Vestal sends email containing nude images to council member’s brother
For the second time, Tonganoxie Mayor Mike Vestal is under fire for sending an obscene e-mail from a computer he uses in his duties with the city answering service.
The issue came to light at Monday's Tonganoxie City Council meeting when Councilwoman Paula Crook twice referred to the e-mail.
Vestal acknowledged sending the e-mail from a computer he uses in his duties with a city answering service. He expressed contrition and said he “accepted the Lord as my savior” Sunday at West Haven Baptist Church.
“It was a mistake on my part,” he said. “I ask your forgiveness. I will never, never do this again.”
Vestal refused comment on the e-mail after the meeting, except to say it was sent to Crook's brother.
Crook said she was with her brother, Tonganoxie police officer Danny Ruff, July 14 at an Olathe Bingo parlor when he received an e-mail from Vestal on his Blackberry. The e-mail contained 14 nude photographs of the same woman.
“I’d call it hard-core nudity — hard-core porn,” Crook said. “It showed things that made me blush.”
In September 2007, Vestal admitted and apologized and offered to resign as Mayor for sending an email from his dispatch computer with the words, “Next Monday is National Female Breast Appreciation Day.” It then showed a picture of a woman and her naked breasts. Underneath the picture were the words, “Beats the (expletive) out of Martin Luther King Day! Doesn’t It?”
After the latest incident, Tonganoxie Police Chief Kenny Carpenter sent a letter to the answering service contractor saying there was evidence an inappropriate e-mail had been sent from a city computer to private computer. The letter warned that a reoccurrence would lead to the termination of the contract.
In April, the city council approved a $1,200-a-month contract with James C. Conway doing business as J&M Answering Service for the service. The business listed Vestal’s address and it is the latest of such arrangements that all have had Vestal as an employee.
Tonganoxie City Administrator Mike Yanez said the latest e-mail contained pictures of nudity. There was no script or message on the e-mail sent to a city employee to his private residence, he said.
A city employee would have been subject to “progressive discipline” for violation of the employee policy prohibiting sending inappropriate, harassing, sexist or racist e-mails, Yanez said. A first offense would prompt a letter of reprimand and a second incident would lead to suspension without pay, he said.
The controversy comes two weeks after a lengthy council debate on funding the answering service for 2011. During that discussion, questions were raised about the value of the service and the possibility of a conflict of interest that could arise with Vestal being both Carpenter’s subordinate and boss.
The council voted 3-2 to fund the service in 2011 in part because Vestal said he wasn't running for re-elect next year. Council Burdel Welsh, who was not at Monday's meeting, said that gave him comfort the conflict issues would soon be resolved.
Crook supported ending funding for the service at the earlier meeting, and the councilwoman called Monday for the contract to be immediately terminated.
Vestal’s pattern of inappropriate behavior could get the city sued, Crook said.
A number of residents who filled the council room to speak out against the proposed 2011 city budget also asked the council to put an end to the answering service and one call for Vestal's resignation as mayor.
"If you had any integrity, you would resign," Michelle Selby said.
Resident Velda Roberts questioned the value of the answering service she said was a duplication of the county's dispatch service.
As a contract consultant, Vestal was not subject to the city's employee computer-use policy, said Mike Kelly, city counselor. The issue had been handled with the decision to place a letter of condemnation in Vestal's personnel file. The contract was another matter, he said.
Councilman Tom Putthoff, who voted with Crook to end funding for the answering service in 2011, said the council answered questions about the service's value in the earlier discussion. And although he joined all the present council members at condemning Vestal for sending the latest e-mail, Crook got no support for her demand the service's funding be cut.