ORONOGO, Mo. —
A majority of the Oronogo City Council on Monday night decided to let the voters decide after Mayor Robert Pearish refused to yield to its request that he resign in the wake of having been found guilty of driving while intoxicated.
Two Oronogo residents and three council members asked Pearish to resign, saying he should do so because he promised during a previous council meeting that he would step down if he were found guilty. Pearish said Monday night that he would not resign.
On May 8, 2013, Carterville police stopped Pearish, and he ultimately was charged with driving while intoxicated. According to Jasper County Circuit Court documents, his blood-alcohol content was 0.097 percent, exceeding the 0.08 percent blood-alcohol limit in Missouri.
Associate Circuit Judge Stephen Carlton heard the municipal case on Jan. 8. According to the court docket, Pearish did not respond to the charge and was found guilty by the court. Based on a recommendation from the city of Carterville, the court granted a suspended imposition of sentence. Pearish was placed on probation for two years. Carlton later denied a defense motion asking for the file to be closed and sealed.
Kobie Langford, a former Oronogo council member, was approved last week to be on the agenda to address the council. Monday night’s meeting was standing room only.
Reading from prepared comments, Langford was interrupted several times by Pearish and several residents in support of Pearish.
“We are here to ask him to follow through on his promise, do the right thing and step down, and if he doesn’t have the decency to stick to his word, we ask that the council take the appropriate action to remove him tonight,” Langford said. “And if the council does nothing, then may the record show that the council has failed to stand for what’s right and failed to represent the people of this community. We have here a council of good, smart, responsible people who have family, who have jobs.”
Councilwoman April Tarrant told Pearish she believed he should resign, as did Councilmen Bob Russell and Joshua Stiffler. Councilmen Alvin Lucas and Larry Lacey remained silent on the matter.
During the meeting, resident Jane Beard accused Langford of seeking retribution against Pearish because Langford’s mother, Darla Langford, was fired two weeks ago from her position as city clerk. Langford said after the meeting that he wanted to call for the resignation at a meeting in January, but he didn’t do so for fear that his mother might lose her job.
Beard said that although her brother was killed by a drunken driver, she supports the mayor “because of the good things he’s done for Oronogo.”
John Mason, who was not on the agenda, spoke out against the mayor and called for his resignation. Mason is an Oronogo resident and a state trooper with the Missouri State Highway Patrol. He said he didn’t believe it was the first time that Pearish had driven while intoxicated, and that the council “should have dealt with it” earlier.
Pearish said he was not going to resign because he was not guilty. He said he did a plea agreement because he didn’t have $10,000 for a jury trial and was granted two years of probation.
“I’m not stepping down,” Pearish said. “You can contact my lawyer. In the last six years, that’s the only time I’ve ever given my word and not stuck by it.”
Kobie Langford said the council should take action to remove the mayor.
City Attorney Chuck Brown advised the council that it may determine whether an offense is impeachable. He said such cases usually are “crimes of moral turpitude, and typically a DUI wouldn’t rise to that level.”
He said that if the council wanted to proceed with removing Pearish from office, it would have to draw up articles of impeachment with the assistance of a lawyer, then schedule a hearing.
Doing so, he said, could be costly and could take several weeks or months.
The council decided against pursuing an impeachment on grounds that it would be costly to taxpayers, and an election for the seat will be held in April.
Pearish has filed to run for re-election. Other candidates for the mayor’s seat are Russell, the councilman, and Paul M. Johnson.
IN A SEPARATE AGENDA ITEM, police Chief Jeff Fries sought the signatures of the council and the mayor on a grant application to the Missouri Department of Transportation for funding to be used for a DWI enforcement checkpoint. The council and mayor approved the application, which will be submitted for consideration in the next grant cycle.