When attorney Kevin Dolley saw the letter, he was particularly interested in one line:

"Me and my mom went to city hall to talk to the mayor...recorded whole meeting...[he]said how he got all the white people out."

The recording to which the letter refers is scratchy and muffled, but McGee's voice comes through clearly. He seems agitated, though the context of the conversation is unclear.

JaCola Williams believes she was fired for airing Vinita Park’s dirty laundry.
Jennifer Silverberg
JaCola Williams believes she was fired for airing Vinita Park’s dirty laundry.
Vinita Park’s mayor, James McGee.
www.vinitapark.org
Vinita Park’s mayor, James McGee.

Click here to listen to the recording of James McGee.

McGee: The former mayor didn't give a heck about our kids. How many you saw up here working up here when she was up here?

Unidentified male voice: None.

McGee: Negroes was scared to come up here, and I'm going to tell the truth. They was scared to come up here. You didn't see 'em up here. Now I got in, they think they can run over me, but bullshit. They ain't going to run over me....

Now repaired streets getting [inaudible].... You know, making sure our streets are safe, making sure the city is beautiful, but all I get is complaints. Complaints, complaints, complaints. And I'm getting pretty damn tired of it. That's why I don't have time for mess.

Unidentified male voice: I told Virginia, I say, "Virginia...."

McGee: You know Virginia didn't do shit.... How many black people that was in here contracting 'fore she got here? Not one. All white. All white police department. Then when I get rid of they ass — Well, they got rid of they self. I didn't get rid of them. "Oh, he fired all the veterans so he can have some niggers up here." I'm going to say it right: house niggers.

Dolley subpoenaed Williams, who supplied him with the recording.

This past January the city settled with Atchison, Haywood, Aites, Luu and Peck. Although the settlement is sealed and the officers signed a nondisclosure agreement, it's common knowledge around Vinita Park that the figure was near $700,000. Riverfront Times was able to see a copy of a check made out to the officers from the city's insurance carrier, in the amount of $726,000.

"I feel like I've been vindicated," says Aites.

Weeks after the settlement, the board of aldermen voted to fire JaCola Williams, citing her poor attendance record. At the hearing — which she secretly recorded — Alderman Rich Redel scolded her for telling outsiders about her time in Vinita Park's city hall.

"No one should be privy to what you know in here," he can be heard admonishing her. "I know they say loose lips sink ships, and there's a reason for that. Certain people shouldn't know certain things. That's what we're here for. We're here to protect the City of Vinita Park. Then make sure no funny business goes on."


Sometimes when James McGee is talking about his first term as mayor, it sounds as though he's describing a war. Seated behind his immense, cluttered desk in city hall, he produces a stack of mail in a large zip-lock bag.

"This is the kind of stuff you get," he says. "Threatening letters."

Asked whether the threats are directed at his reputation or his person, McGee opens another desk drawer.

"That's why I carry this," he says, pulling out a silver 9mm pistol. "They say if they see me, you know, they're going to shoot me, and stuff like that. But that doesn't bother me. I been in Vietnam."

In Vinita Park McGee had to go to war immediately after the 2010 election: He was accused of stealing it.

A large number of the ballots that gave McGee his 90-vote margin of victory (319 to 229) were cast absentee. Former alderwoman Verna Gremaud wrote a letter of complaint to the St. Louis County Board of Elections, stating that she had witnessed people who'd voted early absentee working the polls on behalf of McGee. County police opened an investigation. (A St. Louis County Police spokesman says the inquiry was closed in June 2010 with no finding of wrongdoing and that the case file is sealed to the public.)

"They even picketed me. That ain't nothing new," McGee says, pulling out a sheaf of photos of white protesters carrying "Mayor Unfair" signs. "Just like the first black president, you got to go through a lot of stuff."

McGee cites numerous accomplishments — repairing the residential streets, constructing a municipal basketball court and a tennis court. He successfully lobbied a new FedEx facility to move to town, and his work with the nonprofit Beyond Housing has garnered hundreds of thousands of dollars in home-improvement grants for residents. He has plans to outfit Vinita Park's tiny city hall with solar panels, which he hopes will cut down on energy costs over the next two decades.

Citing the confidential settlement, McGee won't comment on the police officers' discrimination lawsuit, nor will he discuss the suits that are pending. He denies ever endeavoring to share a hotel room with Williams or questioning her about her sexuality.

"All we were telling her is what she do reflect on the city," he says. "I guess with young people, you try to sort of guide them and teach them. Give them advice. It wasn't no scolding or nothing."

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