JEFFERSON CITY - The director of the Natural Resources Department has been suspended for two weeks without pay for providing false information to the governor.
Gov. Jay Nixon's action came just two days after he incorrectly told reporters that state beaches at the Lake of the Ozarks had been closed from May 18 to June 11 because of high pollution levels.
The beaches, however, had not been closed. And on Wednesday, Nixon charged that his Natural Resources Department director had given him the false information about the closing.
In a statement issued on a telephone conference call in which the governor refused to take any questions, Nixon said, "This means that the state park beach was open for Memorial Day weekend when (department) staff should have known and did know that unacceptable levels of bacteria were present in the water there." Nixon added later, "I'm angrier than words can describe."
Staff, including the department's suspended director Mark Templeton, met with reporters immediately after the governor's statement.
Also present was Jeff Mazur, the governor's aid that a former department official said had been told about the high pollution levels a day after the department got the report -- contradicting what Nixon's office had said since July. A Kansas City Star article reported last Thursday that Mazur knew about the report in May.
Mazur said he felt there wasn't enough information in his discussions with the department official to be able to draw a conclusion and so he did not inform the governor.
"My mistake is not asking more questions," Mazur said.
Nixon himself first heard about the levels at the lake in late June, Chief of Staff John Watson said.
Taking partial blame, Nixon's spokesman Jack Cardetti said, "We should have flushed it out more clearly."
Templeton acknowledged to reporters that he had given the governor false information based on what he, Templeton, had been told by his staff. Templeton said he had no reason to think anyone in the department presented him with the false information on purpose.
Faulty information from Templeton is the latest example of what Watson described as a unsatisfactory flow of information into the governor's office.
The governor said his office will take prompt action to punish all those involved in this "inexcusable" passing along of false information. Beside Templeton's suspension, the governor announced that acting-director Bill Bryan will begin an investigation into the department. Corrections Department Inspector General Chris Pickering and Insurance Department spokesman Travis Ford will aid Bryan in his investigation.
According to the Missouri Accountability Portal, Templeton has made $65,000 so far this year in his position of director. Templeton will lose over $3,000 during the course of a two-week unpaid suspension.
Templeton said he did not offer to resign.
"Accountability is appropriate," he said in reference to his suspension.
Last week Nixon announced an effort to begin clean-up of the lake. Watson described this effort as "mission critical" in restoring confidence in the Department of National Resources.