Sunday, July 30, 2017

Chapter 22 - Marion Fisher

Perhaps the person I feel like I got to know the most while researching this book is Marion Fisher, Janette’s mother. She was first described to me by Terry Hall, a friend of Janette and her brother.

I found her to be very creative, very intelligent, and very tolerant. She had her own mother move in and she tended her, plus held a job, and had a son at home all at the same time. Plus she was very active in her church. Sometimes on the way to church I’d be following and watch Marion brake and swerve to miss birds in the road.”

Marion Fisher was the Reed City Clerk and Treasurer at the time of her daughter’s murder. Back then it was all one position. So, in addition to all the other things she was juggling when Janette was killed, she was also playing a major role in helping to keep Reed City running smoothly.

One of the first bits of research I did for this book was to devour three years’ worth of city council meeting minutes, which were printed out by Jackie Beam, the current city clerk. The bound volumes had to be lugged from storage to where they would be copied. Thirty years ago, they were kept in legal size binders, which meant legal size paper, extra-long and more bulky than the standard 8.5 X 11 inch commonly used today. The copies I received are clearly of hand typed documents, and often Marion’s handwriting is at the top marked “Indexed.” Each set of monthly minutes bears her signature.

Being able to get an up-close look into her day-to-day job proved an invaluable insight, even though each set of minutes only represented one meeting she’d had that day, which occurred in the evening, usually called to order at around 7:30pm by the Mayor at the time, Donald Collison. After a long day at the office, that’s where Marion was a couple times a month, taking notes, very often bobbing and weaving.

The Reed City city council, bless their hearts, they were… how shall I put it? Well, they were an opinionated bunch, and even though council members came and went, the core group stayed basically the same for the time period I researched.

One individual was a standout: Marjorie Brown White. 

I remember sitting down with Barb Westerburg, the present city treasurer, and saying, “I’d have loved to talk to her. She seemed like a pisser.” 

Barb nodded and smiled. “Yes, she was.”

Marjorie fancied herself, among other things, an historian. She wrote a book titled One Hundred Going on Two Hundred that commemorated Reed City’s centennial in 1975. I purchased a copy at The Old Rugged Cross Museum in Reed City. That is where I found all of the old Herald and Pioneer newspaper articles from which I obtained a great deal of historical context about Reed City in general, as well as what was going on around the time of the murder.

Mrs. Brown White’s life deserves a book in and of itself, but for our purposes, she was the council member who wasn’t afraid to point fingers and name names in the middle of a televised council meeting. At one point, those fingers were being (dramatically) pointed at Marion Fisher. But before we get to that, we must go back almost a year prior to the murder, in order to set the stage.

In an Osceola Herald article published on March 10, 1983—almost two months after Janette’s murder, and just after his termination—former Reed City Police Officer Theodore Platz commented: “Police Chief Rathbun has stated that I have not violated any laws. Am I being terminated because of an embarrassment to the city? If so, I submit that the actions of some council members at council meetings (which are shown live on Cable 7) are far more embarrassing to the city.”

Needless to say, that piqued my curiosity. Embarrassing council members? Bring it! That's right up my proverbial alley. I enjoy the feisty ones...

I contacted Colin Hayward, who was the Chamber of Commerce secretary at the time of the murder, and he gave me a bit of backstory on the filming and broadcasting of the meetings.

We broadcast the proceedings of the Reed City city council live and in living color way back in the first days of having cable TV in Reed City. I’m believing in 1980 and 1981. We had to go West off Chestnut across from Don Patterson’s home and reach up a pole and switch the broadcast wire from my home on Chestnut across the street from Vic’s Market to a wire from the Nazarene Church, and after the broadcasts make the switch back. 

It was very interesting that many people said they NEVER watched the Council meetings, but when I would pack up the equipment and take it back to our studio in the City Hall portion of the city building, I would go out to the then Frontier Inn and later the Chuck Wagon and someone would make a comment about what happened at the Council meeting. I had to smile inside as they would have said, “We never watch the Council meetings.” One of the other things we broadcast were the birthdays and anniversaries of anyone who wanted their name on a continuing loop that played when we weren’t broadcasting a live or videotaped event.

During those years we also videotaped a few sessions of the County Board of Commissioners and played the video tapes on the system from my breezeway between the garage and house at 715 S. Chestnut Street. That is the place the programs emanated from, whether live or video, for the news, interviews, weather or whatever. 

