Snow Hill mayor is asked to resign City council votes on ouster in wake of malfeasance charges

January 03, 1998|By Stephen Henderson | Stephen Henderson,SUN STAFF

The Snow Hill City Council asked Mayor Craig S. Johnson to resign yesterday in response to allegations that he allowed operators of an Internet site to use a Worcester County sheriff's cruiser in a nude photo shoot.

At an unscheduled meeting yesterday morning with city attorney John King, the three-member council voted 2-1 to ask Johnson to resign.

Johnson, who also served as a Worcester County deputy sheriff until he resigned last month, has been mayor for about 1 1/2 years.

Johnson did not return calls to his home last night, but through an attorney has maintained that there is an explanation for his behavior that he is unable to disclose.

King and Snow Hill City Councilman Bill Nock also refused to comment.

City officials issued a news release yesterday saying that Johnson had been asked to step down because the "situation created by allegations was detrimental to the town."

The release also said that council members feel Johnson is "innocent until proven guilty."

Bill Walker, the Snow Hill councilman who voted against requesting the mayor's resignation, said he thought his colleagues acted too hastily.

"I didn't want to ask a man to resign without hearing his side of the story," Walker said. "The other council members based their decisions on what they thought about the matter, and that's what they're supposed to do. I'm not saying they're wrong, but I don't want to speculate on what his side of the story is. We need to hear it."

Allegations about Johnson began last month, when high school students discovered the Web site and recognized Worcester County markings on a vehicle in several photos.

Those photos -- now restricted in "forbidden archives" on the Web site -- picture Cherie Messner, the wife of Web site operator John-David Messner, nude in a number of poses with a patrol car.

In at least one shot, she is clutching an automatic rifle.

Johnson has been charged with two counts of malfeasance.

Uproar in town

An investigator with the Worcester County state's attorney's office said Johnson had also told John-David Messner that he might be able to provide access to other public property for other photo shoots.

The charges have created an uproar in Snow Hill, a small, Eastern Shore town that has only one traffic light and bills itself as the "Antique Capital of the World."

Residents are divided over the council's decision. Johnson was a good mayor, many Snow Hill residents say, and if he leaves, it will be a difficult position to fill.

"He has been responsive to citizens here. He has collected taxes that hadn't been collected under past administrations, and stores that were empty downtown now have businesses in them," said Ilia Fehrer, a retired schoolteacher and environmental activist. "Those things are pluses for the city.

Hard to replace

"As far as his extracurricular activities, that's a whole other story, and the council needs to find out what happened," Fehrer said. "But I know that it would be pretty difficult to find someone to take that job. It's pretty thankless."

Worcester County Commissioner Jim Barrett agreed that Johnson has helped the city. But, he said, Johnson should resign.

"He was a deputy and the mayor when he did some of the actions he has been reported to be involved in," Barrett said. "I don't think that's the kind of image Snow Hill wants to portray. There are a lot of good people in Snow Hill, and I think they're embarrassed by this."

Pub Date: 1/03/98

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