LAKE OZARK, Mo. — Tuesday brought a raucous crowd to the typically quiet Lake Ozark Board of Aldermen meeting.

The catalyst? Mayor Dennis Newberry’s interest in posting job listings for City Administrator and Assistant City Administrator, rather than appointing Assistant City Administrator Harrison Fry to the position without collecting resumes. (City Administrator Dave Van Dee has announced he will retire in October). The issue brought citizens to speak on both sides. Several in the crowd observed this was the most passionate and largest turnout for a city board meeting in many years. 

By the start of the meeting, the meeting chamber was standing-room-only, with dozens of people reportedly having to leave the meeting simply for lack of a place to sit or stand. Newberry opened the meeting with a few statements about Harrison Fry’s possible appointment and recent media coverage of the Mayor’s salary's wage garnishment. 

In his opening statements, Newberry said that he is following all due processes for posting job listings for a new City Administrator after current City Administrator Van Dee announced his retirement, adding that posting the job will cost the city very little. 

“I just want to move on and post the job and get the best person for the job. If that person ends up being Harrison, then I’ll appoint him and if it isn’t, I’ll appoint them,” Newberry said plainly.

He also announced that a committee will be formed for the appointment of a new City Administrator that will include the Mayor, at least two citizens, at least two business owners and an HR professional. Newberry also stated that he is inviting Council Member Dennis Klautzer—who has opposed posting the job opening online and whose local news radio station KRMS ran an article about Newberry's wage garnishment—to be on the committee since “it’s only fair to choose someone in clear opposition.”

Newberry went on to explain to the room the story behind his wage garnishment. He said was due to a hospital bill after complications with hip surgery that was caused by incorrect post-surgery treatment. Since the treatment was incorrect, Newberry didn’t pay the bill saying that it was a “decision made on principal” The garnishment is $48 out of each $500 paycheck. The Mayoral salary in Lake Ozark is $6,000 per year. The KRMS report cast the garnishment as a blow to the city police department: during his campaign, Newberry promised to donate his Mayoral salary to the police department.

At Tuesday's meeting, Newberry proposed that the Mayor’s salary should be abolished altogether and that the money should go toward police salaries; Newberry offered the same proposal for City Alderman salaries as well. 

Newberry then spoke on current initiatives he’s bringing to Lake Ozark, including funding for more parking on Bagnell Dam Boulevard, removing trash dumpsters from high visibility areas on the Strip and installing license-plate reading cameras for law enforcement, after a recent deadly shooting on the Strip. 

“I never thought for one minute that we’d have a shootout on our streets in front of one of our restaurants. But it has happened and if we don’t take actions, the parking spots will be empty, it’ll be a ghost town [on the Strip],” Newberry warned. 

The meeting was then turned over to public comment: nearly a dozen speakers came forward, and the comment period lasted more than an hour, with heated arguments on both sides.

Meeting Video Coverage, By Lake TV -- Article Continues Below

Gail Griswold, owner of Shawnee Bluff Winery and Vineyard, spoke in defense of posting job listings for the position and added that she thought KRMS, owned by alderman Dennis Klautzer, was inappropriate in its coverage in the days leading up to the meeting. 

“I think you should be ashamed of yourself Dennis [Klautzer], to be honest,” Griswold said. 

Will Holtz, owner of Lake TV, also spoke in support of posting the job listing, comparing the process to the Kansas City Chiefs hiring of Andy Reid rather than promoting the younger, less experienced assistant head coach at the time — a decision that resulted in Reid leading the Chiefs to their first Super Bowl title. 

“Thank God, the Chiefs front office did their due diligence to find the right man for the job,” Holtz said. He pointed out multiple former elected officials were in the room to oppose Newberry's plan. “The mayor has been sitting here for a few months and he’s already accomplished things that no one has set out to do and you guys aren't even giving him a chance because you don’t want to do your due diligence for the taxpayers?” These comments were met with applause from the crowd. 

Holtz went on to say that the job posting is a low-cost way to find the best person for the job. He also reiterated that it was a conflict of interest that Klautzer owned a media company and was running “hate pieces,” garnering another round of applause in the middle of his statement. 

Klautzer then asked Fry if he had directed him in any way and also asked the KRMS journalist present at the meeting if he had directed him to write anything, with both men saying no. 

“I’ll look forward to the next election!” called a woman from the crowd. 

“Yelling from the sidelines,” Klautzer answered, shaking his head. 

Those speaking in support of Fry's appointment included former mayor Johnny Franzescos, former alderman Larry Giampa, Lake Ozark Planning and Zoning chairman Margaret Davis, and business owner Larry Denny. They and others in support of Fry’s appointment cited the $22,000 cost the city paid a headhunting firm in 2020 to find Fry. They also pointed to the time it might take to find a new person, the potential for turnover with a new hire and speaking about Fry’s ability. 

“I’ve been on the planning and Zoning Commission for 21 years. He is the most qualified and professional development director that we’ve had in all those years that I’ve been involved,” Davis said.

Johnny Franzeskos comments grew especially heated when he discussed another hot topic: parking on the Lake Ozark Strip. Franzeskos explained the city hadn’t put in any more parking on the Strip because they didn’t own the land. When Newberry asked why they hadn’t bought land, Franzeskos retorted that the current administration didn’t even have the money to pay the police a higher wage. A woman in the crowd piped up, saying police salaries weren’t any better under Franzeskos. 

During the course of the discussion, Alderman Vernon Jaycox contested that when the board hired Fry they had planned to make him the Interim City Administrator after Van Dee retired and—if he were successful—hire him permanently. Newberry replied that there was no contract in place for this plan and City Attorney Chris Rohrer affirmed this.  

“If they Mayor would just change his one little point and give Harrison a shot, the board would be happy as a lark,” Jaycox said.

Klautzer repeated this sentiment later in the meeting saying, “I think the board feels a little disrespected because we all agree that we did the right thing last year.” He went on to say that by Newberry spending time looking for new candidates when Fry was available for the position, “You’re saying we [the alderman] didn’t do a good job when we did it.”

A majority of the individuals from the public who spoke asked for unity between the mayor and the board. Two business owners also advocated for the city to lift its food truck ban, and a few spoke about police salaries and improvements to the Strip. 

After an hour of public comment, the meeting moved on to old and new business involving permanent waterway easements, procedure for disclosing conflicts of interest for alderman, employee benefit provisions for Covid-19, and approving a special event permit for MO Bicentennial Ice Cream Day.

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