Franklin County Presiding Commissioner John Griesheimer ordered law enforcement officers to remove a citizen during a county commission meeting Tuesday.
The citizen, Eric Reichert of Villa Ridge, was making comments about proposed changes to the county’s zoning code when Griesheimer told officers to escort Reichert away.
Reichert was at the podium and addressing the county commission during the public comment portion of the meeting.
During his comments Reichert said the proposed code changes were an attempt to further the commission’s “agenda.”
“The vast majority of these amendment changes are to manipulate, obfuscate and conveniently alter the existing land-use regulations to justify making the county commission’s pet development projects suddenly code approved,” Reichert said.
Griesheimer eventually banged his gavel and said, “I think we’ve had enough.”
Reichert responded that he still had time on the clock to make comments. (Speakers are given three minutes to address the commission during the public comment portion of meetings.)
Indeed, the clock showed that Reichert had about 20 seconds left to speak before his time ran out.
But Griesheimer said Reichert was out of time and called officers to escort him away.
Reichert then asked, “I don’t have to leave do I?”
Griesheimer said, “Yes you do” to which Reichert responded, “Thank you very much.”
Sheriff’s Capt. Don Jones, the county government center security guard, and who appeared to be a sheriff’s deputy, escorted Reichert outside the government center.
Jones said afterward that Reichert was not charged with anything and that he would be allowed to return to the building once the meeting ended. Reichert will be allowed to come back to next week’s county commission meeting, Jones said.
The Missourian followed Reichert outside to ask him about his being removed from the building.
Reichert said he did nothing to destroy the civility of the meeting and said it was Griesheimer who “overreacted” because of his “thin skin.”
Moreover, Reichert said it was “totally inappropriate” to be called down from addressing the commission much less removed from the room and building.
He said he did nothing wrong and that he was just commenting on county business. He did not lie, slander or libel anyone, Reichert said, adding that he believes he has an “unalienable right” to free speech and to petition government.
But he said there is a contention that he has no free speech rights and speaking before the county commission is a “privilege.”
Reichert added that he thinks his removal was planned because there was an extra officer at the meeting Tuesday. The officers were sitting right behind him and “ready to act” on Griesheimer’s order, Reichert said.
It was unnecessary to have him escorted out, Reichert said, adding that he would have left on his own if he would have just been asked.
Griesheimer: I Can’t Take It Anymore
At the end of the meeting, Griesheimer said he wanted to “clear the air” on his decision to remove Reichert.
“I do not want to have anyone escorted out of this room,” Griesheimer said, adding that this was the first time it has happened in his career.
But Griesheimer said Reichert and another person have “continued to push the envelope” in terms of how county commission meetings are conducted.
“For the most part, I have taken more abuse and threats and everything else over the last three years than most anybody would have ever put up with . . .”
Griesheimer said he has learned to not “snap” but that he is to the point that, “I can’t take it anymore.”
A public hearing on zoning code amendments a couple of weeks ago was “downright ugly,” Griesheimer said.
At that time, Reichert made “wild threats” and was “flailing his arms,” Griesheimer said, adding that he should have “tossed” Reichert right then and there.
People who make a “public display in front of the press” and make “baseless accusations” and “threats” will no longer be tolerated, Griesheimer asserted.
It is one thing to criticize but another to make threats and baseless accusations, Griesheimer said. It’s all about politics and the upcoming election, said Griesheimer, who is up for re-election this year.
“I’ve taken a lot of abuse; I’m not going to take it anymore,” he said.
If it continues, “We’re going to do what we did today and show you the door,” Griesheimer declared.
Reichert’s comments that led to him being escorted from the building by law enforcement had to do with amendments to the county’s zoning code.
He said the commission order to approve the zoning code changes was worded in a way to “discredit” citizens who spoke out during a public hearing on the matter.
The commission order states that the only testimony given by the public at the hearing a couple of weeks ago was unrelated to the actual changes.
Reichert also said the county’s public hearings are a “sham” because significant changes can be made to proposals after the hearings without further citizen input.
The hearings are “merely a formality to legitimize the county commission doing whatever it wants,” Reichert said.
The “smokescreen” is that the regulations are being streamlined to eliminate confusion, Reichert said.
“It is becoming increasingly apparent that the commission is using these amendment changes to further its agenda, which is the pet project embedded in Article 10 (of the land use code).”
At that point Griesheimer banged the gavel. It is unclear what alleged pet project Reichert was referring to.