Oran council votes to keep police chief during residents' vigil

Wednesday, August 9, 2006

ORAN, Mo. -- About 75 residents of Oran met for a candlelight vigil and community meeting in front of city hall at dusk Tuesday. Those involved said the aim of the meeting was to heal a community divided over the town's chief of police, Marc Tragesser.

Many believe the chief's law enforcement has been overly strict, and others have leveled charges of favoritism.

"Our desire is to function like any other small community. When laws are broken, the abuser must pay the consequences," said organizer Jeryl Slinkard, who choked back tears during his address. "Too often the punishment given or forgiven has been based on who you are."

Attempts to reach both Tragesser and Oran Mayor Tom Urhahn were unsuccessful.

After the speech and the singing of songs came what for many was a shocking announcement. "City council just voted four to four on whether the chief of police stays or goes. The mayor cast the tie-breaking vote and ... he's still here," Slinkard said.

This information was later confirmed by someone who attended the meeting but preferred to remain anonymous. The issue was not listed on the agenda.

After the announcement, the tenor of the vigil changed. Audible groans came from the crowd, and the upbeat sentiment was largely replaced by bitterness.

"They aren't going to change their ways after this. They're just that blind," said Carl Mason, who said he was pessimistic that a show of town solidarity could influence leaders.

Others said there is a divide between the town leadership and the merchants of Oran. "The council and the mayor will not do business in our town. They have not bought gasoline in this town since January," Buster Bollinger said.

Others believe since police chief Howard Stevens retired last year, Tragesser's policing has been overzealous.

For his part, Slinkard hoped to stem the flow of ill will. "We just want to get this town back together. Things have just kept getting worse, and this is about solidarity," he said.

tgreaney@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 245

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