Shouting erupts at Thebes meeting

Friday, December 8, 2006

THEBES, Ill. -- For several hours Thursday evening, residents of this small town on a bluff over the Mississippi River battled over who was responsible for their problems.

At one point, the meeting of the Thebes Board of Trustees dissolved into a shouting match that seemed ready to explode into violence. After several minutes and an admonition to "take it outside," Acting Mayor John Kennedy was able to restore order.

The turmoil resumed even after an Alexander County deputy sheriff arrived to keep the peace. Long-simmering resentments over perceived slights and a split between members of a large family over whether fair dealings are possible in town business were constantly on display.

New resentments were added to the mix. Board member Mike Dodson questioned town Clerk Patti Hale-Osorio closely about her comments in a Southeast Missourian article printed Monday, then tried to persuade the other board members to help force her out.

"I am making a motion to release Patti of her duties," Dodson said.

Hale-Osorio told Dodson the board doesn't have that power. Hale-Osorio sits in an elected position but was appointed on the resignation of the previous clerk.

"You are here until the April election, and so am I," she said.

As an alternative, Dodson said he would investigate whether state law allows the board to fire her.

The meeting opened with an announcement of the resignation of Mayor Bill McHughs because of health reasons. McHughs is the second mayor to resign this year. Former mayor Scott Bomar resigned in July after two years in office. During Bomar's tenure, the town weathered financial crises that included an IRS freeze on town accounts because of unpaid payroll taxes and a threatened gas shut-off because of unpaid utitlity bills.

McHughs did not attend the meeting. Also missing because of health reasons were board members Tina Sissom and her husband, J.B. Sissom.

That left Kennedy, Dodson, John Monahan and Gladys Petzoldt, who tried to continue the meeting despite the disruptions and questions about whether they had legal authority to conduct business in the absence of at least one other board member.

Kennedy noted that during Bomar's tenure, a similar number of board members had gone ahead with their work. "We were told it was illegal then and went on," he said.

Dodson, who is an appointed member filling out a term, expressed frustration with the bickering. "It seems like every time the board wants to do something, somebody wants to stop us from doing anything."

One audience member, Bill Caldwell, said the board needs to stop fighting, take action and move on.

"Can you say for the past year that everything is working together?" he asked. "You need to take that big step forward, but you are afraid to step in the mud."

rkeller@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 126

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