Nearly 20 people stood outside the Ashland Board of Aldermen meeting Tuesday night. A police officer at the door explained that they couldn’t be let in because the building was already at its capacity of 96 people.

Instead, a community member called a friend who had made it inside on FaceTime. Others gathered around to watch.

Almost all of the community members attended the meeting in support of Lyn Woolford, who was placed on paid administrative leave from his position as Ashland police chief Feb. 11.

The meeting Tuesday included a section for public comment and a motion to appoint Terry Toalson as interim police chief. The motion passed with a vote of 3-2 and one alderman abstaining.

On Monday, Woolford filed a petition for injunctive relief. He argued his leave was a violation of due process by Ashland Mayor Gene Rhorer after Woolford refused to remove Rhorer’s girlfriend from her home, which she was sharing with Rhorer. The mayor’s term ends in 2020.

Thirteen community members used the section for public comment to speak their minds about Woolford’s suspension. Most of those who spoke asked the aldermen to consider the important role Woolford has played in Ashland’s community.

“I feel there is something missing in our community,” resident Saif Ali said.

Community member Carrie Mertensmeyer said Woolford was influential to ensuring the safety of the community, especially its children.

“When I think of our chief, the first thought that I have is safety. Safety first,” Mertensmeyer said. “So I’d like you to consider that when you’re making your decision.”

Two of the people giving public comment were kids: Rothie Mertensmeyer and Colten Mayse. They knew Woolford for his work as a crossing guard. He was known for wearing crazy hats and was named America’s Favorite Crossing Guard in 2019 in a contest held by Safe Kids Worldwide.

“Chief Woolford is something special to us, and we want him back because he always brought smiles to people’s faces,” Mayse said.

City Administrator Tony St. Romaine began working in Ashland about five months ago, but he hadn’t yet seen a meeting this crowded, he said.

“This isn’t the best place for conducting large meetings, but it’s all we have right now,” St. Romaine said. “At the time we posted this meeting, we had no idea that this might (draw so many people).”

On Monday, a billboard showed up on U.S. 63, which included the date and time of the meeting with the message, “Support Ashland Police Chief Lyn Woolford.” It’s on a changing billboard, so it shared its space with several other ads, but a photo of Woolford still shone intermittently over the road.

  • Assistant city editor, spring 2021. Studying print and digital news journalism. Reach me at skylarlaird@mail.missouri.edu, or in the newsroom at 882-5720.

  • Galen Bacharier is an assistant city editor at the Missourian. He has reported on higher education, state government and breaking news. Reach him at galenbacharier@gmail.com or on Twitter @galenbacharier.

  • I've been a reporter and editor at Missouri community newspapers for 35 years and joined the Columbia Missourian in 2003. My emphasis at the Missourian is on local government and elections. You can reach me at swaffords@missouri.edu or at 573-884-5366.

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