PERCY — A locked safe in the Village Hall of this small Randolph County town holds an administrative hot potato for newly named Mayor Brian Aldridge.
Inside the safe are 10 Vietnam-era, automatic M-16 assault rifles -- an armory that Aldridge and at least one village board member believe might tempt terrorists or even garden-variety burglars.
That's enough firepower -- capable of firing 550 rounds per minute -- to arm each of the town's six part-time police officers with four in reserve.
"Why does a little town need something like that?" asked board member and former mayor Loyde Hyde, a Navy veteran who served in Vietnam.
Hyde said that a few days ago he became so concerned about the potential that the M-16s might fall into the wrong hands that he tried to get a local bank to temporarily store them in its vault. The bank wanted no part of it.
"Why do we need this firepower in Percy?" Hyde said. "Maybe in Chicago."
Aldridge said the M-16s were obtained from a federal government surplus program by Dave Rednour, a former part-time Percy police officer and prison warden whose recent efforts to be named police chief ignited a controversy in this town of 965.
Until recently, Aldridge and Hyde said they didn't know that the village possessed the M-16s and night vision goggles, which Rednour obtained through the Law Enforcement Support Organization. The program allows local police departments in all 50 states to borrow surplus military gear without cost, ranging from weapons and high-tech radios to Humvees.
The rifles came up as a side issue in the squabble about whether the nearly broke town could afford a full-time police chief at $40,000 per year plus health insurance.
The financial disagreements caused the previous mayor and a village board member to recently resign.
Deborah Sternberg, the village clerk, said she was talked out of quitting. Sternberg said she is a supporter of Rednour because of his work to arrest methamphetamine makers but was concerned that the village didn't have enough money to afford his salary.
"We can't afford to buy a Christmas ornament," one resident said.
Rednour gained widespread notoriety after the Belleville News-Democrat reported in 2011 that he obtained a $75,678 tax-free workers' compensation settlement based on his claim that his former job as the warden of the Menard Correctional Center caused a repetitive injury to his elbow and carpal tunnel syndrome in his wrists. He could not be reached and has previously said he will not comment.
Rednour's award came at about the same time a statewide scandal erupted over similar claims by hundreds of Menard guards who applied for or received repetitive trauma settlements based on claims that turning keys and operating locking mechanisms on cell doors caused their injuries. In all, the state paid out more than $10 million in workers' comp settlements at Menard.
Aldridge, the current mayor, said Rednour, who had worked part-time for the village for about a year, was on medical leave from his current full-time job as an assistant warden at the Pinckneyville Correctional Center. A spokesman for the Illinois Comptroller's Office confirmed that Rednour was on leave but would not provide details.
When it became clear that he would not be hired as a full-time police chief, Aldridge said Rednour resigned March 8 from the tiny force.
As for the assault rifles, Aldridge said that when federal government offices open Monday, he's going to get on the phone and track down how to return them.
Aldridge, who is paid only $50 a month as mayor and acting police chief, said he believes government regulations prevent anyone but a certified police officer from even touching one of the rifles.
"It's not even legal for me to handle them," he said. "I'm going to turn them back over to the federal government as soon as I can. I don't think we need them. Maybe one, but not 10."