Former Missouri Agriculture Director Jon Hagler has spoken to Missourinet in his first interview since he was replaced at the Department of Agriculture. In recent weeks Hagler has been accused of creating a hostile work environment at the Department and of threatening the executive vice president of the Missouri Cattlemen’s Association.
Hagler says he waited until now to speak about those allegations because he was still employed by the Nixon administration until yesterday and was therefore subject to what he refers to as “his own” media policy at the Department of Agriculture.
“This is the first opportunity I’ve had to speak as a private citizen. I’ve been really reluctant to step forward and say anything but I think some things need to be corrected for the record.”
Hagler was replaced the day after a letter written by Beth Ewers dated October 10 was released regarding her resignation as Associate Director of the Missouri Meat and Poultry Inspection Program. In the letter she accused Hagler of creating an environment of “hostility, disrespect, intimidation and fear,” at the Department.
Hagler says the release of that letter in relation to his departure was a matter of “horrible timing.”
He says he had been discussing with Nixon staff the potential that he would be leaving since mid-August, and told them on Tuesday, October 8 that he had an interview lined up with a university before leaving for an ag conference in Wyoming.
“On that Thursday evening I got back to the Department … and then found out that letter had been released to the public. We had planned on making the change the next day.”
Ewers, in her letter, alleges that during a meeting between her, Hagler, Human Resources, State Veterinarian Linda Hickam and the Director of the Meat and Poultry Inspection Program, Hagler threatened to fire her. She wrote, “Firing has become a common threat that is leveled toward anyone who disagrees with the MDA administration or makes an unintentional mistake at this department.”
Hagler disagrees with that characterization, saying, “I don’t think there is any person that has ever been fired (from the Department of Agriculture during my tenure) that has not gone through the Human Resources process and fully had an opportunity to vet their concerns.”
He says he isn’t sure where the claims of a “hostile work environment” come from, but he says there have been ongoing disagreements between the Meat Inspection Division and others within the Animal Health Division.
Hagler says Ewers’ statement that he told her “he does not ‘need’ meat inspection but that he needed the current State Veterinarian,” is a paraphrase of something said in a Human Resources meeting, which he says he can not address directly for fear of violating personnel issues.
Speaking in general terms, he says each one of the issues raised, “could have been addressed through the Human Resources process.”
AUDIO: Hagler responds in general terms to Ewers’ statement that he told her “he does not ‘need’ meat inspection but that he needed the current State Veterinarian.”
Hagler admits to saying to Ewers that by his interpretation her work fell under the description of an “Environmental Public Health Specialist V,” which Ewers says was a “direct insult to me,” and meant to “‘put me in my place’ in front of the State Veterinarian.”
He says he was trying to discern the difference between her position and that of the Environmental Public Health Specialist V, “but certainly by no way did I mean any offense at that.”
Hagler says of Ewers and her letter that the situation is unfortunate and he wishes her the best.
“I hate it for her and I hate it for the Department, and I had no intention of her leaving her job.”
Most recently Hagler has been accused of making threats against the executive vice president of the Missouri Cattlemen’s Association after the release of a magazine article critical of the Department.
Hagler says he had a good working relationship with Deering and when he saw that article, he took his concerns directly to Deering.
“I just felt like he didn’t deal with the situation honestly … so what I said was … ‘In Missouri, your handshake and your word and dealing with people honestly makes a big difference, and if you don’t do that in Missouri you’re liable to get your butt whooped.” Hagler says the statement was not meant to be taken literally, “Absolutely I shouldn’t have said it.”
Hagler says he later apologized to Deering and says it has been nine months since the two had agreed to “let bygones be bygones,” adding that the two have since collaborated on other issues and projects.
“We shook hands … and I haven’t heard a thing about it until this recent article came out.”
Asked whether he thinks the issue was raised now for political reasons, Hagler says, “Well this is Jeff City … certainly a political location and a political city. I wouldn’t put past anything to have politics raised in that situation. I can’t honestly say why it is.”
Hagler takes an exception with a claim by Cattlemen’s Association President Chuck Massengill that he left after 20 years at the Department of Agriculture in 2009 because of the environment created by Hagler.
Hagler tells Missourinet, “In 2009, as I recall, we had the worst budget crisis in Missouri history. Doctor Massengill was an employee of the Department but he was a retired employee … and we laid off all those retired employees. I don’t believe he left because of any … to my knowledge that’s the first I’ve ever heard of it … because of any difficulty whatsoever other than we laid off all retired employees that were still drawing a paycheck because we had to.”
Hagler believes Massengill has had a long-running dispute with the State Veterinarian, Hickam, but says he doesn’t know if that has anything to do with Massengill’s role in the Deering issue being raised now.
The House Government Oversight and Accountability Committee has been asked by House Speaker Tim Jones (R-Eureka) to dig into the issues raised regarding Hagler and the Department of Agriculture, as well as other issues alleged at the Department of Labor.
Hagler won’t rule out talking to the committee if he is called to. “I don’t think there’s anything to hide,” he says.
After more than 20 years in public service Hagler is looking forward to returning to private life. He says he has taken a job with a “private company,” and says he hopes to be done with politics.
He says he has received a great deal of support from individuals in the Department of Agriculture, including the Meat and Poultry Inspection Division, and from others he has worked with in the past. He offers texts and e-mails he has received as evidence of that.
“Those things kind of warm your heart. They’re certainly solace in an environment where you have to hear these other things.”
Hagler says the recent allegations and controversy are not representative of him, the Department or the Nixon Administration and calls them an unwanted and unfortunate distraction from what he calls the good work done in the last 5 years.
“This sort of political piling on right now is very uncomfortable … you never want your mom to have to see things like that and you don’t want to have to personally deal with it. On the other hand I wouldn’t trade it for all the five years’ worth of accomplishments.”
AUDIO: Mike Lear interviews former Missouri Agriculture Director Jon Hagler 37:17