Public discussion leading up to Belle aldermen passing police services contract

By Roxie Murphy, Staff Writer
Posted 1/22/20

BELLE — Public discussion leading up to Belle Mayor Josh Seaver breaking a tie vote Jan. 14 to outsource police services to Maries County was heavily against the measure.

Nearly 65 citizens …

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Public discussion leading up to Belle aldermen passing police services contract

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BELLE — Public discussion leading up to Belle Mayor Josh Seaver breaking a tie vote Jan. 14 to outsource police services to Maries County was heavily against the measure.

Nearly 65 citizens gathered at the Belle-Bland Community Center during the regular monthly meeting. Many to asked the board not to vote “no” on the measure that would have Maries County absorb to city’s two officers and retain the marshal as a nuisance enforcer and work cases with Maries County Belle Division officers.

During the discussion, Daryl White Sr. was the first to address the board.

“You have to take the name off of the marshal and respect the position,” White said.

White said they need to be doing more, and if the marshal is not doing his job, he needs to have write-ups and citizen’s complaints need to be recorded.

“I think the public is getting penalized for the tension between the board and the marshal,” White said.

“(Alderman Tony Gieck) told me at the last meeting that the people vote ya in and the people can vote ya out,” White said. “Whenever we elected the board members here to serve the community of Belle, we assumed that it would be the same policy we would pass off to the marshal. That’s no different than anyone of you council members. He deserves the respect of the vote.”

White said he has been to three different meetings and the majority of the people attending have been against outsourcing the department. He added that the board has ran the proposition on the ballot previously (in 2014) to appoint the marshal’s position and citizens have voted it down.

“They said no, we want to elect the marshal,” White said. “So why can’t you have put it on the ballot again. What’s so important that it couldn’t have waited until April and ask to transfer the marshal’s department to Vienna because it might financially be in our best interest?”

White said the board had an agreement from the county if they decided to let the sheriff’s department take over the marshal’s department, it would have been nice if the public had some input on it before they made their agreements on what they were going to get.

“Now I’m going to go into the finance part of it,” White said. “There is two things that bring in the revenue on a fine: you have to fine somebody to get the revenue, either the citizens of Belle or the citizens that come through from another town. So what happens is you turn off the people in town and everybody out of town says ‘I’m not spending my money.’”

At a previous meeting, White said he heard that Maries County could bring the city about $80,000 in fine revenue annually.

“It’s a lot of fines and a lot of chaos for a man trying to make a living in town,” White said. “You get people where they don’t want to do business with you. I think the truth about it is this hatred or resentment toward the city marshal in Belle is not just from the council sitting here tonight. This is forthcoming from the one that came before. We have had mayors and council members — and I have sat in those meetings and watched things that should have never happened whether you like a marshal or don’t like a marshal, you shouldn’t ever belittle anybody in the position of election.”

White said he has heard the board argue about t-shirts for officers at the fair. He added that the board hasn’t been working to keep the police department’s equipment updated.

“I’ve heard the board say ‘in two years we are probably going to bring this back,’” he said. “And then we will have another person who says ‘we can’t do that because this marshal might get re-elected again.’ If this marshal did get re-elected again, it’s by the will of the people.”

He finished by saying The Advocate asked him if he had any questions about the situation for the Maries County Sheriff’s Department in a previous edition, and he has one.

“If our tax money is going to leave the town, who is going to own the new cars (purchased for the city of Belle) after services go to Maries County?” White asked.

The Advocate asked Chris Heitman, Maries County Sheriff, this question in a video interview at the beginning of January, and he said his department would own the equipment purchased from the contract funds.

“I think the council has a chance tonight to do what’s right for the citizens of Belle, and I have asked you to do that,” White finished.

Vince Halbert told the board he lives out-of-town, but has a business in town and has to rely on in-town voters and aldermen to make good decisions. He doesn’t believe this is  the right decision.

“You guys are trying to take the vote away from the people, which is not right — that’s not a democracy,” he said. “If it gets to that point, are you going to make it where someone can take your positions as well? Who can be trusted that way?”

He felt getting rid of Marshal Joe Turnbough looks bad, even though the marshal’s office and Turnbough would continue on as usual. It is the police department that would be administered by the sheriff.

“You don’t trust the people in the town that you guys are ruling,” Halbert said.

Belinda Branson spoke briefly, for the third month in a row, about the situation with her neighbors and their lack of upkeep on their property.

“I have spoken about this situation, and really don’t feel in the turn of seasons that anything has been accomplished,” Branson said. “The property catty corner from me — we have a nuisance ordinance in place and it’s not being followed through.”

Branson has complained about high grass, weeds, furniture sitting outside and unsightly trash in the past, as well as yard waste. She wanted to know why the city or police have not followed through with the ordinances.

“That would be a question for the police department,” Seaver said. “Why are we not prosecuting?”

Branson said she is under the impression that the board thinks they are over the police department because they want to replace the marshal. Citizens applauded and laughed at the comment.

