Village Board member Jerry Nichols was removed by police from a Cahokia Village Board meeting Tuesday night at the order of Mayor Curtis McCall Jr.
Nichols’ removal came after he raised questions about the mayor’s hiring of several employees, including a personal assistant.
McCall said Wednesday it was improper for Nichols to discuss personnel issues during an open meeting. Police Chief Larry Purcell said Nichols was disruptive and refused multiple requests by the mayor to be seated.
A video shot by Kim Diers, a village resident, shows two Cahokia police officers taking Nichols by the arm and leading him out of the council chambers to a room at the back, where Nichols said, “I was told to go home.”
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Nichols was not charged. McCall Jr. can be seen on the video gesturing to police, who quickly stepped over to where Nichols was sitting with the other members of the board. The altercation begins a few seconds before the video’s 12-minute mark.
“I was just asking about money he was spending on new hires, and he wouldn’t answer me,” Nichols said afterward.
Purcell said Nichols “was disruptive and the board was not able to carry on its business. I was standing right behind the mayor and I couldn’t hear.”
McCall said it was wrong for Nichols to discuss personnel issues without going into closed session.
“The individuals in question were asked on several occasions to take their seats and remain quiet so that I could move foward with other agenda items,” McCall said. “After they refused, they were escorted out by members of the Cahokia Police Department.”
He added, “As mayor and the presiding officer, I have the authority to ensure that the public respect the decorum of the meetings. Any person whose behavior disrupts the conduct of the meeting is subject to remove, as was the case on Tuesday night.”
The board meeting ended minutes after Nichols was led away. As the officer escorted Nichols from the meeting, his wife, Rhonda Nichols, followed and can be heard saying, “Stop. Just stop.”
“I just wanted to know where he was getting all this money to make these hires,” Nichols said. “He hired a finance person for $67,000 a year and hired himself an assistant at another $67,000. And he made several more hires of people at $30 an hour. We don’t have this money. I’m a member of the board. I’ve got a right to ask questions about how taxpayers’ money is being spent.”
Purcell said the mayor told Nichols that the village had money available for the employees, and that the money has been appropriated for those expenditures.
Purcell said Nichols was taken from the meeting room to an upstairs room in the police department. Purcell said Nichols was not complying with requests to take his seat and to be quiet, so his removal was required for the meeting to continue.
The Village Board’s attorney, Belleville lawyer Robert Sprague, sat at the table with board members but did not intervene. Sprague could not immediately be reached for comment.
Diers said, “It was ridiculous. You mean he can’t speak?”
Other residents are heard on Diers’ video criticizing the police action.
But Trustee Phyllis Pearson said Nichols needed to be removed. She said Nichols routinely is disrespectful to the mayor.
“And, Mr. Nichols talks to him like he is a child. Every time Mr. Nichols and I get into it it’s because of how he speaks to the mayor,” Pearson said. “Nichols is still fighting the change that is underway since McCall took over. That’s when all of this bickering started. Basically, at every meeting Nichols is disgruntled.”
She added, “Nobody carries on like that, but him. He is disgruntled about something. Accept it, respect it. Get over it and move on. With all of this interruption, we can’t respectfully or professionally carry out a board meeting peacefully.”
Cahokia Trustee Jeff Radford called the event at the Cahokia meeting Tuesday night ridiculous.
“I’ve never seen anything like this in the 45 years that I have been in Cahokia,” Radford said. He said he has a lot of political experience and understands that some people didn’t like it that their candidate didn’t win the election. But, he said no one has ever raised such a ruckus before.
He said, “It’s only a few people. But, it’s like Mr. Nichols incites the audience. He kind of gets them going.” Radford said the image that went out from the Village Hall on Tuesday night is not an image that anyone can be proud of. Instead, he said it would keep potential businesses from coming in. “If they see all of this chaos, why would they want to move here?” Radford asked.
“No matter who the mayor has been in the past or his agenda, nobody’s disrespected him, the police department, the board or the system. They’re disrespecting the mayor and this board and the system,” Radford said.
Radford said he hates to say it, but he believes racism is a factor in all of the chaos that a small pocket is creating. “I think racism is a factor. And, some of it is they can’t let go of the fact that he won as mayor. And, he is the first black mayor in the village of Cahokia,” Radford said.
“No matter what he does, some people are not going to be happy. They would only be happy if the old regime was brought back with the same people who were in office,” Radford said.
Radford said McCall is very respectful and remains so even to those who are disrespectful to him. He said he worked alongside McCall before he became mayor and he always led by example. “He believes in treating people the way he wants to be treated,” Radford said.