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Sunday, Nov. 27, 2011

Argument over civility leads to fight at Gardner City Council meeting

mcampbell@theolathenews.com

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It started with an argument over whether videotaping City Council meetings would lead to more civility.

It ended with one councilman claiming he was tackled to the ground by another one.

The town of Gardner in southwest Johnson County is buzzing about a squabble that spilled over from Monday’s council meeting and ended up being referred to the district attorney as a possible assault case.

Tensions among some of the six-member mayor and council have long simmered. They boiled over toward the end of Monday’s meeting during a discussion of whether to invest in video equipment to record council proceedings, as many other municipalities and school districts do. The idea has been under consideration for some time.

Witnesses said tempers flared and Councilman Dennis Pugh told Councilman Larry Fotovich to shut up. Fotovich commented that Pugh might behave differently if the public was watching. Pugh reportedly then threatened to beat up Fotovich and stormed out. The meeting quickly adjourned.

Fotovich told The Kansas City Star that he drove home and Pugh soon drove up.

“He grabbed me from behind and put me in a head lock,” Fotovich said Wednesday, adding that he managed to escape and ran toward the street while reaching for a video camera in his pocket. Fotovich said he was recording as Pugh ran toward him and tackled him.

“I was face-first in the dirt, he was on top of me and he grabbed the camera out of my hand,” Fotovich said.

He called 911 with his cell phone and several Gardner police cars soon arrived. Officers confiscated the camera. They made a report but no arrests, said Capt. James Moore.

Police forwarded the information to Johnson County District Attorney Stephen Howe. His office refused Wednesday to release the police report, saying it was the subject of an investigation.

Pugh could not be reached Wednesday, but he was quoted by GardnerEdge.com acknowledging there was an altercation.

“I did not tackle Larry,” the website said Pugh wrote in response to an earlier posting. “We met at the light pole and both went down scrambling for the camera on the ground.”

Fotovich, who said he had bruised ribs as well as cuts and scrapes, is hopeful the videotape will corroborate his account. Police told him Wednesday he could have his camera back but they would keep the data card as evidence.

Gardner Mayor David Drovetta told The Star that, on the advice of the city attorney, he could not comment on the matter “until the process has run its course.”

Both Fotovich and Pugh were elected in April. As a candidate, Pugh answered a question from the GardnerEdge about how he would repair the political and social division in the town.

“I will listen to all arguments for and against issues brought before the council,” Pugh responded. “Being an elected official is a thankless job and you cannot make all the people happy all the time.”

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