Deep Conflict in Holts Summit
With a growing population and a rapidly aging sewage plant, the city is trying to come up with a long-term plan to replace the current solution. But a conflict between the city aldermen came clear during an on-camera interview between KOMU's Megan Murphy and Alderman and Mayor Pro-Tem Mary Ann Durham.
Murphy had tried to interview Alderman Pam Murray. Durham threatened to slap Murray and proceeded to interfere with the interview. Murphy and Murray ended up leaving the area to complete the interview elsewhere. (To watch the full exchange, click on the KOMU.com extra link.)
Alderman Murray eventually spoke with KOMU from her home. She thinks focusing on the city with more calm would help.
"I would just like to say unfortunately I think things have been very divisive as of late. I would just like to focus on the issues. And, I think if we could all just take a deep breath and focus on the issues we could really get the business of the people done," Murray said.
The exchange between Murray and Durham led the Holts Summit Mayor, Richard Parks, to leave three voice mail messages on KOMU's Megan Murphy's cell phone. Each message was similar. In one he said: "Just wanted to let you know that Pam Murray does not represent the city of Holts Summit. I'm the Mayor; I represent the city, so any stories that you guys... or any contact that you need, needs to go through the Mayor. Okay? Pam Murray is just an alderman; she's not the person that was elected or even approved to be the contact for Holts Summit. So, any story that you're doing should come through our office first."
In a later phone conversation, Parks declined to be interviewed until he received approval from the board of alderman. But even without an interview, it's clear Parks, along with Alderman Jim Ringland and Alderman and Mayor Pro-Tem Durham, stand against Pam Murray.
That divide is even more clear after Ringland gave an incorrect criminal profile to Holts Summit Police Chief Victor Pitman in March. It shows a criminal report about a woman named Pamela Murray, but with a different birth date than from the Holts Summit Alderman's. In a memorandum, Chief Pitman wrote that Ringland gave him the criminal record print out and wrote: "Mr. Ringland then made the statement to me 'if you are going to war, you need to know your enemy.'"
Ringland also filed a complaint with the Missouri Ethics Commission against Murray. The commission did not accept the complaint.
Murray says the ongoing incidents are difficult.
"It's been devastating," she said. "I take great pride in obeying the law, and trying to do the right thing, and trying to better my community, and to be tainted by these false allegations - it really is devastating."
Murray is now suing Ringland for defamation of character and slander for spreading a false criminal record and wrongly accusing her of election fraud and tampering. Ringland declined an interview. In a closed session, the board voted to pay Ringland's legal fees for the lawsuit.
In June, Mayor Parks and Aldermen Ringland and Durham voted to remove Murray as mayor pro-tem. Ward 1 Alderman James Washington, who typically votes with Murray, questions all of this activity.
"What rule did she violate?" Washington asked. "And if she did violate a rule, produce the evidence. They were just failing in their responsibilities, and they had to cover it up by having her removed."
In a phone conversation, Alderman Mary Ann Durham told KOMU Murray wants to bring down the city, run for mayor and then get the credit for saving the city. Murray says that is not the case.
"Even though I have been asked by multiple people in this city to run for mayor, I have no intention to run for Mayor," Murray said.
Since Parks wouldn't consent to an interview, KOMU's Megan Murphy went to Holts Summit's last alderman meeting to speak to him. She spoke up during the public comment period of the meeting to see if Parks would grant her an interview.
Megan Murphy: "I just wanted to ask you if you'd like to comment on the fact that you said an elected official could not represent the people of Holts Summit."
Richard Parks: "No, that's not what I said."
MM: "Yes you did. I actually have the voicemails if you'd like to listen to them."
RP: "What I said was I would like to get the approval of the Board before I decided to give you an interview. You don't remember that. That should be in your voicemail as well."
MM: "It is. That's what I'm asking you if you'd like to get the board's approval."
RP: "That's what I'm doing. I'm not commenting on anything unless I get their approval."
Pam Murray: "You have my approval."
James Washington: "Mine too."
To see the full exchange during the alderman meeting, click on the KOMU.com extra.
After some discussion, the mayor chose once again not to be interviewed. He said he wants to portray his city in a better light. He issued a statement along with Durham and Ringland. You can find a link to that statement in the KOMU.com Story Toolbox. You will also find a link to view a transcript of all of Park's phone messages.