All the video tapes were played from that location until we moved to the City Hall, as an alternate location. When we did, I had to make the wire switch on the pole across from Don Patterson’s home.

I’m sorry I don’t have any of those old tapes for you to watch. The Reed City Council meetings were very interesting. I had served on the City Council and when the opportunity became available, it was fun to broadcast those sessions live. Once in a while they would have a closed meeting for personnel reasons (which is allowable under the law) and the City Attorney would come and make sure the cable was disconnected from the camera and sound feed was also disconnected. The law stated that the Council had to make some type of report at the end of the closed meeting as to the type of thing discussed, and then they could end the meeting.

To begin my city council research, I went to the city building and picked up a thick packet of copied council minutes, binder-clipped into three sections, one for each of the years 1982, 1983, and 1984. I was hoping for some context. Murder doesn’t occur in a vacuum, and even though I knew it was highly unlikely that I’d read the name of the killer on any one of those legal-sized pages, I figured you could learn a lot about a community by what they were spending their money on, not to mention what they spent time arguing about.

The monthly meetings were full of what you’d expect—street lights that need fixing, citizens coming to air a gripe or two, property assessments, votes on city ordinances, discussions about fluoride in the water, audits of the finances, bids for city work to be done… yadda, yadda, yadda—you get the idea. Not exactly riveting stuff.

But I was rewarded, right out of the box, by high drama -  only three pages in and it read like a soap opera, if by soap opera you mean the city manager being summarily ousted, mid-meeting.

On February 1st 1982 the city manager was Ralph Westerburg. He’d come from Milford, Ohio where he was city manager, and took the helm in Reed City in March of 1973. From a 2003 article in The Pioneer after his death, Westerburg was described as follows:

Phillip Rathbun: “I have nothing but praise to say about him. Ralph was a very progressive city manager. He went out and made things happen. He developed an industrial park, created a park system in Reed City for recreation, expanded industry, started the repaving street program, extended water and sewer, I could go on and on… We will miss him, I will miss him. I bear the sadness of his loss because he was like one of the family.”

Tom Meinert, Reed City Planning Commission chairman and former city councilman during Westerburg’s era: “I always had a good working relationship with Ralph. You might not get the answer you would like from him, but you always got the straight answer.”

Aggressive is a word I got a lot when people described Westerburg. It’s clear he knew the job was about bringing new business to the area and then promoting it.  A couple years into his tenure, two of Reed City’s finest (names you’ll now find familiar) hauled him into the pokey for being drunk and disorderly. The article hit the AP, and I found it in no less than five different newspapers around the country, probably for the fact that the officers in question had arrested their boss. It’s unlikely that happens with glaring regularity, for obvious reasons.

Even after having been fired, Reed City hired Westerburg back in July of 1986, working part of the year from Florida. Nice gig if you can get it.

The February 1, 1982 City Council meeting began like normal, including things like a long discussion regarding an auditor’s report, the previous meeting’s minutes were read and approved, and the council went on to discuss local business owners’ concerns about the new US-131 expressway.

Then Councilwoman White asked one of the other council members why he did not ask for Mr. Westerburg’s dismissal after he made accusations about him at the January meeting. Apparently there had been a question as to how Westerberg had used some personal and/or vacation time.

Councilwoman White went on to question Westerburg’s authority to hire the new deputy clerk, and then she lowered the boom.

Mr. Westerburg has been heard to say the Council doesn’t run itself, he runs the council.” Councilwoman White further alleged that businessmen had come to her and said, “Ralph has to go.”

Are you saying you are getting reports from business people?” Mayor Collison asked.

Councilwoman White answered that she was, and then she made the following motion, seconded by Councilman Scarborough.

“We would be well advised to terminate the services of our city manager as of now, and I so move.”

Westerburg does what he thinks is best for the city, but what he does is not always for the city’s good,” Councilman Koon said. He further stated that it was the council’s fault for letting him get away with it.

It appears this had been brewing for a while, but nobody on the council had the stones to make a motion. Nobody with the exception of Councilwoman White, who found an opening and decided to take full advantage. The Mayor was suddenly concerned about who would present the budget if Westerburg was gone, because it was due. After more discussion, a vote was taken and it carried according to the following votes: NO votes—Councilpersons Jehnzen, Marrinan, and Mayor Collison. YES votes—Councilpersons Lutz, Scarborough, Koon and White.

