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Judge orders halt to impeachment, restores Fair Grove mayor to office

Four of the five aldermen voted to impeach Mayor Tim Smith on May 28 but wouldn't tell him why.

June 10, 2013|by Gene Hartley | ghartley@schurz.com

FAIR GROVE, Mo. -- The mayor sued four members of the Board of Aldermen on Monday to try to prevent his removal from office by impeachment.  Later in the day, a Greene County judge ordered a halt to the impeachment proceedings, at least temporarily, and said Mayor Tim Smith could resume performing duties of his office.

Smith believes the four aldermen who voted to impeach him last month held a secret meeting before the vote, have met in secret since then, and made up their mind to remove him from office without going through the proper legal steps.  Smith says the aldermen didn’t present him with a specific list of charges until just recently, preventing him from defending himself.

Four of the five aldermen voted to impeach Smith but wouldn’t tell him why.  The aldermen also wouldn’t talk to reporters about the reasons for their vote. 

The four aldermen who voted to impeach Smith are Ray Cook, Sherry Veach, Gary Brannaman and Carla Stafford.  The lawsuit names them as well as the City of Fair Grove as defendants.   The alderman who voted against impeachment, Board President Dennis Frame, is not a defendant.

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Frame said he was as surprised as Smith when Cook made a motion to impeach Smith and Veach seconded it on May 28.  The item was not on the meeting’s agenda.  The minutes of the meeting show Smith asked what the grounds were for impeachment and was told they would be given to him at a future meeting.

The alderman scheduled a trial on the impeachment charges for their next meeting on Tuesday evening.  In their notice to Smith last week, they listed five reasons that they think he should be removed from office:

  • State law and city ordinances were violated by allowing a former alderman to serve on the board even though he wasn’t eligible to hold the seat;
  • Smith met on May 2 with a city employee and the city clerk “without a quorum of the Board of Alderman present,” violating a city ordinance;
  • At the meeting on May 2, Smith “rejected the single bidder letter produced by the City Employee as instructed by the consensus of the Board of Alderman,” violating state law and city ordinances;
  • On May 8, Smith “called a City Employee to inform the Employee that the Mayor was going to be the Employee’s supervisor,” violating a state law and a city ordinance; and
  • On May 14, Smith said “he wanted to take a more active role in running the day-to-day operation of the city as a Superintendent,” and wanted to hold regular meetings with city department heads, even though the Board of Alderman hadn’t authorized him to hold those meetings, violating a city ordinance.

Smith’s lawsuit seeks to have a judge nullify the aldermen’s vote to impeach him, and to prevent the aldermen from holding a hearing at which they could convict him of the charges in the bill of impeachment and remove him from office.

Richard Ashe, an attorney for Smith, says the Board of Aldermen should have voted to draft articles of impeachment (the charges), voted on the charges after they were drafted, and then held a trial on the charges.  The board would have handled all aspects of the impeachment, unlike a federal impeachment of an officeholder, at which the House of Representatives votes on charges and the Senate holds a trial on the charges.

Ashe believes the aldermen are trying to correct their mistakes in the impeachment process but thinks a judge should tell them it's too late.

“The Board . . . should not be allowed to create the illusion of due process by trying to comply with” city ordinances and state law “after the fact,” the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit asks for “temporary, preliminary and permanent injunction” against the aldermen to prevent them from going forward with this impeachment and from “otherwise engaging in efforts to re-impeach Mayor Smith.”

At a hearing on Monday afternoon, Greene County Circuit Judge Michael Cordonnier granted Smith "temporary relief," which means the trial on the charges scheduled for Tuesday won't happen.  The judge also said Smith can resume his duties as mayor.

Cordonnier also ordered Smith's attorneys to draft a proposed Temporary Restraining Order for the judge to review and approve, possibly after another hearing, and for the attorneys for both sides to schedule "a hearing on Preliminary Injunction or trial on all issues."

The attorneys for the aldermen and the city have not released a response to the lawsuit.
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