“Josh, I don’t mean to be rude, but that is what I am getting. I go to you, and you say it is the police department. I go to Joe, and last week he told me to go to Brian (Brennan, Belle patrolman). I went to Brian, and he’s told me to go to Joe. I went to everybody and I am not getting anywhere and you have it. There’s to be fines for it and the city should get revenue off of it.”

Gieck said the marshal has to write the summons before there can be a fine. Turnbough stood up and said these particular citizens have been issued a summons two weeks ago and should be appearing at the city’s next municipal court.

“That summons is for the pitbull being loose in the neighborhood and attacking another dog,” Branson argued.

Gieck asked Turnbough if the people were issued a summons for the grass, weeds and trash.

“I don’t think they have been given summonses for the grass or leaves,” Turnbough said.

Gieck said if the police department wrote a summons on the dog, it should have been surrendered to the police department until further notice.

Guy MacClugage told the board if they outsourced the Belle Police Department to Maries County, they would be hard pressed to get it back.

“There are plenty of fines around town, as far as people speeding, the way the houses are kept. There are people living next to me with no electric no water,” MacClugage said. “You don’t need to go to court to get these people out, it’s against the city ordinance fire code.”

He said the marshal and fire inspector need to go there to remove the people.

“What this is — excuses — and it’s not working together to accomplish it,” he said. “To have a town without a police department, you might as well say you don’t have a town anymore. Then to rebuild it once you let it go — it’s gonna be that much more expensive to replace everything.”

MacClugage said there are ways they could sit down and come up with something to help.

“Like the Neighborhood Watch, that was a good idea,” he said. “We should be helping each other.”

He pointed out that White had mentioned the issues that occured between Turnbough and the previous board and mayors.

“Obviously it’s not the mayors’ fault,” MacClugage said. “People in the city of Belle has put faith in you people to make decisions for them. You can’t do this to people. It’s not right.”

MacClugage told the board they have to work together and to do that, they need to get rid of the bitterness.

Dave Tackett said he agreed with a lot of what has been said. Most people want their drains to work and trash to be picked up, and having their police department.

“What we don’t like to do is support,” he said. “We are in a unique position to have a very high voter turnout in November and you could tie in a police department funding situation that would take care of this for a while.”

Gieck said the last time a tax has passed in the town was in 1996.

“We want it, but we are not supporting you guys to be able to do it,” Tackett said.

He said the town has a lot of revenue issues that could be resolved by adding the tax base to the November ballot — tying a tax to a budget increase for the police department.

“Now you have a fully funded police force that can do its job without writing a ticket, without doing a lot of things that our public doesn’t want,” Tackett said. “I know we’ve got places to spend it.”

Tackett told the board if people decide to pay the tax, everyone wins. If they don’t, the board could reconsider the option before them.

Kayla Bray followed, saying she is new coming to the meetings.

“I’ve heard a lot about revenue, and from what I have heard, the council expects the police department to fund this revenue problem that we are having,” she said. “What are you guys doing to help our police department and the town besides relying on the police department’s revenue and fines?”

The board was quiet for a moment, before Gieck asked for clarification.

“The police department cannot fund your city, so?” Bray said.

Gieck said he has never asked the police department to fund the city in the 16 years that he has been on the board. He said he has never asked Turnbough to write $80,000 worth of tickets.

“That’s not what I said,” Bray said, talking over Gieck. “I said what are you guys doing to help the situation. I don’t want to hear about 16 years ago.”

Gieck said twelve percent of the real estate tax from the city of Belle goes to fund the police department out of the general fund.

“All we ask is to recoup some of that money back through ticket (revenue), and there is no tickets being wrote. I have eighteen months worth of backlogs right here and there are very few tickets being written,” Gieck said.

Bray said it didn’t answer her question. She wanted to know what the board was doing to help the city bring in revenue.

“The police department can’t do it all, it has to come from other departments too,” she said.

Gieck said there is not a lot the board can do.

“We belong to Gasconade Valley Enterprise Zone, which is a group of small towns that solicit companies to bring businesses into small towns,” Gieck said. “From the get-go I thought that was a joke because there were only two people from Linn soliciting businesses, and Owensville, Belle, Chamois, Linn, Cuba, Salem, Vienna, and a couple more in there for a $700 membership.”

He said he believed the people involved were only soliciting for the town they were from. He added that the city is a member of Meramec Regional Planning Commission, who is supposed to try and bring businesses to town.

“St. James has a foundation that builds buildings for companies and leases it to them to bring business to their towns. We don’t have that,” Gieck said. “My question is, does anyone have any ideas how to bring business into town?”

Bray said they have to clean the town up.

“(Branson) talking about the drainage system, that’s not our police department,” Bray said. “I don’t know if that is the landowner or city, but regardless of whoever it is, it’s not something our police can fix.”

Struemph said it is the landowners responsibility to clean up, but it is the police department’s responsibility to follow through and make sure it is done. Stanfield said he got on the board so that if he ever had the opportunity to encourage a business to come to Belle, he would.