From the minutes, as noted by Marion Fisher: “At this time Mr. Westerburg informed the Council that they would have a real group following and that they were the ones who were going to suffer for this. He further stated that, ‘As far as this town is concerned, I intend to show you what foolishness you’ve done. I am going to put in the paper what goes on in Reed City and what has been done by myself as City Manager.’”

Following Mr. Westerburg’s statement, Larry Herring (Superintendent of Public Works) tossed his keys to Mayor Collison, and the mayor then asked if that meant he was resigning.

The mayor said there would have to be appointments made and asked for a five minute recess, after which he reconvened and informed the council that due to the fact that the City Manager had been terminated, he was appointing himself and the City Clerk [Marion Fisher] as acting City Managers until a replacement could be hired.

And then they went on to complete the meeting as if nothing unsettling had occurred. 

I think I may have spit coffee all over my desk in amusement as I read it. There are brown droplets all over my printed copies.

It was called to the council’s attention pretty quick that the Mayor could not legally play the role of city manager. In the March 1, 1982 special meeting Mayor Collison clarified. “The Charter reads that an elected officer cannot act as Acting City Manager. The clerk, Marion Fisher, will act as city manager. Motion offered. Councilman Koon and Councilwoman Marjorie Brown White voted NO, everyone else voted YES.”

White voted NO a lot, and often had at least one other Councilperson voting along with her. 

This was but the first indication that she would take issue with Marion Fisher’s role in city government.

For the moment, though, debt was the issue. In the same meeting, Council voted to borrow funds for “operational” expenses in the sum not to exceed $35,000. After that, Ralph Westerburg presented a request to the city to pick up one year of retirement service from his time in Milford, Ohio from the Michigan Employment Retirement System. Westerburg explained that he had intended to retire at the end of 1982 and was terminated in the meanwhile. As a result, he lost about $3,000 in sick time. Then Phil Rathbun asked the council to consider his two years which he didn’t pick up when he went to Fowlerville and then came back to Reed City. He said that he would like to regain those two years. 

Then the mayor appointed a group from council to start going through city manager applications, with Marion Fisher to sit in on those meetings.

So now it’s March of 1982, Marion is the City Clerk, City Treasurer, Acting City Manager, and that’s just the work related stuff. She’s got an elderly mother at home, along with a son, and a couple of grandkids—Janette’s son and daughter—who she picks up from school each day while Janette and Alvin are at work. Add those one or two monthly evening meetings, plus church and associated church functions, and it’s pretty clear no dust settled on Marion Fisher.

To say a lot was going on in Reed City at this time would be a gross understatement. The city was running at a deficit. In fact, in May the Treasury Department sent a letter requesting Reed City form a plan to lower the deficit in the 1981-1982 budget. Council requested a letter be sent back to the Treasury Department asking for an extension on submitting the plan, given they were working with an acting city manager and it was usually the city manager who took the lead on such matters.

On May 18, 1982, a special meeting was called to interview James Nordstrom for the city manager position. Councilwoman White asked him what his feeling was concerning the relationship between city manager and council. Nordstrom replied, “Your city manager is only as good as your council, and vice-versa.”

The mayor asked Nordstrom if he would be willing to move to Reed City if hired and Nordstrom said yes, he felt every city manager should be a resident of the city. Then the mayor asked if Nordstrom would consider combining the jobs of city manager and city assessor.

As manager, I would say no because the funds of your city are only as good as your taxes and the assessor is a real critical person to the city,” Nordstrom replied.

That was another problem. Right before the Westerburg guano hit the fan, the city had been dealing with the fact that their city assessor, Dorman Elder, was about to be forced to resign due to a conflict of interests; Elder was also the county equalizer. How that happened in the first place is anyone’s guess, but it does stand out as a big no-no. In fact, according to a Pioneer article dated Jan 18, 1983 (one day before Janette’s murder):

The Reed City City Council voted to turn over to the county, for a short-term basis, the assessing of the city in light of the resignation of former city assessor, Dorman Elder. Elder is also the county equalization director. Last year, the county commission had given notice to the city that the county would no longer allow the equalization director, or his office, to handle the assessor’s job. The vote by the Reed City city council instructed City Manager Jim Nordstrom to find a new assessor within six months. The council also approved the borrowing of $30,000 by the city from an area financial institution at the best possible interest rate, to the city, with the expiration of the loan being Oct 30, 1983. “We could take the loan out from The Reed City State Bank,” said Nordstrom. “I feel it would be in our best interest to borrow from a local bank than to deal elsewhere.”

