DESLOGE — A contentious public comment session provided a few tense moments at Monday night’s regular monthly meeting of the Desloge Board of Aldermen.
Former city employee and alderman candidate James Rawson appeared before the board to complain about the recent temporary closure of a road next to the C-Barn convenience store for a Saturday event held to raise funds for the Desloge Police Department’s K-9 unit.
Things started off on a sour note even before the meeting began when Rawson loudly and adamantly refused to shake City Administrator Greg Camp’s hand and accused Alderman Jim “Yogi” Jones of having parked illegally on the city hall parking lot. This prompted Jones to explain to Rawson that he didn’t walk very well — especially in the rain — and often had to use a cane. Rawson responded that he was also physically disabled. An angry Jones suggested that when police Chief James (Jebo) Bullock arrived at the meeting that Rawson might try to have him arrested.
After officially introducing himself during public comments, Rawson told board members he considered the street closure to be inconsistent with the city’s recent federal courtroom battles with a local Klu Klux Klan group. The municipality had contended that an ordinance banning the disbursement of literature on city streets was enacted due to a concern for public safety and not an attempt to infringe upon anyone’s right to free speech. Twice the federal court ruled in favor of the KKK.
“On Saturday, May 31, they blocked the road up here at the C-Barn,” said Rawson. “It was early in the morning. They had the road blocked and a cop car parked across the front of it. For a morning’s routine I take a drive through town because I don’t get to do too much of nothing. I can see things. This right here was a big issue. I’ve seen other things in town. Little minor things are fine and dandy. It’s just that you’ve spent thousands of dollars on this lawsuit going on about passing out pamphlets at intersections — how it’s dangerous. Your policies say no one in the street. No one should solicit in the street.
“I went to the police department Saturday morning. On my way there I saw a city employee carrying tables out of here [city hall]. I went on down to the police department and when I pulled in three police officers come out before I got to the door. I asked them what was going on down there. I said, ‘Don’t you understand that we just spent thousands of dollars defending ourselves saying we didn’t want people in the street? That we didn’t want this soliciting going on?’ Whether it’s the KKK or not, I don’t care. I know they’re talking about the First Amendment right. That’s what mattered to me, OK?
“I’m not sure who I was talking to,” Rawson continued. “The officer said ‘Jebo had passed everything. Jebo had gotten the OK.’ I said, ‘Let me see some permits. Let me see what is going on.’ Either you do it or you don’t. The city was soliciting in the road. Taking contributions. Having a barbecue up there. Had a fire truck parked up there. There was a radio playing. I don’t know if there was any alcohol or not. I went down there [C-Barn] and I asked, ‘What if I want to make a donation? What bank do I go to?’ They told me I had to give them the cash money there. My wife and I give a whole lot of money to things and we try to shop in Desloge when we can. I don’t know if what they were doing was legal or not on the street.”
Rawson then accused his alderman — Ward III’s Jerry Hulsey — of not returning repeated phone messages he’d left him regarding the matter. Hulsey responded that he had never received any phone calls. When Rawson again brought up about Jones parking illegally, the alderman angrily responded, “Just shut up about it. That’s the bottom line, Jim.”
Rawson finished his complaint by accusing an unknown officer on that same Saturday of “throwing off his hat and coming at [him],” threatening to arrest him if he didn’t leave the parking lot. When he later said his accusation wouldn’t be followed up on by the city, Mayor David Kater told him to make an official complaint and it would be looked into. Rawson replied that he wouldn’t bother.
In response to Rawson’s comments, Alderman Chris Gremminger replied, “One thing — the city didn’t sponsor that event. The city wasn’t doing anything. C-Barn sponsored that event. Secondly, the ordinance you’re referring to has been suspended by a court. We can’t enforce an ordinance right now because the court says you can’t enforce it. So, you’re telling us we need to enforce an ordinance we cannot enforce because the courts have told us, ‘Don’t. You cannot enforce that.’ OK?
“So there’s two things right off the bat,” he continued. “One, you’re wrong. We didn’t sponsor the event. Two, you’re wrong. We can’t enforce an ordinance that we basically don’t have because it’s been suspended by the courts. Did our police department or maybe Greg or David give them permission to close off a section of the street to do that event? Sure they did. Guess what? They’ve also done it for estate auctions all over town, for garage sales all over town. It’s absolutely permissible under city ordinance. You want to talk about ‘Yogi’ parking illegally out here on the parking lot? It’s private property. We couldn’t enforce that if we wanted to.”
In other business, an ordinance was approved authorizing the city administrator to execute an agreement for preliminary engineering services with Union Pacific Railroad Co. The city plans to install a new at-grade crossing at Walnut Street, eliminating vehicle crossings at Cedar and Chestnut streets and ending pedestrian access at Chestnut as well. The estimated cost of the preliminary engineering and other preliminary costs will total $7,500.
A second ordinance passed by the board covers details regarding the payment of fees and bills owed the city and the discontinuance of city services for non-payment.
The third ordinance passed at the meeting set a daily permit fee of $5 and weekly permit fee of $20 for peddlers to operate within the city limits.
A business license application was approved for Fireworks City to sell fireworks at 404 State St.
The board approved a $4,512 bid from Koppeis Heating and Cooling to replace the air-conditioning unit at the city-owned Desloge Chamber of Commerce property located at 200 N. Lincoln.
A $3,300 bid from Burch Fencing was approved for the purchase and installation of a 6-foot wooden privacy fence at 2968 Cedar Falls Road. The city had negotiated a right of way acquisition with the landowner around five years ago, promising to replace a 175-foot privacy fence demolished and removed on the eastern side of the property. With the completion of both the Eastern Outer Road Project and installation of a water line, Camp said it was time for the city to make good on its promise.
“The city wasn’t doing anything. C-Barn sponsored that event.” — Alderman Chris Gremminger
Kevin Jenkins is a reporter for the Daily Journal and can be reached at 573-518-3614 or firstname.lastname@example.org