Governor Nixon has suspended Department of Natural Resources Director Mark Templeton and ordered an investigation as to why DNR withheld information that the Lake of the Ozarks was contaminated with E. coli bacteria.
Nixon announced the suspension and that he has ordered an investigation of DNR during a telephone conference call prior to an event in Branson. Nixon stated DNR provided him with faulty information about the actions it took after samples taken at Lake of the Ozarks beaches on May 18th and 27th uncovered E. coli levels five times higher than normal. Nixon claimed the false information led him to make inaccurate statements about the incident during interviews with the news media.
The governor’s office has been embroiled in a controversy over contamination at the lake since it became public that DNR delayed public release of the E. coli report for four weeks. The office had denied knowing anything about the contamination until June 23rd. A Senate committee review of DNR action, though, revealed that a top Nixon aide, Jeff Mazur, knew about the elevated E. coli levels in late May.
Nixon told reporters gathered on the conference call and in his Capitol office that he has learned DNR had not been forthright with his office a day before announcing a major water quality initiative at the Lake of the Ozarks. Nixon said that DNR told his office it had closed the beaches with elevated E. coli levels, though it hadn’t.
"This is quite simply unconscionable," Nixon told reporters. "It is nothing short of an outrage and my reaction is sheer disappointment and disgust."
Nixon said he relied on a document supplied to him by DNR several times to answer questions in public. He said that caused him to unwittingly pass along false information.
"That is inexcusable," Nixon stated. "It should never have happened and I sincerely regret having unknowingly shared information that was not true."
Officials in Nixon’s office say the status of Templeton has not been decided. He has been placed on administrative leave without pay for two weeks. Nixon has appointed DNR Deputy Director Bill Bryan as acting director and ordered him to conduct an investigation of the failure to close state park beaches contaminated with E. coli and to hold accountable those responsible. The Department of Corrections Inspector General, Chris Pickering, has been ordered to assist Bryan in the investigation. Travis Ford, spokesman for the Department of Insurance, will serve as spokesman for DNR in the interim. DNR spokeswoman Susanne Medley resigned shortly before telling staff with a Senate committee that she had informed a top Nixon aide about the elevated E. coli levels in late May.
"The fact that beaches which should have been closed were not closed makes me angrier than words can describe," Nixon said in concluding his remarks. "The fact that officials of the DNR would provide me with faulty information which I then shared with you (reporters) and with the public is very simply a violation of the department’s duty."