If you’re keeping track, that would be two loans in less than a year. Reed City was heavily in debt by 1983.

but we’re still in 1982 and Marion Fisher is still acting city manager—and was for a total of six months, until the July 14th, 1982 meeting where James Nordstrom was voted in by council as the new city manager. 

Boy did he step into it. 

His first meeting was a doozey, mainly for how much crap was going on and the ill-will swirling around Reed City for a number of reasons. From the meeting minutes transcribed by Marion Fisher:

Upon request from Councilwoman White, the following will be added to the June 7th meeting minutes: “Mr. Les Heyboer suggested various ways to clear up the deficits in the city budget; one of the ways was to check into the Fire Department New Equipment fund. Councilwoman White strongly objected to this.”

Addition noted.

Councilwoman White also stated that if we ever change the way we do our Fire Department business, we’ll have troubles galore. She further stated that we have the best Fire dept. in the country.

Councilman Marrinan stated that he didn’t feel that the auditor suggested taking money specifically from the Fire Department Fund, but that he was just talking in general accounting terms.

Councilwoman Jehnzen stated that this was a very touchy subject with the Fire Department as they felt that money had been taken from their funds when it shouldn’t have been. 

Councilwoman White agreed with this.

Citizen Patricia Milligan (former city clerk) took issue with the above statement. She stated that she objected to this statement and that she had heard this before. She further stated that if you go through the book, everything is itemized, notes if it was an appropriation, or gives the date of the resolution that Council passed authorizing a transfer of funds or payment of an expense. She further stated that no money had ever been used illegally. If there were any questions, anyone could come to City Hall and check the books.

Next discussion on proposed fees for tennis courts. Ken Bisbee came before council with a petition requesting no fees for the use. Mayor Collison asked Bisbee if he’d approached the Recreation Committee. Bisbee said he approached Community Ed. Dept. and they had nothing to do with it. He further said that he came to City Hall and was told the City was responsible for the rates.

City Clerk Marion Fisher explained that she had set the rates (while acting city manager, and per minutes of an earlier council meeting) from figures left by Mr. Ralph Westerburg, and had even made them lower than his figures.

Bisbee said he felt these charges were causing tremendous ill will in the community and that “We have too many things around town, both in and out, that have caused ill will.”

Mayor said he would turn this matter over to the Recreation Committee.

Dennis Marrinan stated that, as far as he was concerned, as a Council Member, the Fire Equipment Funds are not open to General Fund use; that they are a specific fund and that council would have to approve any transactions.

At this time Gerald Kienitz made an apology to Councilwoman White, Mrs. Marion Fisher, and Councilwoman Jehnzen for a statement printed in a letter that the Fire Department had previously mailed out. The letter stated that no council member objected to the use of the Fire Equipment funds, as suggested by the auditors.

Councilwoman White made a suggestion of logging all phone calls out of the Clerk’s office. City Manager Nordstrom stated he was in the process of initiating an internal program to insure that each call is logged.

Discussion of the sewer project bill totaling $53,144.25. Council unanimously authorized cashing in of CD’s from the Michigan National Bank Surplus Fund to finalize the payment to Dailey’s Construction.

CLOSED SESSION - Police Chief Rathbun in attendance

Upon return, no action was taken concerning pending litigation.

The pending litigation was with regard to the purchase of the old city garage by Delbert Davidson—purchased during Westerburg’s tenure. There was some question as to whether Davidson was properly informed upon purchase by Westerburg that there were code issues about building the dwelling around capped off sewers. The dwelling was too close to a city well for the Tool and Die, which could contain contaminated items. Mr. Davidson stated that he believed the city hid the fact that there wasn’t any sewer access, and he had no knowledge of that until city workers came down and told him he didn’t have a sewer.

City attorney James Thompson told council he prepared the deed at the direction of the city manager and council. When the deed was prepared, he was not aware that there was a well in the area. When the deed was signed, he realized what property it was. Thompson told council that Mr. Westerburg indicated to him that Davidson knew about the problem.

