A Hot Night in “Hotdonia”: The March 7, 2012 Town of Caledonia Mayor and Board of Aldermen’s Meeting

March 7, 2012

Mississippi, MS, News, Politics


Gerhart proclaimed, “He is a liar and you can print that in your paper.” 

What started out as a friendly town meeting in Caledonia, turned into a large brouhaha.  A meeting that expected to be highlighted by an appeal of the Cal City Grocery Store decision of February 11, 2012, turned into a meltdown about the Town Marshal’s office and Water Department, with no feelings spared.

The assembly, led by Mayor Gerhart, was heated and often spectacular, as innuendos about town employees and  personnel issues exploded on the scene, with no thought of “executive session” or concern about privacy rights.  The “heat” was put out to the audience, quick and heavy, with the person of scorn often sitting in attendance.

The biggest “shoot out” of the night was between Mayor Gerhart and Town Marshal Ben Kilgore.  During what should have been a routine appointment of two new Deputy Marshals, Ben Gill and John Pevey, all mayhem broke loose after Mayor Gerhart attempted to name another candidate, Steve Johnston. In “no holds barred fashion”, the battle was on.

The heated situation appears to hinge on the resignation of ex-Deputy Marshal Larry Swearingen.  Mayor Gerhart read the letter of resignation to the crowd and then stopped before finishing it.  Marshal Kilgore than stated, “Go ahead; read the rest.”

After a brief silence, Gerhart read the following statement from Swearingen’s letter:

“As for the department I worked under; I can no longer fill my obligations. I know what is required to run a department in a proficient, professional manner, due to the fact that I do it on a daily basis with my full-time job. The way the current  leadership is headed is a way I cannot and will not go down. Due to the fact that I  have lost all respect for the department head, I no longer wish to be affiliated with the Caledonia Marshals Department.” (The entire letter can be seen at the end of the article)

The pace of the event quickened, after the reading of the letter, and Marshal Kilgore challenged Mayor Gerhart on, “scuttle-butt” he had heard about the Mayor either suspending or firing him at the meeting.

Mayor Gerhart stated, “who ever told you that lied.” And, then he challenged The Marshal to reveal his sources.  Kilgore then called on Lance Lucky, a Columbus Police Department (CPD) Officer and part-time Deputy Marshal, to repeat what he had heard.  Lucky did say that he was approached by CPD Lieutenant Carroll Culpepper and was told by Culpepper that he (Culpepper) had talked to Gerhart and was told that Kilgore would be suspended or fired.

At this point, Gerhart proclaimed, “He is a liar and you can print that in your paper.”  The two sides then continued to break down, with each side making accusations.  The most serious of these were that Swearingen had used a red bike that was evidence in a larceny case for his personal use. (Mayor Gerhart was also implicated for taking the bike from Swearingen and illegally leaving it outside.)  Gerhart countered he had taken it (the red bike) to the courthouse, a building which Kilgore proclaimed did not exist.

Kilgore also confided that Swearingen was unreliable to work with, and that his duties as a training officer for the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office (LCSO) were interfering with his duties as a town marshal.  Kilgore was adamant that Swearingen had been unreliable and had not put the town’s best interests at heart.

Pevey and Gill were hired, with a 5-0 vote, and will start work in the very near future.

In other wild business, the battle between citizens Jim and Pam Robertson and the Caledonia Water Department continued, with no resolution.  The Robertsons claim that over $10,000 dollars of damage was done to their property during a city project that involved laying a waterline, and that they have waited over eight months to get their repairs completed.

Calling out Water Department Superintendent Benny Coleman, the Robertsons made it clear that they were being treated unfairly.   When asked by Alderwoman Willis if the work could be completed by the Water Department, Mrs. Robertson stated that she felt Coleman tried to make her feel stupid and that eight months was enough time to complete the project.  Also, the Town has not been able to produce a copy of the easement for their property, over a period of several months.

A vote was taken to get another bid, since the aldermen thought a price tag of more than $10,000 was too high.

This battle is far from over.

The ever-continuing saga over “Cal City” ended in a whimper, with no aldermen or City attorney commenting on accusations made by Jeff Doty that the previous meeting had been held illegally and that the Aldermen had inadvertently voted yes to his request to reopen the business.

No one said a word, in response, which left the discussion to die.

In a phone interview Mr. Doty stated, “I have a beer permit and I am re-opening the business,”

So, to sum it up, it was a wild night in Caledonia!

Joseph B. St. John

A/K/A Mr. MoJo Rising

Editor’s Note – The following is ex-Deputy Marshal Swearingen’s letter, in its entirety:

To: Caledonia Mayor
Board of Aldermen

From: Deputy Marshal Larry Swearingen

Date: 29 Feb 2012

Ref: Resignation

Greetings,

I have enjoyed working for the Town of Caledonia since Sept. 3, 2003. I have made numerous friends and met a good many people during my time and service with this department. I have nothing but respect for the Mayor and the Board and wish each and every one of you the best of luck in your upcoming endeavors. May God bless each and every one of you!!!!

I love being a law enforcement officer, because it is a profession where you get to help people under all kinds of circumstances. Recently my role in law enforcement has changed directions and now I’m able to help officers better themselves through training. My current role has me being out-of-town a good bit, spending time away from family. To me, family is more important and when I’m home I’d rather be spending time with them.

As for the department I worked under I can no longer fulfill my obligations. I know what is required to run a department in a proficient, professional manner, due to the fact that I do it on a daily basis with my full-time job. The way the current leadership is headed is a way I cannot and will not go down. Due to the fact that I have lost all respect for the department head, I no longer wish to be affiliated with the Caledonia Marshals Department.

My resignation will be effective at the end of my shift at 10:00 p.m. Wednesday, the 29th day of February, 2012. Keys and all issued equipment will be turned over to Mayor George Gerhart. If I can be of any assistance to any of you, feel free to contact me at any time.

Sincerely,

Larry Swearingen

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One Comment on “A Hot Night in “Hotdonia”: The March 7, 2012 Town of Caledonia Mayor and Board of Aldermen’s Meeting”

  1. Patty Says:

    I love my little town and am glad to be able to read about what is going on here. Thanks Joe!
    From my own experiences I believe that Ben Kilgore is doing a very good job as our Town Marshal, and that Bennie Coleman is doing a very good job at the Water Dept., and I’ll leave the rest of it alone. Also glad to hear that Cal-City is about to reopen; I don’t drink beer, but am glad others will again be able buy it in their home town. Welcome to Caledonia, Jeff Doty!

    Reply

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