Archive for Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Mayor reiterates apology for e-mail

September 12, 2007

Television cameras were rolling as Tonganoxie Mayor Mike Vestal made another public apology to the people of Tonganoxie at Monday night's City Council meeting.

"I want to make a public apology to all of my citizens of Tonganoxie if I have offended anybody. I've made a mistake, and I want to own up to that mistake. It will never happen again. I just hope you all can forgive me. I would just like to carry on as the mayor of Tonganoxie, and I'm very sorry," he said as he began the open agenda portion of Monday's meeting.

About 10 residents attended the meeting to show their support or their disappointment with the mayor regarding the controversial e-mail he disseminated late last month.

Vestal admitted sending the e-mail Aug. 31 to "a couple of guys" He said he inadvertently sent the e-mail to a Lawrence television reporter.

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

Dumb, dumb, dumb

Bill Peak, Tonganoxie, was the first to step up to the podium Monday and share his feelings about the situation.

"Mayor... dumb, dumb, dumb. But from a person that's never made a mistake, I accept your apology; I think we all do," Peak said. "You don't want to insult women, you don't want to insult Martin Luther King. It was stupid and let's move on. I know you have Tonganoxie's best interest at heart."

Bonnie Sivyer, who came to speak to the council about the downtown post office, also expressed her support for the mayor.

"I appreciate what you've done for the community. I think I've seen a lot of improvements. I like the sidewalks from downtown that are going down Pleasant Street. My own neighborhood, you've done wonderful work in I appreciate that," Sivyer said. "I support you 100 percent. I'm not even going to say, 'stupid, stupid, stupid' for what happened to you. I'm not going to do any of those things because I think you've done a wonderful job."

Sivyer left to a round of applause.

Detractors exist

But not everyone in the council chambers was happy with the mayor. Gail Mailen said she hadn't planned on speaking but said she wanted to share her unhappiness in front of the mayor's "fans."

"Not everybody in town is happy about this," Mailen said. "I do believe that it violated code of conduct in the city codes.

"I just wanted everyone to know that I'm not happy about it. By everybody brushing this under the carpet and ignoring it you are condoning the email."

Said that as the mayor he should be held to a higher standard and there should be consequences for his actions.

Peak said that nobody was condoning the e-mail, but they were cheering the mayor for all of the work he has done for the city. Vestal had offered to resign if residents demanded him to step down. Instead, Peak said, Vestal's punishment was owning up to his mistake in front of cameras from area television stations.

Council member Tom Putthoff agreed that nobody, including the council, was condoning the e-mail.

"There are three things that Mike has done here. He admitted it right off. He apologized for it. And now all he asks is to move on about it. It was probably a dumb move, no doubt. I feel he's done everything in his power to move this on at this point I wouldn't ask him to resign," Putthoff said.

Putthoff said he also had spoken with City Attorney Mike Kelly about possible code violations, but found that Vestal had not violated them.

Weekend reaction

News of the e-mail surfaced over the weekend. So too did reaction in Tonganoxie.

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."

Vestal said over the weekend he had received nothing but support, adding he even received a request from former Mayor Dave Taylor.

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

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

Tonganoxie City Councilman Steve Gumm said he has enjoyed 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."

Refocusing efforts

For now, Vestal said he hoped to be able to put the incident behind him so he can refocus his efforts back on the city.

"I'll continue to do that to help the city grow and move on. I love being mayor I live helping the city I grew up in. I want to do the best I can for all the citizens. I'm hoping this will be the final ending tonight. I took it on the chin and survived," Vestal said after Monday's meeting.

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