This actually ended up being a huge deal and costing the city money, despite what would be told to the press, later. 

(In writer-land we call that foreshadowing, folks.)

So, the council chugged along through November of 1982, elections were held, and on November 8th the new council was sworn in: Carl Holmgren, Marjorie Brown White, Michael Noreen, Iris Jehnzen, R. Clark Barto, and David Brooks. Carl Holmgren was declared Mayor Pro Tem. As an example of the type of exchanges that often included the dramatic Marjorie Brown White, I offer this:

Councilwoman White questioned whether it was proper for Councilman Barto’s wife being the secretary to Jim Thompson, city attorney. She asked if she would be allowed to get another attorney’s opinion. She said she would write to the Attorney General to get a determination. City Attorney Thompson commented that she might not get an answer from the Attorney General. Mayor Collison stated that if Councilwoman White wanted an opinion from another attorney, it would have to be at her own expense.”

All of this is being transcribed by Marion Fisher who is diligently taking notes with what I read between the lines as a touch of wry humor and wit. I can almost picture the city attorney rolling his eyes and silently chuckling while flicking a speck of nothing off the front of his shirt. If this were a movie and I was the director, that’s how I’d instruct the actor to play it; faux irritation with a hint of obnoxious entitlement.

In the December 20, 1982 proceedings—which would fall within our timeline as the day before the assault by a Reed City Police officer on two state troopers and a resident at the Buckboard Bar, for purposes of context—after returning from a CLOSED SESSION meeting, Mayor Collison stated that council had discussed the Tool and Die situation and directed the city manager to continue to negotiate with Mr. Davidson. In this meeting, it is also noted that a new Reed City Police officer is hired, and that would be Officer Michel Primeau. (He had only worked for Reed City PD for one month before the murder of Janette Roberson occurred.)

Article on Officer Primeau's hiring.

Accompanying article regarding the council meeting described in this section.

During the next meeting, which was held on January 10, 1983 (nine days before the murder), city manager Nordstrom asked Council’s direction about the city hiring an attorney in the event of a possible litigation. This attorney would have to have labor-relation experience. After some discussion, it was Council’s consensus to have the city manager hire a labor relations attorney if the need arose. This was likely related to the Buckboard Bar assault. If the Police Chief felt he was going to have to fire an officer, and the officer in question was going to challenge that firing, the city would need an attorney with labor-relation experience to handle the situation.

At the January 17, 1983 regular meeting (two days before Janette’s murder) Marion Fisher read a letter of resignation from Mr. Dorman Elder, city assessor. Council unanimously voted to turn assessing over to the county for a maximum of six months or less, and the city would be charged appropriately. Council unanimously authorized Mr. Nordstrom to go to local finance institutions and check the best possible interest rate that he could negotiate on a $30,000 loan.

Then Councilman Holmgren asked why the city would not go ahead and hook up the Tool and Die’s sewer? Nordstrom explained he would rather they choose their own contractor and expressed that if the city went ahead with the expense of this project, which would be in the low thousands of dollars, Flight Tool could easily say that they were not ready to open their business, therefore refusing to pay the city back for the expense.

Later, in a Pioneer article, Nordstrom is quoted as saying “Flight Tool will select the contractor and is paying 75% of the total costs.”

After a CLOSED SESSION the mayor attributed to negotiations between the municipal employees and the city, Councilman Noreen questioned estimating water bills, credits and debits. The city manager answered all questions, which were about adjustments on bills for overestimations on water and sewer.

(There’s another bit of foreshadowing here, folks… just remember Sewer & Water.)

Next, Nordstrom chimed in to say that Reed City Police Officer Larry Finkbeiner had received the Citizen of the Year award from the Reed City Jaycees. 

Then a member of the press asked Councilman Brooks if he had forgotten his question concerning a municipal employee? Councilman Brooks replied that his question was answered in the standard procedure of the closed session. 

Whatever the press was asking, they weren’t getting an answer, since they aren’t allowed in closed session, and neither is the public. It’s like a super-secret meeting that only council members and the city attorney are privy to.

