Impeached Jennings mayor accuses the city of a witch hunt
Updated May 28 wtih Henderson's reaction: Former mayor of Jennings, Yolonda Fountain-Henderson said a “political witch hunt” has been issued against her by city officials during a Friday morning press conference outside the city hall. Just a few days earlier, on Tuesday night, Jennings city council unanimously voted to impeach Henderson. The impeachment included two votes from Jennings newest elected city council members, who have been serving for less than two months. Last year, Henderson made history by being elected as the city’s first black woman mayor.
Henderson, who referred to the impeachment hearing as “kangeroo court” and believes laws were violated throughout the process, says she plans to appeal the council’s decision as soon as she and her attorney receive transcripts from the hearing. Henderson originally had 19 allegations lodged against her, by Tuesday night the council narrowed it down to seven.
“I had apologized to the city council for my part and wanted to work with them. But I see that was not enough. They did not had a forgiving heart.” Henderson told media.
Just days before, on Wednesday, the city held a press conference announcing Jennings ward 2 councilwoman, Francine Duggar as mayor pro-temp.
“We need to end this downward spiral which will commemorate bringing down our city and I believe this healing can start to today.” Duggar said during the press conference. As acting mayor, Duggar’s city salary will increase, until the special election in November, which Henderson plans to run again if she is qualified.
“For the past months, Duggar and myself had been going to events together, talking on the phone, hiring new workers together and some of that hiring process got me impeached. I don’t understand her statement.” Henderson said. “ I was trying to work with her.”
According to Duggar, the city council attempted to work things out with Henderson on multiple occasions before the matter turned legal. Henderson says the council only sent her one letter and it was asking her to drop thelawsuit she had filed during her first month as mayor.
After her lawsuit, turmoil at city hall quickly followed. Henderson’s alliances with former colleagues Elbert Walton and Tony Weaver, furthered wedge her ties between city council members --who did not approve of the two men’s questionable motives.
Weaver and Walton both worked alongside Henderson at Northeast Ambulance and Fire Protection District. In 2011, the trio had been tied to the district when it went before the Missouri Administrative Hearing Commission and was found guilty of violating ethics codes. When the Jennings city council tried to remove Weaver --who helped Henderson file the lawsuit against them-- Henderson defended him and even vowed at a council meeting to make sure he was paid regardless.
City officials have not confirmed the litigation costs it took for the impeachment process, but Henderson estimates the city used over $100,000 of taxpayers’ money. Henderson says she had to pay out of her own pocket for her attorney.
“I resent them for trying to discredit my good name.” Henderson told media.
After serving for one year and making history by becoming Jennings’ first black woman mayor, Yolanda Fountain-Henderson has been impeached.
In a unanimous decision in a hearing at the city’s municipal court on Tuesday, the Jennings City Council — which includes two newly elected members who have been serving for less than two months — voted to end Henderson’s term as mayor.
About 10 residents attended the hearing. Some of those residents hugged and rejoiced, while others stormed out early.
“It’s wonderful. It’s one of the best things that could’ve ever happened,” said Teresa Lowman, a Jennings resident.
After handing in her keys, Henderson was greeted with hugs from friends and supporters.
Henderson’s troubles began during her first month as mayor, when she and attorney Elbert Walton filed a lawsuit against nearly everyone who worked for the city, including herself as former council member. The suit asserted a strong mayoral system for Jennings and tried to undo municipal legislation that limited the mayor’s appointing powers.
Then she hired an outside vendor —Tony Weaver, who had worked with her and Walton in the Northeast Ambulance and Fire Protection District, which ended in court receivership — without council approval. When the council tried to remove Weaver, Henderson defended him and even vowed at a council meeting to make sure he was paid anyway.
All of this, and more, appeared in the articles of impeachment drawn up in February. It contained 19 allegations, which were later pared down to 12.
Paul Martin, who was contracted to prosecute the impeachment hearings, said that Henderson has placed the city at risk of litigation, liability and dysfunction by “acting outside the scope of her office and without regard to the authority of the council and to the law.”
Henderson’s attorney, Donnell Smith, disagreed. “The vast majority of the allegations brought against her were not founded in competent of evidence,” Smith said.
Henderson claimed the impeachment process was a vendetta initiated by council members Rodney Epps and Carol Epps, who are married. She alleged that the Eppses illegally used their city titles to obtain health insurance and they retaliated by seeking her impeachment.
After the impeachment was approved, Carol and Rodney Epps had St. Louis County Police officers escort them to their vehicles.
Henderson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
This article is from The St. Louis American
This story is published as part of a partnership between The St. Louis American and The Huffington Post.