She said she wasn’t there to start an argument, even though Gieck started off with one, because he wasn’t answering her question.

“You asked how we fund the police department,” Gieck said.

“I asked how you were doing the revenue in town besides just relying on the police department,” Bray countered.

Gieck said he must not have understood the original question.

Struemph said she felt that they could work more closely with the police department.

“Our communication has come to nilch and even though we might have ideas, we need to work on these ideas instead of being separated,” she said. “It’s working together.”

Bray said she doesn’t know many on the board personally and doesn’t have bad feelings against the board, but wanted to clear things in her mind about where the board is coming from.

“To me, the last couple of weeks I’ve been at it, looked like it was directed towards the police department to bring everything into this town. That’s how I understood it,” Bray said.

Bray has since declared her intentions to run for mayor.

Sundi Jo Graham, who has declared her intention to run against Stanfield for Ward I Alderman, told the board they needed to come together.

“I don’t want to see Belle lose its police department or see it go to Maries County,” Graham said.

She said a prayer over the “mayor, marshal, city council, police force, school board, and all community volunteers striving to make the community better.”

“I ask you to bless those who are upright and shut the mouths of those who tear our community apart with their words and actions,” Graham began.

She went on to ask for peace and prosperity.

Terry Connors, owner of the Connors Country Lodge, formerly the Belle Motel, recently declared for alderman against Stanfield, and on Jan. 15, withdrew his paperwork and resubmitted it for mayor.

“These people deserve to see you out here looking at them,” Connors said. “I am here because there was a committee formed on Dec. 4 of last year called the Committee of Citizens for a Better Community in Belle. They have asked me to speak for them and I am going to do my best.”

Connors said he is concerned about the marshal’s office and the city as a whole.

“We the people deserve better than what we are getting,” Connors said. “I am not putting any of you down, we are here to help you. I am not going to sit here and cut anyone down intentionally.”

Connors spoke at the Dec. 4 Town Hall meeting last month when the board first brought up the idea of outsourcing police services to Maries County Sheriff’s Department. At that meeting, he told attendees they were lucky to have a board that admitted they were too stupid to balance the budget.

“I am not here to cut anybody down intentionally, although you may feel that way,” Connors said. “I am not going to land blast somebody without making proposals for considerations to increase our revenue here.”

He said he knows revenue and sales taxes are down, but told the board not to put figures on the budget that don’t exist.

“This is what I feel what’s going on, and I feel without intentions of any particular person, there is deception all around,” Connors said. “That really aggravates me.”

He mentioned voters rejected the idea of an appointed chief of police in 2014 when Proposition 1 failed.

Connors proposed that the city expand city limits to connect with Bland up and then up to Highway 42 to help increase revenue. He argued that Belle already pays for Maries County to patrol the town, as well as Osage County Sheriff’s Department, and the Missouri State Highway Patrol Troops. He added that Gasconade County Sheriff’s Department were just down the road.

“I think there is a way this town council can really strive to make it better for everybody,” Connors said.

Chris Gehlert told the board that if they do vote on the measure, he felt it was a conflict of interest.

“Seeing as how Tony (Gieck) contacted the sheriff’s department without going through the council first, and Ms. Abel was running against the marshal (when he first won the election in 2014),” Gehlert said.

Sam Jones was called to the podium, but he gave his time to Daryl White Sr.

“I think if you did want to fund the police department with a half-cent tax to put it on a sales tax and not a real estate tax so the outside people are helping pay it too,” White said.

Fred Bethman Jr. was the last to speak officially.

“I know what the feeling is of the majority of the people in the room and that is why you are here,” Bethman said. “That’s a shame. For the last few months or so, all of you that have shown up at the town meetings. Where have you been the last six years? I am here in defense of the board and the mayor. This deal with the police department’s budget has been going on as long as Marshal Turnbough has been in office.”

Bethman said the ordeal has not been publicized in the paper, but Struemph brought up that the city can’t tolerate going $40,000 or $50,000 in the red every year.

“If you are a bunch of liberals to think it is ok to spend money you don’t have, I guess that is the way it ought to be,” Bethman said. “But in Joe’s defense, he showed me a copy of his budget and it needs to be revised, updated. It needs something. More revenue.”

He mentioned Abel’s reference Dec. 4 that the tickets aren’t all about revenue, but to prove to people they can’t commit crime in this town and get away with it.

“Why do we write tickets for speeding? Because it is a safety hazard and it is a down on Joe that it is not being handled or taken care of,” Bethman said. “It is blatantly obvious.”

Bethman said he doesn’t go to the meetings all the time, but the budget has been brought up several times over the years, and he understands Turnbough’s budget needs to be up-to-date.

“I can live with it either way as long as we have police protection,” Bethman said. “If it improves, I would be very happy. But is it going to improve? Personally I think it probably would.”

Marshal Turnbough declined to speak.

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