Belle marshal declares intention to resign by Friday

By Roxie Murphy, Staff Writer
Posted 4/14/21

Belle Marshal Joe Turnbough returned to the board of aldermen meeting Tuesday night at 10:10 p.m., addressed the board and announced his intention to resign his post via letter on Friday.

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Belle marshal declares intention to resign by Friday

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Belle Marshal Joe Turnbough returned to the board of aldermen meeting Tuesday night at 10:10 p.m., addressed the board and announced his intention to resign his post via letter on Friday.

The marshal presented his department head report to the board around 8:50 p.m., responding to Aldermen Sundi Jo Graham that he used his fuel card two or three times in the past three months since it has been in his possession.

Alderman Courtney Abel asked the marshal to speak with two families near her street about their children riding go-carts too fast on the city streets without protective gear and at night without headlights.

“Someone is going to die,” Abel said. “They tell everyone that 'Marshal Turnbough said it is ok.'”

Turnbough denied ever telling anyone it was ok for minor children to ride their go-carts on the city streets. He said he would speak with the families this week.

Alderman Jeanette Struemph asked Turnbough about a business in town that has been operating without a license for the past two years.

“I will speak with the sheriff about it this week,” Turnbough said.

Major Scott John, in charge of the Maries County Sheriff’s Office Belle Division, interjected.

“The sheriff just messaged me and said he had visited with Joe about the situation and recommended ticketing them daily until they comply,” John relayed.

Sheriff Chris Heitman contacted the Advocate after the meeting and said he did not recommend ticketing them daily, but that Turnbough "could" ticket them.

Graham asked Turnbough why he said the sheriff hadn’t gotten back with him when the sheriff just said he had.

“I don’t want to speak against the sheriff,” Turnbough said. “I don’t recall the conversation.”

Graham said they had caught Turnbough in multiple falsehoods at the meeting and while live streaming to the public. Turnbough said if Graham was going to call him a liar, he wasn’t going to stay and he and his wife left the meeting.

Eight line items later on the agenda, Mayor Steve Vogt asked the board to consider proposed ordinance No. 609, “marshal’s salary.”

“Revising the salary of the marshal of the city of Belle by the authority of section 113.370 salaries— marshal, be it ordained by board of aldermen of the city of Belle, on April 12, 2022, the marshal’s salary will be set at $100 a month and as an elected official, they will receive no benefits, since no other public official receives benefits,” the mayor read.

Vogt asked for a motion from the board to accept the first reading.

“Before we vote, I am going to ask this question — do you think the city of Belle citizens trusts us?” said Graham. “Do you think the citizens of Belle, Missouri, trust this council to run the city?”

Vogt argued that they trust the council to be fiscally responsible and re-elected Aldermen Ken Stanfield and former mayor Josh Seaver who voted to implement the Maries County Sheriff’s Department Belle Division.

Stanfield said when he was knocking on doors, campaigning in Ward 2, all but one citizen he spoke with wanted the marshal fired or his salary cut for not working full-time.

“This is my personal opinion,” Graham said. “I don’t think Joe is doing his job and I think he is stealing money from the city. I have made that very clear to him, and very clear to anybody who has ever asked me. But I think if we make this decision, we are cutting the voters completely out. We are already in a situation where they don’t really trust us. I think if we do this, we are going to take a step back as the city council.”

Graham said she would vote “no” on the ordinance.

Vogt said if they pass the ordinance and no one runs for the position in 2022, they can appoint a chief of police. Graham argued that the people want to be able to elect their marshal and right now they are not in a good position because they have not elected a good marshal.

“If you look at the statistics, 95 percent of police departments have chiefs of police,” Vogt said.

Graham said she isn’t saying that they are wrong, but that they are going about it the wrong way.

“I have heard people say, ‘What if one of the aldermen has a grudge against the chief of police?’ They are only one person,” Vogt said. “You can hire a chief of police for two years at a time and if they are not good, you don’t hire them back. You can’t do that with a marshal.”

Graham said she was elected to represent the community and she is doing that.

The Maries County Advocate asked if there could be a sunset on the ordinance so the salary goes back up automatically.

Alderman Jeanette Struemph said she wouldn’t recommend it. 

“We aren’t signing our death warrant,” she said, adding that the ordinance can be changed. “We are trying to put ourselves in a position we can fiscally manage.”

The board approved the first reading of the ordinance with a 3-1 vote with Graham voting no.

Seaver, who was sworn in during the meeting, made the motion to accept the first reading of the ordinance as written.

