Officials walk out of heated meeting

An emotional Belington Town Council meeting Thursday lasted nearly three hours, as tempers flared between the mayor and a councilman, and a local minister demanded the mayor step down. Later in the meeting, one frustrated councilman walked out of an executive session, saying he would tender his resignation from the board.

Richard L. Chambers, pastor of the Belington Church of the Nazarene, addressed council during the meeting’s public comment section and demanded that Mayor Jody Haller resign. Chambers filed a complaint with the town in April, questioning Haller’s legitimacy as mayor because he’d moved outside city limits.

“I ask for Jody Haller’s resignation,” Chambers said. “Has anything been done since I filed the complaint? Jody is still sitting here as mayor. This puts the city in a very bad place.”

Haller interrupted Chambers, saying everyone on council knew about his temporary living situation and there was no further action to take. Haller demanded that Chambers sit down because the situation had been taken care of.

Chambers continued to speak, and Haller and council members interjected, asking that he stop. After a moment in which multiple people were shouting at the same time, Chambers stormed from the meeting room and did not return.

Haller told The Inter-Mountain before the April 18 council meeting that he planned to move back to Belington as soon as possible.

Later in the meeting, Councilman Max Grove questioned Haller about some of his recent decisions. As the conversation progressed, the banter between the two escalated to shouting.

“My concern is we have these things and if we took our minutes from the last year and went back through them, we would find probably 50 issues that just get lost and are never addressed,” Grove said in a calm voice. “OK, we say we’re gonna do this next meeting or we are waiting on this or waiting on that, and the issues get lost, and the first thing you know, someone says well, why haven’t we done anything about that? And that’s why I made a list tonight.”

“That’s good, Max,” Haller responded. “I am glad you are addressing the issues in your ward. I need to check back on my notes, as all council members should do.”

Grove said he wanted to clarify who is authorized to drive police cruisers.

“There was a 5K run and following behind the runners in one of the cruisers is a reserve officer driving,” Grove said. “Under whose responsibility does this fall?

Haller said it is the city’s responsibility and asked police officer D.J. Harris to check to see who is responsible and get back to him and Grove.

Next Haller moved to an agenda item regarding police department issues.

“That is something that I think Max added to the agenda,” Haller said. “Max, did you cover this issue before?”

“No, not completely,” Grove added.

“OK, because I’m kind of blindsided here,” Haller said. “I don’t know anything about this.”

“On the 18th of April, City Council rejected the resignation of Chief of Police (Keith) Rowan,” Grove said. “Where does this leave the chief? Is he still employed? We have to resolve this.”

Haller replied that the chief resigned. Rowan submitted his resignation April 18, saying he couldn’t work under Haller any longer.

“Why did we not call a meeting?” Grove asked. “With him gone, we have a hole to fill. You (Councilman Marshall Reed) are the chairman of the police committee. Why didn’t you call a meeting?”

“We have to get applications first,” Reed answered. “We gotta fill the hole, yeah.”

“And that’s an issue, too,” said Haller. “As a committee, if we’re gonna have these committees, there again, we recommend the members of the police committee come over here on a regular basis and go through some of these applications.”

“Well, (I am) in this building several times a week,” Grove replied. “And up until I came in here this week, I did not know we had a part-time police officer. And neither did they.” Grove pointed to town office staff members Susie Bradley and Anita Thorne.

“Yes, they did,” Haller shouted.

“No, they didn’t,” Max yelled back. “I was here last Monday and (temporary police officer) Ricky Himes was working and I asked him. I was told there was no paperwork on him.”

Haller admitted he had hired Himes as a temporary employee working two days a week.

“You didn’t talk to the police committee,” Grove asked Haller.

“No, I didn’t,” Haller said. “I guess I’m wrong again. Every time I try to do something it seems it’s not right.”

Haller explained that Josh Himes was the only officer on duty last week, as Harris was off, so he asked Ricky Himes to help out.

Grove held up his cell phone and asked Haller if he had “one of these.”

“Yeah,” Haller answered.

“It’s called communication,” Grove said.

“Normally I preach communication, but right now I’m just trying to keep my head above water,” Haller said.

Another heated argument ensued about Zumba groups using the upstairs of City Hall for free. Grove said the groups charge for classes, so they should pay to use the facility.

“You say this is bringing people into our community, but who is paying the utilities?” Grove asked.

“The city,” Haller replied.

“Well maybe we should turn the Board of Parks and Recreation over to you and let you pay their $12,000 a year,” Grove said in a loud voice.

“We try to bring people into the community, but some people don’t want it,” Haller responded.

“No sir, it’s not the point,” Grove shouted.

“Yeah it is,” Haller yelled back.

“Well, Mayor, you can sweep that under the rug, but it is a conflict for this city to allow somebody to go upstairs and make a profit,” Grove said.

Later in the meeting, council voted to enter into executive session on a legal issue. Reed left shortly after the session, saying he was “through,” and that he would tender his resignation from Belington Town Council Friday.

Haller left at the same time as Reed, and did not return.

Minutes later, council emerged and a vote was taken to table the issue discussed during the executive session. Council then adjourned the meeting.