Removed as city clerk, mayor cuts new path in Hallsville

Friday, October 4, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 1:23 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, October 9, 2013
Cheri Reisch was born and raised in Hallsville. Now she's in her first term as mayor just months after she was ousted as city clerk by the town's Board of Aldermen.

HALLSVILLE — The mayor of Hallsville arrives at City Hall on a recent Saturday morning with a packed schedule and a World War II veteran in the passenger seat.

Saturdays are errand days for Cheri Reisch. That's when she stops at her office to go over paperwork, check her mail and see if anything else needs her approval.  

Saturdays are also days when she calls on the residents of the 24 rental properties she operates in town and looks after the other needs of the community. Accompanying her on this Saturday is the World War II vet, 98-year-old Kenneth Carr, who often joins her for breakfast and asks her to help him fill his prescriptions and stock up on groceries.

When you're the mayor of Hallsville, vacations are rare, especially on top of a full-time job in Columbia. Reisch, 51, says she hasn't had a day off since she was elected in April 2012.

Twenty months ago, Reisch staged a political comeback in her hometown, becoming the mayor of Hallsville shortly after a standoff with the town's Board of Aldermen. 

The board had removed her in December 2011 as city clerk, a position she held for 30 years. In January, she decided to file for mayor and three months later, she won by a margin of 24 votes.

Signs of support

Now deep into her first term, Reisch has made it a priority to be accessible to her constituents. She freely hands out her cellphone number to anyone who asks and often comes home to find notes posted on her door about town business.

The mayor said she firmly believes Hallsville has improved during her tenure. A $6,000 park project with new playground equipment has been completed and Reisch is promoting more home construction in the wake of a drop in property tax levy.

Construction also recently started on $1.6 million in sewer improvements that will likely become the largest public works project on her watch. In the mayor's eyes, the taxpayers deserve to see their money being spent wisely.

“When I was elected mayor, I took the mantra of 'Larry the Cable Guy',” Reisch said. “We’re gonna get her done.”

As mayor, she presides over the Board of Aldermen, a group of four men who represent the two wards in the town of about 1,500.

Of the aldermen currently in office, only one was serving when Reisch was removed as city clerk. He often sits to her right during board meetings, sometimes dressed in jeans and a blue mechanics shirt with the name Mickey embroidered on the front in faded white script.

Mickey Nichols admits he doesn’t think unkindly of Reisch. He’s just not her biggest fan.

“She’s not a bad person,” Nichols said. “She’s a good person, she’s good-hearted. She’s just hard-hitting.”

Thomas Pauley, a financial adviser in Columbia who was recently appointed as one of the four aldermen in Hallsville, observes that the conflict between the two is more ideological than personal.

“In both cases, these are longtime Hallsville residents,” Pauley said. “While they’re both opinionated, they are also very passionate. They’re very determined to try and do the right thing for the city.

"With that in mind, sometimes there are discussions, and sometimes the discussions get heated. It’s always because the individuals have the good of the city at heart.”

Nichols chooses his words carefully when it comes to Reisch. He admits that while the two have been able to collaborate, it hasn't always been easy.

“Sometimes it’s rough, but we try and work together,” Nichols said. “It’s for the benefit of the city that we do work together.”

Despite their differences, Reisch said she bears no ill will toward Nichols.

"It's for the good of the community,"she said. "You have to put personalities aside and agree sometimes to disagree."

A painful departure

In December 2011, in the wake of her ouster as city clerk, Reisch spoke to the Board of Aldermen directly and without hesitation.

“Shame on you. Shame on you,” she said.

The woman who had dedicated her entire adult life to Hallsville was no longer a key figure in municipal government. No official reason was ever given for her dismissal.

Reisch said it was because she was speaking out against then-city administrator Joe Smith; others said she wasn’t sticking to the rules.

Sally Erickson, a local store owner in Hallsville, said Reisch had established strong connections in town, and they became even stronger after she was dismissed.

“She has a lot of informal power,” Erickson said. “That is very threatening to some people. It’s sad to say, but that’s the reality.”

After being fired, Reisch remained outspoken and fiercely proud of her roots in Hallsville. That never changed.

What did change was City Hall, she said. The way people viewed her, the way her input was disregarded by higher-ups in local government.

“I was so determined that this city was going in the wrong direction,” Reisch said. “It wasn’t about me, it was about the people that lived here. The grandparents, the parents, the kids.”

Pauley said Reisch, for better or worse, had dozens of encounters with the people of Hallsville when she was city clerk.

“I would imagine that nobody works anywhere for that length of time without ruffling some feathers,” Pauley said. “Those things happen. That’s just the way it is.”

On the night she waited for election results to come in, Reisch held a watch party at the Bad Citizens Coffee & Pub, across the street from City Hall. She offered refreshments to anyone who cared to join her as she awaited the final count.

When the party was over, the reality of the situation set in — she had been elected mayor of her hometown.

But the greater challenge lay ahead. The unseated municipal employee had some work to do.

A hometown girl

Driving through town, Reisch points to the places her family helped build. One is the local fire station. Underneath a flagpole near the station sits a plaque, commemorating the efforts of Reisch’s father and stepmother — Dale and Kay Toalson — for their volunteer work. She tells everyone that they are her role models.

Reisch has lived in Hallsville her entire life. She graduated from Hallsville High School and accepted the position of city clerk just a few days shy of her 21st birthday.

She may be the town mayor now, but she also works a full-time job as a legal assistant at the firm of Cline & Braddock in Columbia. She's also a mother and a grandmother, two roles that she said brighten her life.

She's also a local personality. When she walks through the door of Claire's Cafe, her breakfast spot most Saturday mornings, Reisch is sure to be greeted by regulars accustomed to seeing her there.

She's trying to quit her cigarette habit, so she pulls up a chair in the non-smoking section and says she needs a few cups of coffee before she gets going for the day.

A waitress comes to take her order and briefly looks up from her note pad.

“Are you the mayor of Hallsville?” she asks. She’s new and not from around here.

Reisch nods and says with a smile, “Yes, I am.”

Sitting in the cafe, among her fellow citizens, it’s clear she’s proud to be in charge of this town. That makes the question of whether she’ll run for re-election next spring all the more interesting. At the moment, Reisch is still unsure.

She laments that for all the good she believes she has done for the city, there’s always division among her constituents — the vocal minority and the silent majority.

One group sends positive emails and leaves kind notes on her door. The others, she said, are still letting past issues define her future.

As she gets into her car and heads to her next errand, Reisch lets out a sigh.

“Some people love me, some people hate me,” she said. “It is what it is.”

Supervising editor is Jeanne Abbott.

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