Council criticized for lack of visibility

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 14, 2008

Some members of the Ironton City Council were offended Thursday night after representatives from Neighbors Plus said some community members believe they should have been more visible during fallout of Guy Thomas’ death.

Thomas’ body was discovered beneath a city police cruiser late Saturday night after being dragged about 10 blocks.

A march and candlelight vigil drew about 250 Monday evening.

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Hugh Scott with Neighbors Plus said that he and other members of the group received phone calls from community members saying they were upset that they hadn’t seen their elected officials at the march or any of them expressing condolences for Guy Thomas.

“I’m not here to point fingers,” he said after reading a selection from the Daily Bread about honesty. “You know where we live.”

Scott added that he didn’t think there was a cover-up going on, but he wanted to be sure that all the facts of the case come out.

“There are no degrees of honesty,” he said.

Councilmen responded that they didn’t want to look as if they were being political opportunists in a time of community tragedy.

Kevin Waldo said that he didn’t know Guy Thomas but he did know his brother, Juan.

“I thought about going to the march and the funeral, but I didn’t think it would be appropriate,” he said. “I didn’t want it to look like I was looking for votes.”

He added that he was grieving for the community as well as the family.

Frank Murphy said he took “a little offense” to the criticism. He went to school with both Guy and Juan Thomas and was visiting Juan Thomas on Sunday.

“I was there as a friend,” he said. He added that he and councilman Mike Lutz walked around the neighborhood talking to people.

“I am going to the wake,” he said. “But not as a councilman.”

Lutz, a neighbor of Juan Thomas, said he was attending the wake on Thursday night not as a councilman, but as a friend.

“That is the important role,” he said.

Scott spoke again repeating the old adage of

“believe nothing you hear and half of what you see.”

“I’m not here pointing fingers in disrespect,” he said, adding that he wanted the lines of communication open. “We have to work together.”

Rev. Richard Carter of the Triedstone Baptist Church and member of Neighbors Plus said that Mr. Scott did not come to offend anyone.

“We come here as leaders of a community group,” he said. “We come as those who have had a weight dropped in our laps. We didn’t come here to point fingers, we came to represent those who called us.”

Carter gently admonished those who called.

“Those who called didn’t show up tonight,” he said. “We bear the brunt.”

Mayor Rich Blankenship said the tragedy was on the hearts and minds of everyone in Ironton.

“When I was notified at 3:45 in the morning it was like a dagger through my heart,” he said, adding that he had spoken with the family.

In a prepared statement to The Ironton Tribune Blankenship also said “I would like to take this opportunity to offer my condolences to the family of Guy Thomas. This tragic event not only affects the immediate family but it affects our entire community.

“My heart was touched to see the number of friends and family members who came out to memorialize the life of Mr. Thomas.”

Blankenship said that they were awaiting the results from the investigation being performed by the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation and Identification.

He added that when the results are released, they will be made public.

“I don’t have the answers, but I’m sure when the answers come out Chief Jim Carey will put them out there,” he said.

Carey said that when a tragedy happens one of two things happen: pointing of fingers or people come together.

“The truth will come out,” he said.

He responded to the lumps he has taken as the investigation progresses.

“Don’t worry about me, I’ve been beaten before,” he said. “Worry about the Thomases, worry about the officer involved, worry about the community.”

Preliminary autopsy results released Wednesday stated Thomas was lying in the roadway when his body was struck. An inspection of the cruiser driven by Patrolman Richard Fouts, 27, showed no visible signs of damage.

The funeral for Thomas, a 1980 IHS grad and Navy veteran, has been scheduled for Friday at Phillips Funeral Home.

On agenda items, the council passed a resolution authorizing Blankenship to apply for a grant from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources that would increase access for boating and fishing on the Ironton riverfront. The resolution would be the first phase for developing the Ironton Riverfront Boating and Fishing Access.

It also authorized the mayor to purchase a new Toro lawnmower with zero turn radius and a 60-inch cutting blade for the Parks and Recreation Department.

The council also extended their support of the Hanging Rock ATV Club’s annual Rock ’n’ Roll Rall,

which is scheduled for the weekend of April 25.

There was some hesitation on the part of Leo Johnson who lives near the floodwall and had to put up with ATV riders going “wild” two years ago, although when the club changed it to just a parade on city streets it was OK.

Carey said that anyone who rides an ATV in the city when it isn’t part of the club’s parade would be arrested since it is illegal to ride those vehicles on the road in town.

All the councilmen voted to support the rally.

They also passed a resolution supporting Gov. Ted Strickland’s Initiative to Building Ohio Jobs.

According to the resolution, the program is a $1.7 billion job package that creates thousands of jobs in Ohio. It would invest money into roads, bridges, railroads, infrastructure improvements, biomedicine, bio-products and advanced energy.

“Bring some jobs down here, too,” Johnson said.

The Ironton City Council meets on the second and fourth Thursdays of the month at 6 p.m. in Council chambers on the third floor of the Ironton City Center.