“I think we all have a lot of thinking to do in the next month before we vote on the ordinance itself,” Seaver said.

Turnbough and his wife returned to the meeting following the broadcast of the ordinance and asked to address the board again without fighting or arguing.

“How many on the board want to see me resign?” Turnbough asked.

Stanfield, Graham and Seaver raised their hands. Struemph sat with her arms folded and told the marshal the board could not make that decision for him.

“So it is almost unanimous,” Turnbough continued. “My statement is this. I have been here for seven years and absolutely love the people here. The reason why it was said I took a job at the hospital, which I did but it was said I took it way before I took it. I took a job at the hospital for one reason only. We are going in a direction we are going to eliminate the marshal’s position and I need that salary as long as I am in office. I told my wife I didn’t want to buy a brand new house unless I was re-elected. I bought that house because I did get re-elected.”

Turnbough said if the board takes his salary away he would lose his house. If he is not re-elected, he can’t draw on unemployment as an elected official. Therefore, he took a job at the hospital two years before his term was up so he would have a job when his term was over.

“That is why I took the job. I miss being here,” Turnbough said. “I absolutely feel guilty for the people I love and serve who voted me into office, and believe it is an honor. I took this job at the hospital so I don’t lose my house. My question to you as the council, do we work together my last year when I am in office or do I resign? I was told if I resign, I will be ruined politically.”

Turnbough said he would resign. If the issue is money, he would finish his term and donate the money back. He would continue to assist Maries County until then.

“I have assisted them since they took over, I will continue to assist them,” Turnbough said. “I have never been comfortable accepting my whole salary after taking another job.”

Seaver said that hasn’t stopped him.

“As long as the salary isn’t taken away, I want to be here. I took the job because I will lose my salary in another year,” Turnbough said. “If I work full-time up until my last day, I can’t draw unemployment until I get another job.”

Seaver said he is speculating on getting re-elected.

Turnbough said his question to the board is, “Do you want me to resign or may I finish out my term with my salary?”

“I asked you to resign a year ago, Joe,” Seaver said. “You know what the response I got was? You sat back there on your phone like I wasn’t even in the room.”

Turnbough responded that he had to finish his term because he promised the people he would do it.

“I cannot step down,” Turnbough said.

Seaver asked if there has been so much turmoil, why didn’t Turnbough step away from it?

“I have way too much support who doesn’t want me to step down,” Turnbough said.

Graham interjected that Turnbough took another full-time job and isn’t present in the city, so that is on him.

“I have been on the city council since June and caught you in at least 10 lies right in front of the public,” Graham began. “That is why I want you to (resign) and I am only speaking for myself. It has everything to do with the fact that you say you are this person, and you are not. You are stealing money from the city of Belle. You are not available, and are not being a marshal. Because you are not even here. It took you 11 hours to answer me the other day about dogs.”

Graham said it isn’t about the money, but the fact that he is not doing his job.

“Whether it is you or anybody, it doesn’t matter,” she said. “I have no personal vendetta against you.”

Turnbough said since it is the consensus of the council, he will submit his resignation. He asked the board when his insurance will expire.

Struemph said they pay it monthly, so it would be good through May 1.

“If you are going to resign it is immediately,” Seaver said.

Turnbough said he knows it is already paid. Struemph confirmed that it was May 1.

“I want to tell the people I don’t want to leave, but I don’t want to fight with the council, it isn’t good for the citizens,” Turnbough said.

Seaver asked if Turnbough would have the resignation to the mayor tomorrow. Turnbough said he would have it to the mayor by the end of the week.

“So are you resigning immediately or on Friday?” Graham asked.

“I am resigning as soon as I give the mayor my letter and then he can call every one of you,” Turnbough said. “It will be this week sometime and then I have to clear out all of my stuff.”

He said he would contact the board this week. 

Seaver asked if he would be turning in all of his badges, weapons and equipment and Turnbough said it would take him a while to get it all together.

Deborah Turnbough asked about Turnbough keeping his handgun and Turnbough agreed that he would like to keep his issued handgun.

“We can’t do that,” Seaver said. “It is a liability issue.”

Graham said that it is a big step to resign and she appreciates it.

“After seven years, I truly believe that the people speak when they vote and they voted all of you back into office and if we take the voice away from the people we are taking a step backwards,” Turnbough said. “I wish we could make things work, and apologize for my half of that. It is truly an honor. I won’t take any more of your time.”

The Turnboughs left the meeting at 10:30 p.m.

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