A rift between Mayor Jeff Palmore and Police Chief Matt Mansell over the sale of surplus police department guns two years ago is irreparable, according to Mansell.
The police chief walked out of the June 20 board meeting when Palmore first made a public accusation calling the method of selling the guns criminal and has not returned.
Mansell told The Missourian Palmore has gone too far in his personal recriminations and name calling in public comments relating to the gun sale. He said he will not return to the board meetings as long as Palmore is the mayor and will not send anyone in his department to the meetings.
“I am not going to sit there and be insulted by the mayor,” the chief said. “And I’m not going to subject anyone in my department to public insults.”
Speaking at the Sept. 5 board meeting, Palmore continued to press aldermen to take action over the gun sales, which he describes as illegal and stealing from the city.
The initial incident took place in February 2015 when the police department sold 22 surplus guns, including five within the department and 17 to a gun dealer, after soliciting and receiving written quotes from two St. Louis area gun dealers of what they would pay for the guns. The city received approximately $6,000 for the guns.
The crux of Palmore’s claim is that the police department selectively phoned gun dealers to ask for a price to purchase the guns, but did not make the bidding open to other dealers or to the public. The mayor said no quote was received on one of the guns, which was sold to someone in the department for $50.
Palmore also said that phoning specific gun buyers does not meet the requirement of Ordinance 105.110, which says surplus items must be sold to the highest bidder.
Palmore told aldermen that he would not stop bringing the issue up until they took some action on it. He said by failing to act on the violation, aldermen were violating their oath of office to uphold federal and state laws and all city ordinances.
Alderman Mike Pigg said he does not think the gun sales were illegal. He said Mansell had discussed the gun sale with an attorney and had been advised that he did nothing wrong in the way the guns were sold.
Mansell said he had spoken to his personal attorney about Palmore’s public accusations against him and he believes that City Attorney Bob Jones had reviewed the gun sale and found no wrongdoing.
In a phone interview, Jones told The Missourian that he had not offered any opinion on the February 2015 gun sale.
“This happened before I became the city attorney and I have not been asked specifically to do any research on it,” he said.
During Palmore’s heated Sept. 5 remarks, aldermen made several attempts to stop him from making personal comments about the chief and about aldermen.
Alderman Steve Myers said he takes exception to Palmore using the podium in the board meeting to belittle and insult aldermen who disagreed with him.
“If we (aldermen) don’t align with your opinion you call us dishonest,” Myers said. “This is very low on your part on what should be a high office in our town.”
Palmore said a board meeting is the right place to discuss the improper sale of surplus city property.
“When you steal in a public forum you can expect to be called on it in a public forum,” he said.
Alderman Nick Chlebowski said he disagreed with the characterization of the sale as stealing.
“Stealing requires criminal state of mind,” Chlebowski said. “If he was advised by an attorney, he wasn’t stealing.”
“What attorney?” Palmore shot back. “Who is this attorney?”
The mayor said the appropriate action was for the board of aldermen to impeach the police chief.
“You can impeach any public official,” Palmore said. “That’s what this board should do.”
“If you bring criminal charges against him I would consider impeachment,” Chlebowski said.
Palmore said he would take the advice of the aldermen and go to a higher police authority to request an investigation.
Mansell said he would welcome an investigation into the sale by an outside legal authority. He said the mayor could contact the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department, the Missouri Highway Patrol or the federal bureau of alcohol, tobacco and firearms (ATF) and request an investigation.
“I would welcome an investigation by an outside agency,” the chief said. “There is a thing called intent. If I did anything wrong I am not aware of it.”
Mansell said meeting minutes should show that aldermen approved the purchase of new guns by the department, which implied approval of sale of the old guns.
“The game plan was always that I would sell the old guns,” Mansell said. “So they (aldermen) absolutely approved that the guns would be sold.”
As the elected police chief, Mansell said he made the decision not to advertise the guns to the general public.
“I’m not going to advertise the sale of guns and sell guns to the highest bidder,” he said. “I sold the guns to a qualified gun dealer.”
Mansell also said the city has been audited since the incident and if there had been any wrongdoing it would have been pointed out by the auditor.
“They (the auditors) quizzed me on something as simple as tickets not being reported in sequence,” Mansell said. “They reviewed the amount the city received for the guns and if that money had been received improperly they would certainly have reported it.”
The chief said in his view the mayor is seeking vengeance over police handling of an altercation between the mayor and a citizen that occurred at approximately the time of the gun sale.
“He (the mayor) came into my office and we had a heated discussion,” Mansell said. “I swore and told him to leave and he is still mad about that.
“I am finished with this discussion with him (the mayor),” Mansell added.