me or that he’s not worried about the personal life of me or my commissioners," he said.