Strasburg’s one business is a beer joint, other storefronts sit empty and the biggest gathering of cars is at the K-8 school.
The little town on Missouri 58 in Cass County appears to be nothing special among others its size in rural Missouri.
But two things set this place apart. One is a one-time thing, surely. On a recent morning, the police chief couldn’t find his patrol car. That’s unusual because he’s supposed to be driving it, and in a town of 141 people, there can’t be that many places to lose a car.
The second thing is more of a tradition. Candidates for city offices here usually don’t file for office. They rely on neighbors writing their names on the ballot.
“We make fliers and go door to door,” Gary Birge said in his driveway. Why mess with the hassle of filing? he asked. It may cost a few dollars, too.
Cass County clerk Janet Burlingame agreed that unlike most cities, no matter the size, it has become typical for no names to appear on the Strasburg ballot. Four seats, including mayor, are up on April 8. No listed candidates.
Birge, who served on the City Council a few years back, is thinking about getting back on. Why? Because of the first thing — the recent disappearance of the police car.
It’s back now. Turned out Mayor Merle Gates locked the white 2010 Ford Crown Vic in his garage. He did this about the same time he changed the locks at City Hall without telling anyone. According to the minutes of a special council meeting in which Police Chief Aaron Roberts was fired on a 3-2 vote, Gates had concerns that Roberts had been misusing the car.
On Friday, Roberts denied all the allegations against him. He said that when he learned where the car was, he demanded the mayor return it so he could resume his duties.
Gates refused and said he was “taking control of things,” Roberts said.
The mayor’s unilateral actions outraged two council members and other residents in the town about an hour southeast of Kansas City. They challenged Gates at a crowded special meeting March 8 in the tiny, red brick City Hall next to the closed post office.
Gates had decided the part-time city clerk made too much money, according to the council minutes. That’s why he changed the locks.
Roberts may have been fired illegally because he was not given 10 days’ notice for the meeting. Also, Missouri law says that termination of a police chief requires a two-thirds majority. Three votes out of five falls short of that. The two council votes supporting the mayor’s push to can Roberts? The mayor’s son and next-door neighbor.
Roberts said he has contacted a lawyer and will challenge his dismissal.
“Apparently I’m the first to stand up to his (Gates) bullying, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to take it,” Roberts said.
Meanwhile, the town has hired its part-time officer as the new chief.
Gates told The Star he would meet for an interview but later changed his mind and drove away in his pickup. He did not return subsequent phone calls. Nor did his council member son, Mike Gates, or his council member neighbor, Jack Ewing.
Gates said at the March 8 meeting that he’d been keeping track of mileage on the patrol car and the hours that Roberts had been on duty, compared with what he had reported.
Council member Ernie Yates told the mayor that the chief had duties beyond patrolling the streets of Strasburg, such as tasks mandated by the county and state. Roberts also had to drive occasionally to Harrisonville, Yates said.
At one point in the ensuing shouting match, former Mayor Greg McClure chastised the mayor for using bad language.
“Mr. Gates, do I need to remind you there are ladies present?” McClure asked.
McClure said last week that because of the fracas he is now contemplating letting people know he would be willing to return to office.
“He’s not Boss Hogg,” McClure said of Gates. “We need someone who understands the servant part of public servant.”
“The mayor thinks this is over,” council member Daniel Yarnell said. “It’s not.”
The recent flap made an already bad situation worse.
Some people in Strasburg didn’t like that Gates drove around town, sometimes on his John Deere tractor, taking pictures of what he thought were code violations. Yarnell said some residents are elderly and poor and struggled to maintain their homes.
He and others are still hoping for a change next month.
In the last election for two council seats, the write-in vote totals were 8-2-1 and 7-1-1.
“We’ve had some ties in Strasburg, too,” Burlingame said.
Sometimes people got offices without even running. McClure said that back in 2004, when he’d been in town only a year, he went to a council meeting to ask whether he could get reimbursed for fixing some potholes.
“By the time I got out of there, they’d made me mayor,” he said. “My desk had three legs and a cinder block.”
He served for three years.
It’s just a small town. Most people commute to jobs elsewhere. Folks hunt mushrooms and shovel snow together. They help one another in bad times and gather for barbecues in the good.
And come April, people in Strasburg get involved in who’s running for what.
This year especially.