For ten minutes last night, members of the University City Council argued about whether one of its members physically lifted his buttocks off his seat during a debate two weeks ago.
To members of the council, this seemed like quite an important fact to determine. If Councilman Byron Price did indeed rise from his seat as he delivered his pointed message, such an act might be construed as aggression, which could, theoretically, pose a threat to security. One councilwoman, Lynn Ricci, has claimed to be so disturbed by Byron's behavior that she wrote a letter to Mayor Shelley Welsch after the February meeting -- requesting that no fewer than five police officers stand guard over future meetings.
We are not making this up.
The fiasco started February 14, during a council debate about flood victims, and whether the city was in dire financial straits. Things got heated. Price got loud. So loud, apparently, that Mayor Shelley Welsch wrote Price a letter alleging disorderly conduct, telling him he'd behaved like a bully and slandered the city manager. That letter was eventually posted online and is now public. In the missive, Welsch specifically censured Price for "rising from your chair and shaking your index finger in [councilmembers'] faces."
Shortly thereafter, Councilwoman Ricci wrote her own letter in response, requesting the presence of three extra police officers to stand guard over future meetings, in addition to the standard two. "I am now as of this last meeting uncomfortable for safety of all in council chambers," she wrote, according to Patch.com. She also called for an investigation into the source of the leaked letter. (Price denies he was the source.)
Given this chain of events, it seemed very important last night for councilmembers to determine whether Price rose from his chair, or whether he stayed seated, so they argued that terribly important distinction in front of a standing-room-only audience of dumbfounded residents.
"He definitely did stand up," said Councilwoman Ricci.
The suggestion that he stood up "is incorrect, completely," said Councilman Terry Crowe.
"How about we amend the minutes to reflect a difference of opinion as to whether he stood up?" asked Councilman Stephen Kraft.
"I was sitting right in front of Mr. Price. He made absolutely no effort to stand up," said Councilman Arthur Sharpe.
"He leaned forward," said Councilman Crowe.
The debate rumbled on for ten minutes before it was finally determined that Price did not, in fact, stand up. After that, audience members approached the microphone, and many voiced their concern over the current dysfunction plaguing their government. Others wondered why they still haven't been offered flood relief. Mayor Welsch came under particular fire, with one audience member, St. Louis County Councilwoman Hazel Erby, suggesting she should be recalled.
A resident named Dan Martin was called to the microphone simply to give his report on the city's Commission for Arts and Letters. Martin offered a few words about the commission, but then spent much more time calling the councilmembers crazy. "You remind me of two members of a marriage going through financial differences," he said. "At this point, go get therapy."
By the end of the night, Price, a four-term councilman, was formally reprimanded for disorderly conduct by a 4-3 vote.
Before the meeting, Price told Daily RFT that bullying accusations were "ridiculous." The debate, he says, "is awfully silly. It's a waste of time, money and resources."
Price, who is black, blamed his peers' criticisms on fiscal conservatism and racism.
For the record, only two police officers were in attendance.
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