Missouri House Speaker Dean Plocher fires chief of staff

Missouri House Speaker Dean Plocher, R-Des Peres, talks to the media on March 9, 2023. (Tim Bommel/Missouri House Communications photo)

Missouri House Speaker Dean Plocher fired his chief of staff Tuesday — just weeks after the Republican lawmaker was accused by nonpartisan legislative employees of unlawful conduct.

In a letter to legislators, Plocher announced the chief of staff position in his office is vacant effective immediately. Up until Tuesday, that job had been held by Kenny Ross, who has served as chief of staff to the last three Republican speakers — Todd Richardson, Elijah Haahr and Rob Vescovo.

There was no reason given for Ross leaving his position. A spokesman for the speaker’s office said he did not anticipate being able to provide clarity on the situation. Ross declined to comment.

But the vacancy comes in the wake of allegations by the chief clerk of the House of potentially illegal and unethical conduct by Plocher in his unsuccessful push for the chamber to spend nearly $800,000 to hire a private company to manage constituent information.

The accusations were uncovered in emails obtained by the Missouri Independent through Missouri’s Sunshine Law.

Dana Miller, chief clerk of the House since 2018 and a legislative staff member since 2001, wrote to colleagues that Plocher directly connected his push for the contract to campaign activity and threatened her employment over her opposition.

Ross was never mentioned in the emails.

Miller wrote that Plocher made statements to her “connecting this contract with campaign activity” — suggesting the speaker’s motivation was his 2024 campaign for lieutenant governor — and expressed she had “growing concerns of unethical and perhaps unlawful conduct.”

Another staffer also complained the pressure for the contract was “insanely inappropriate” and would lead to more bad behavior if Plocher got his way.

The allegations have drawn attention from federal law enforcement, with the FBI attending the legislative hearing where the contract was debated last month.

Plocher has not publicly addressed the accusations, though he denied them in a written statement to the Independent, saying: “No one has asked, received, nor will receive, any special treatment in regard to software contracts or any contracts while I am speaker.”

The Missouri Independent, www.missouriindependent.com, is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization covering state government and its impact on Missourians.