Belle aldermen table discussion on misappropriation allegations, review city policies with marshal

By Roxie Murphy, Staff Writer
Posted 8/5/20

BELLE — During a nearly two-hour-long meeting on Thursday morning, Belle’s Board of Aldermen tabled the discussion regarding Marshal Joe Turnbough’s alleged use of city property for …

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Belle aldermen table discussion on misappropriation allegations, review city policies with marshal

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BELLE — During a nearly two-hour-long meeting on Thursday morning, Belle’s Board of Aldermen tabled the discussion regarding Marshal Joe Turnbough’s alleged use of city property for personal use and his wife’s request to ride along in his police car.

The board was scheduled to question Turnbough about former mayor Josh Seaver’s accusations during the June meeting regarding the marshal’s use of a city vehicle outside of city limits.

Seaver said Turnbough was using city police equipment for personal use and showed photos of the only Belle police car parked outside of Phelps Health in Rolla, where the marshal has taken on a full-time job.

“Josh brought up at the last meeting that you were using city property for personal use,” Alderman Tony Gieck began with Turnbough. “You never stood up and explained why. I’d like to hear your side.”

Turnbough said that a week or two after he had a county radio installed in his police vehicle by a company in Jefferson City, he was still having problems starting his police car. There was also a large hole in the ceiling where a special dome light should have been. A fellow security official at the Rolla hospital used to be a mechanic and offered to take a look at the police vehicle for free.

“He did some cosmetic work,” Turnbough clarified. “We got the starting issue fixed as well.”

Turnbough said that since the vehicle was last in the shop, a headlight has been installed, but one headlight was stuck in the upward position and the other was pointing down.

“I tried to explain it to Josh, but he wasn’t having it,” Turnbough told the board.

Mayor Steve Vogt said he and Turnbough had talked about the headlight issue a week ago and he told Turnbough to take the car back to the shop and have the problem fixed.

“Have you done that,” Vogt asked.

Turnbough said no. The shop manager was busy and backed up. Gieck said there are two other mechanic shops in town. The board tries to keep their repair business local. Turnbough said he would talk to the shop manager or take the car to another shop.

Seaver had also shown pictures taken from the police department’s security camera of Turnbough and his wife both entering Turnbough’s police car before a supposed patrol lap around the city.

“I called the insurance and anyone who wants to ride along has to sign a waiver,” Turnbough told the board.

Turnbough’s wife, Debbie Turnbough, said that they had a conversation with the insurance agent recorded if the board would like to listen to it. She also said she has signed a waiver.

“I know it was voted on (by the board),” Gieck said, referring to a board vote over two years ago where aldermen agreed they would not allow anyone but elected officials or city employees to be in city vehicles for a ride-along.

Turnbough said it may be a city policy, but he has a police department policy of his own.

“My policy says I can, and the city says I can’t. I don’t know if the city’s policy supersedes mine,” Turnbough said.

Alderman Courtney Abel told Turnbough the city’s policy does supersede his. Alderman Sundi Jo Graham asked Turnbough why the city’s policy wouldn’t supersede his.

“They got rid of your police policy and mirrored it to match the city’s,” City Clerk Frankie Hicks said.

Abel said the city’s policy is not comparable to the county’s policy.

Turnbough said if the ruling is in an ordinance instead of a policy, he would have to follow it.

“The city owns the cars,” Gieck argued. “We decide who rides and who don’t ride.”

Turnbough said the reason his wife rode with him during the instance that Seaver was referring to was because his car was still having issues starting. They drove to the police station at around 3 a.m., his wife followed, and she got in with him to take a lap around town.

Debbie Turnbough told the board that they know she is active in the community and does community service. She asked if they would consider having a policy that would allow her to ride along with her husband during special events or functions.

“What do you consider a special event,” Graham asked.

“You guys know I go to funerals with him, weddings, parades,” Debbie Turnbough said. “Seldom do I just ride along.”

“It’s just something to think about,” Turnbough told the board.

Graham asked if they could stay on one subject to resolve at a time.

“Is the time that Josh took the picture the only time you drove the car to work?” Graham asked.

Turnbough said no, he drove it to work maybe three times. He said he had his friend look at the car’s mechanical issues each time he drove it in.

“Do we have a set policy on who can work on it?” Graham asked.

Alderman Jeanette Struemph said no, it is at the board’s discretion, but they try to keep the business in town.

Graham asked the other board members about the policy to keep the cars in town.

“What is the current policy? That you can’t take cars to work?” Graham asked.

Gieck said the current policy is that the cars don’t leave the city limits except for police business. Graham asked Turnbough if he wanted to rebut the statement.

“I just wanted you to defend yourself at the meeting,” Gieck said to Turnbough. “You didn’t stand up and defend yourself.”

Abel returned to the discussion about having a rider in the police car.

“The city does not have the (insurance) policy to cover a ride-along,” Abel said.

Debbie Turnbough asked the board why they have such a problem with allowing her to ride alongs.

“You know I am active in the community,” she said. “Can you guys add something to the policy that his wife can ride along?”

Struemph said her primary concern is the city.

“Thousands of departments all over the United States let them have ride-alongs,” Debbie Turnbough said. “I’m asking for leniency for us to ride around town. Like for the Christmas give-away traffic stops. The little things that are important to the community.”

Struemph said she understands, but it is a no-win situation. Debbie Turnbough asked if the exception was just for Christmas activities and funerals, would the board make an exception to the policy?

“The only way that could possibly work is if the ride-along would have the form notarized and the policy would have to change,” Struemph said.

Struemph said they have never had this situation in the past.

“I am very political and I love our community,” Debbie Turnbough said. “I do as much as I can.”

Vogt said they would need the insurance to put in writing what they can do.

“It would be easier if you come to the council and ask for approval prior to the event,” Abel said.

Turnbough asked if he could go to Hicks or Vogt on special occasions to let them know something was going on. Special occasions again would be funerals, parades, and Christmas events.

“I understand why, but I think we should stick to the policy,” Gieck said. “I make a motion to leave it as it stands.”

Vogt asked Abel, who was attending via phone call if she heard the motion. Abel said she did but didn’t feel she could second the motion.

“Or we could table it until the next meeting,” Gieck said.

Struemph said she would like to get reaffirmation from the city’s insurance about what they would cover as far as a ride-along was concerned and contact the city’s attorney. Gieck’s motion died due to a lack of second and Struemph made a motion to table the discussion until the regular meeting. Gieck seconded the motion and it passed with a 4-0 vote.

Vogt said that since the last meeting, he and the marshal have passed out 20 nuisance letter violations to offenders in the city. Some were given to residents in person, some were mailed, and others were sent to the landlords because that is who owns the property. Half have complied, and the other half had until Aug. 1, which was Saturday.

Turnbough said he would rather work with Vogt on deciding if the properties needed to be cited.

“We are working on it,” Vogt said. “By no means do we have it all. We are starting with the worst first.”

Hicks said she wanted to point out that the city is following policy with the ordinance violations, but not with the police department.

“Either a policy is a policy and we need to follow that or it’s not worth the paper it’s written on,” Hicks said.

Struemph said if they stick by the policy for the nuisance letters and give people tickets, they won’t want to violate the ordinance again. Turnbough said they gave a letter to one lady who had difficulty walking. He saw her struggling to pick up her yard.

“If they can’t do it and they need help, they can come to city hall and we as a community can arrange help,” Struemph said.

Vogt agreed that if they come after they receive the letter to give the community a chance to help them, they will receive help. But if not and their time limit of 10 days expires, they will get a ticket.

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