A City’s Mayor, Police Chief and Clerk Face Misconduct Charges

The history of Armstrong, Iowa — population 840 — is dotted with local milestones, like the demolition of an elementary school building erected in 1915 to make way for a new junior high school, the closing of the Kasson drugstore and the old Kum’n’Go being razed.

But the city now finds itself in the news far beyond the borders of its 0.9 square miles: Its mayor, clerk, police chief and a former clerk face charges related to misappropriation of funds, fraudulent public records, concealing embezzlement and the deployment of a Taser against a civilian in exchange for cash.

The Iowa State attorney general’s office on Thursday filed charges against Mayor Greg Buum; the city’s police chief, Craig Merrill; the city clerk, Tracie Lang; and its former city clerk, Connie Thackery, the Emmet County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement on Friday.

The attorney general’s office was prosecuting the case at the request of the county attorney because of a potential conflict of interest.

It was unclear if those charged had lawyers and what the charges might mean for the city, which is about 170 miles northwest of Des Moines. Calls to the four current and former officials were not returned on Saturday.

Ron Trenary, a current City Council member, said he could not comment. Other members of the City Council could not be reached on Saturday.

The felony and criminal charges include misconduct in office, assault with a dangerous weapon, theft and falsifying public documents. All of those charged, except Chief Merrill, were arrested on Friday and were being held on bond. It was unclear why the chief was not taken into custody.

The charges come after a four-year investigation by the Emmet County Sheriff’s Office, with help from the state’s Criminal Investigation Division.

Mark Martens, the sheriff, said he could not comment on what prompted the investigation. Attempts to get a more detailed list of charges were unsuccessful on Saturday.

“The investigation is still being efforted, and we expect they’ll likely be more charges,” Sheriff Martens said.

From July 2015 to December 2016, the state auditor’s office conducted an investigation into the city, looking into its financial records. Ms. Thackery, who retired in February 2016 as Armstrong’s city clerk, was responsible for collections, disbursements, utility billings and financial reports.

Auditors found close to $100,000 in “undeposited utility collections and improper and unsupported disbursements,” according to a 2017 report.

Over the past few years, city officials have been embroiled in infighting and other turmoil.

In 2017, more than 100 residents signed a petition calling for the resignation of three Council members.

Mr. Bumm declared a “state of high concern” for the city in 2017 and cut off communication between city officials and the city clerk. And that year, the Council also voted to seize the chief’s computer and Taser for investigation, The Estherville News reported. Officials turned them over to the sheriff.

Ron Trenary, a current City Council member, said he could not comment. Other members of the City Council could not be reached on Saturday.

The felony and criminal charges include misconduct in office, assault with a dangerous weapon, theft and falsifying public documents. All of those charged, except Chief Merrill, were arrested on Friday and were being held on bond. It was unclear why the chief was not taken into custody.

The charges come after a four-year investigation by the Emmet County Sheriff’s Office, with help from the state’s Criminal Investigation Division.

Mark Martens, the sheriff, said he could not comment on what prompted the investigation. Attempts to get a more detailed list of charges were unsuccessful on Saturday.

Mr. Bumm declared a “state of high concern” for the city in 2017 and cut off communication between city officials and the city clerk. And that year, the Council also voted to seize the chief’s computer and Taser for investigation, The Estherville News reported. Officials turned them over to the sheriff.

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