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Special prosecutor investigation underway in Wildwood

By: Mary Shapiro

Wildwood’s City Council, on Aug. 28, voted 13 to 1, to approve appointing the city’s deputy prosecuting attorney Tim Engelmeyer as the special prosecutor for a council investigation into an altercation between Councilmember Jerry Porter [Ward 6] and Ward 3 resident Dan McLaughlin, husband of Councilmember Tammy Shea [Ward 3], that took place at a Ward 6 residents’ town hall meeting on June 1 in a meeting room at the St. Louis Community College-Wildwood campus.

Only Shea was opposed to the action, and Porter abstained from voting while Councilmember Jim Baugus [Ward 3] was absent.

McLaughlin regularly attends and videotapes city meetings including those of the city council and ward town hall meeting and has said he was invited to the Ward 6 town hall by Bill Kennedy, a founder of the city and a former Ward 6 councilmember who still lives in that ward. McLaughlin and Kennedy have said they believed the meeting was public, which Porter and some other city officials have disputed.

City Attorney John Young has said that the whole council [rather than a subcommittee] must conduct hearings, talk to witnesses and issue subpoenas. He also has said that the council can use an independent third party investigator, such as an attorney, to assist in – but not solely conduct – an investigation.

Mayor Jim Bowlin told the council, in an Aug. 24 memo, that legislation, adopted by the council in 2004, established the office of special prosecutor for prosecution matters, as submitted by the council, and Engelmeyer was appointed as the special prosecutor at that time. He said all councilmembers would be given the opportunity to submit a list of issues, witnesses and questions pertaining to the matter to Engelmeyer by no later than Sept. 1.

Engelmeyer will then conduct the investigation, which will include the use of deposition testimony administered under oath with a court reporter for all witnesses, Bowlin said.

Engelmeyer will provide his findings and analysis to the council in advance of its Sept. 11 meeting.

“He will make no recommendation as to any action since that is solely within the purview of the council,” Bowlin said, adding that Engelmeyer’s report also will include an appendix that will contain a summary of all his activities, as well as the transcripts of all sworn deposition testimony he obtains.

As early as the council’s Sept. 11 meeting, the council will conduct a hearing. Engelmeyer will be available during that time for further questions, and the parties involved [McLaughlin and Porter] will have five minutes to make a statement if they choose to do so, Bowlin said.

He said the council also will have the opportunity to ask questions of them following their presentations, adding “this hearing [will be] similar to a legal hearing, as opposed to a public hearing.”

The council will then discuss the matter and reach a decision as to what action if any, it wishes to take, he said.

Parties involved can be represented by legal counsel throughout all or some of this process if they elect to do so, Bowlin said.

Councilmember Don Bartoni [Ward 2], on Aug. 28, said he originally had proposed someone outside the city as an investigator, opposed to a prosecutor, because the city isn’t seeking to bring any charges.

Engelmeyer, who attended the meeting, said he planned to “gather the facts and present the facts in an organized fashion” and identify relevant legislation and charter to the council and “not make a determination that something did or didn’t happen or is or isn’t worthy of prosecution or impeachment or anything else.”

Bartoni insisted that he fears the perception that Bowlin is running the investigation especially since he [Bowlin] attended the Ward 6 meeting. However, Bowlin insisted, “I would have no involvement.”

Shea added that, in past investigations, an independent attorney was used and asked an independent investigator be sought for what she called a Sunshine Law violation.

But Councilmember Larry McGowen [Ward 1] said he felt Engelmeyer “would do a fine job – having his background and institutional knowledge of the city and it’s ordinances and charter will be helpful, and he can do the job more efficiently and will require less time than someone coming in totally fresh to the situation from the outside.”

Councilmember Greg Alexander [Ward 6] protested “there’s the presumption that some people are automatically biased [which] seems to be without proof or evidence.”

Councilman Marc Cox [Ward 4] has asked if Shea would recuse herself from the investigation due to a possible conflict of interest, though Shea has insisted she had not attended the Ward 6 meeting, which she added had not involved her.

“I did not say that I wouldn’t recuse myself – it depends on what the investigation actually reveals, and I have a right to participate in this,” she said.

But Cox said that Shea’s concern of bias on the part of Engelmeyer “strikes me as a little ironic” since Shea might not recuse herself during the hearing. “I don’t see how in the world you can sit up here and vote on it when it involves your husband,” Cox said.

Councilmember Greg Stine [Ward 7] said on Aug. 28 that Porter could allow the city to avoid having to conduct the investigation by resigning now, “to save the taxpayers money and the council time and allowing us to get back to business.”

“Why would I resign?” Porter asked.

Stine said a resignation would be based on the merits of what’s shown in McLaughlin’s video, which he said includes “unbecoming behavior.”

But Porter objected to Stine’s request, which he said effectively alleged his guilt before any investigation.

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