VIDEO: Tensions run high among Pierson village officials

Posted by Elisabeth Waldon • Last Updated 10:33 am on Friday, January 13 2012

Embattled Pierson Village Council President Karl Van Haren presided over an argumentative meeting Tuesday night. — Daily News/Elisabeth Waldon

PIERSON — Bill Fifield criticized a Pierson Village Council member on Tuesday night for previously walking out in the middle of a meeting.

Minutes later, Fifield did that very thing.

A two-and-a-half-hour village council meeting slowly unfolded Tuesday night, full of long pauses, passive-aggressive arguing and flat-out shouting.

The meeting hit its low point when Department of Public Works Director Bill Fifield and Councilman Duane Griffes, who also is the street administrator, began arguing.

Fifield said Griffes doesn’t do a good job and used an expletive to emphasize his point. Fifield said he has offered to be street administrator before, but the council won’t accept his offer.

“I heard you,” Councilwoman Verna Smeigel said to Fifield, who was sitting next to her.

“You heard me three years ago too and you and (former village president) Jim (Smeigel) did everything you could to get anybody but me to do it,” Fifield replied.

Village President Karl Van Haren — who is currently facing a recall — tried to bring the meeting back to order by banging a gavel and stating, “Point of order,” but was interrupted by a murmured conversation between Fifield and Smeigel.

“Please leave, Bill. Please leave. Bill, shut up,” Smeigel said loudly.

“Put that in the minutes,” said Fifield, standing up from his chair. “Harassment. More harassment.”

“You should listen,” Fifield told Smeigel.

“I do,” she said.

“You don’t!” Fifield said.

“Yes, I do,” Smeigel exclaimed.

“How many times did I explain that pump situation to you tonight and you still didn’t get it?” Fifield yelled.
“Good night! I’ve heard enough,” Fifield said as he walked out of the meeting. “A 10-minute meeting takes three hours.”

Council members sat in silence for a moment.

“He owes me an apology because no one needs to be pushed to that point,” Smeigel said emotionally.

Smeigel brought up the incident later in the meeting.

“I will not have that man stand over me and treat me like I’m some dumb fool when I never said any of the things he said I said,” she said. “I’ve had it with his temper and that’s enough.”

“I get the same thing. I’ve gotten the same thing,” Van Haren said. “Different folks at different meetings have gotten the same thing. Have we been able to control it? No. Has it continued? Yes.”

“He takes over the whole meeting and he’s an employee and he insults everybody,” Smeigel said.

“That was unacceptable and we’ve moved on from it,” Van Haren said.

“Well, I just wanted to say I apologize to anyone I offended,” Smeigel concluded.

Councilwoman Rebecca Starr is attempting to recall Van Haren from office.

The recall language states: “Shall President Karl Van Haren be recalled because he has harassed village personnel and residents and has been disrespectful to those who disagree with him? He has created a hostile work environment for village board members. He has caused strained relations between village board members, the village clerk and treasurer.”

Starr only needs to gather six signatures in support of the recall. Only 24 people voted in the most recent Pierson village election. Just 25 percent of the most recent voter turnout is required for a recall petition, meaning only six signatures are needed.

The recall attempt is pending.

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