Archive for Sunday, September 9, 2007

Support grows for Tonganoxie mayor

September 9, 2007

A day after he vowed to resign his post if residents requested it in the wake of a risque e-mail he sent, Tonganoxie Mayor Mike Vestal said Saturday he has received nothing but support.

Vestal added that he even received a request from former Mayor Dave Taylor. Vestal defeated Taylor in the last mayoral election.

"Mayor Taylor said do not resign," Vestal said.

When contacted, Taylor said he did not wish to make any comments.

Tonganoxie City Councilman Steve Gumm said he has had a good working relationship with Vestal since the mayor took office in May.

"He's done a good job since he's started; obviously there's a learning curve for everyone when you get started," he said. "He's enthusiastic. Obviously he wanted to be mayor; he appears to take it seriously. From what I see, he tries to do a good job for the city."

Vestal appreciated the support of council and community members.

"It makes me feel good they respect me that much," Vestal said. "I think I have done a good job. I've run a professional meeting. I don't want to cloud anyone's judgment of me.

"Just because somebody makes a mistake, everybody makes mistakes. I have seen a lot worse (e-mail). I've deleted all that stuff."

E-mail content

Vestal admitted sending an e-mail to "a couple of guys" Aug. 31. He said he inadvertently sent the e-mail to a 6News reporter, which is how the Journal-World obtained the e-mail.

The e-mail opened with the words: "Next Monday is National Female Breast Appreciation Day." It then showed a photo of a naked woman. Underneath the photo were the words "Beats the (expletive) out of Martin Luther King Day! Doesn't It?"

Vestal said that he usually does not forward such e-mails and stressed that he was not racist.

Phyllis Shilling, who owns Shilling Electric with her husband, Roger, in Tonganoxie, said the situation was unfortunate, but kept it in perspective.

"It's no big deal; (at the same time) it is a big deal and it was in poor taste," Shilling said. "And that's just an off-color joke. I can't say it was pornographic.

"I don't want to say it's accepted because it shouldn't be accepted. If I'd get it, I don't think I would be offended. I would think there would be funnier."

Shilling also said there are more important issues that the Leavenworth County community is facing.

"I think that it's odd that something of this nature would be so critical when there are so many other things that have affected the public in a stronger way," Shilling said. "I think Tongie is facing so many other things that are more newsworthy than this."

Comments

Feedback on the Journal-World's Web site mostly viewed the issue as moot, while others wrote in support of Vestal.

One of the posts said this:

"I know Mr. Vestal ... I think he is an upstanding individual who deserves a lot of respect. He has overcome many obstacles in his life. He always greets you with a smile and treats you like you are a very very important person. He has a lot of great plans and things that he wants to accomplish while in office for the town of Tonganoxie. It would be a great loss to loose him over this stupid ordeal."

After several posts had been made on the site, Vestal issued a statement himself:

"I would like to thank everyone for their comments in my defense. However, it does not justify what I did. I make NO excuses for my actions, but would like to give a heartfelt apology to reporter Haley Harrison of Ch 6 News. I attempted to contact her personally to apologize, however I was unable to reach her. She is a very good person as well as a great reporter.

"What I did was wrong, I make no excuses for my actions. I believe I can still lead my City in the right direction.

"I would like to add in closing: The reporters failed to mention a comment that I felt was very important to convey to the public that 'I am not a racist.' ... However I apologize to all of those who were offended by my lack of judgment.

Sincerely,

Mike Vestal,

Mayor,

City of Tonganoxie."

One post, however, took issue with the situation:

"Some of you that think MLK is not a big deal, are still living the past -- the joke was stupid and racist -- and some of you out there think it's funny. That's just sad."

Employee agreement

Vestal, who served on Tonganoxie City Council in the 1990s, was elected mayor in April.

Tonganoxie city employees are required to sign an agreement that prohibits employees to "knowingly communicate, download or forward anything that might be construed as harassing, hostile or offensive based on ethnicity, race, sex, disability, age, religion or national origin."

Vestal said he never had seen the agreement before, and it was unclear whether he is subject to the agreement as either the city's mayor or an employee of a contractor that does business with the city.

Journal-World staff writer Erin Castaneda contributed to this report.

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