Recovery tough for Mo. city council

February 22, 2008 5:19:24 AM PST
The first City Council meeting since a gunman stormed City Hall and killed five people began with a sense of togetherness that didn't last long.After opening with a moment of silence to remember the rampage two weeks ago, the meeting turned into a bitter fight over how the St. Louis suburb will move on now that three city officials are dead and the mayor is incapacitated.

Police say 52-year-old Charles Lee "Cookie" Thornton entered the council chambers on Feb. 7 and killed two police officers, two council members and the city's public works director before police shot him to death. Mayor Mike Swoboda was shot twice in the head and remains hospitalized.

Among the dead was Connie Karr, an alderwoman who was running for mayor. Last week the city had her name removed from the ballot, leaving only alderman Arthur McDonnell listed.

Dozens attended Thursday's meeting to criticize the move, saying it undercut the voters' right to choose their mayor in the April election.

"I feel that with only one candidate, you're not going to have any discussion or debate," Kirkwood resident Karl Unsworth said.

Spectators booed and groaned during a long and disorderly public comment period; some yelled at city officials as they spoke.

State Senate President Pro Tem Michael Gibbons, a Republican from Kirkwood, took his turn at the microphone to hold a moment of silence after particularly heated comments. He then led a prayer.

"God, I would ask that the people of Kirkwood learn how to address the struggles and challenges that we face," he said.

City Attorney John Hessel explained repeatedly that Karr's name was removed from the ballot at her husband's request. He said it was impossible under city and state law to delay the vote, except if a disaster occurred on the day of the election.

Hessel criticized many of the speakers who questioned his legal rationale and suggested he wasn't honoring Karr's legacy. He survived the shooting attack only after throwing chairs at Thornton to fend him off before police arrived.

"Connie Karr's death is all of our worst nightmare," Hessel said. "It is something that I live over and over."

Besides Karr, killed in the rampage were Officer William Biggs Jr., Officer Tom Ballman, Public Works Director Ken Yost and Councilman Michael H.T. Lynch.

Thornton had a long history of fighting with city officials over a litany of code violations, fines and citations.