The press was there for information about the Reed City officer who had assaulted two state troopers and a resident at The Buckboard Bar, because the press tends to be drawn—like moths to flame (or me to Oreos)—to any misconduct around law enforcement officers. Looks like the council didn’t want to pull that can of worms out in front of an audience, legal issues aside, given the RCPD had not decided what to do about the officer in question. At least not formally. Was Officer Platz suspended? Was he working? Had he already been informed of his impending termination? All questions I’d have been asking if I were a member of the press. 

It appears they tried, but were shut down. Not exactly a beacon of transparency, but it does remind me of that saying Nancy Grace uses on her show, ad nauseam: “There’s no detergent like sunshine!”

Two days after this meeting, Janette Roberson is murdered in the basement pet department of the Gambles store. The next month, ad the regularly scheduled city council meeting, on February 21, 1983,  Marion Fisher is taking notes as usual, despite the devastation in her personal life. Her daughter had only been dead a month. 

At this meeting, “City Manager Nordstrom stated that he and Mr. Davidson of Flight Tool Company have verbally reached an agreement that he would recommend to the city council. The city would carry 90% of the sewer connection costs and 100% of engineering fees. Flight Tool would carry 10% of the cost of the sewer connections. The city will ask for bids. Nordstrom will have a written agreement prepared between the city and Davidson.”

This is a drastically different deal than he told the Pioneer reporter in the article published on January 17th after the last meeting. It is unclear what turned the proverbial tides. Perhaps when faced with a grisly murder, the city decided to cut its losses and move the hell on.

But things were only getting worse. Aside from the murder that would rock Reed City, in the months to follow, embezzlement in the clerk’s office came to light. There’s no telling how long the folks in the city office knew about it, or how long they were scurrying around to figure out how bad it was, and what they could to do mitigate the damage. It is clear that the city manager doesn’t mention it until his hand is forced by Marjorie Brown White in another dramatic council meeting.

(Now might be a good time to grab the popcorn.)

Dorothy Critchfield, the former Deputy Clerk, who’d worked for Reed City for over twenty years, was found to have been futzing with the Sewer and Water books. One has to wonder how the auditors didn’t pick up on the inconsistencies, given the books were audited every year, but it does explain why the city was so far in debt. Not only had she been solely responsible for the sewer and water books for over twenty years, but she was also the secretary for the Andersen agency—the insurance company for the city. Based on the arrest report, an audit of the books is only done from 1980 on. That was when the city went to computerized billing. Whatever she may have taken prior to that remains unknown. I can’t imagine anyone would believe she’d just started stealing from the city in the last couple years of her decades-long employment.

Multiple people I spoke to said gossip around town was that Critchfield was just the fall-guy. I have uncovered nothing to suggest that to be the case, but unfortunately it was a very short time period that was audited within the investigation done by Michigan State Police, and whatever investigation Chief Rathbun did prior to that is unknown. All of Reed City’s records from that time period are gone. According to the response to my FOIA request for anything maintained on the Critchfield investigation, “This incident is beyond the retention period that we have files on record for.”

It is unclear whether Chief Rathbun did any investigation into this matter. What is known is that Critchfield was able to steal a whole lot of money in a short period of time. One wonders how much she was really responsible for stealing from the citizens of Reed City.

The date on the MSP report attributed to the Critchfield investigation is March 14, 1983. On that date, a special City Council meeting was called and they immediately went into CLOSED SESSION.

At the regular April 18, 1983 meeting “City Manager Nordstrom stated that in the process of a budget preparation, it was discovered that there will be expenditures that far out-reach the revenues projected in the Water and Sewer Fund. Therefore Jeannette Fenner, Superintendent of the Wastewater Treatment plant, has outlined proposals for consideration to change the rate structure and rate increases.”

I guess the City Manager figured they’d just raise the rates to cover what one of their employees had stolen. Where I come from, that’s called balls of steel, my friends. Balls of steel!
On April 25th another Special Meeting was called and City Manager Nordstrom strongly suggested the entire meeting be open after having been served with a letter delivered by a police officer representing the Prosecuting Attorney’s office.

From an article in the Herald dated May26, 1983:

The Osceola County Prosecutor’s Office is investigating an alleged violation of the Michigan Open Meetings Act by the Reed City City Council. Osceola County Prosecutor James Talaske said the matter has been referred to state police Detective George Pratt. Talaske said he has received numerous complaints concerning the city council’s alleged illegal closed meetings. ‘This is becoming to be a matter of concern to me,’ Talaske said. ‘I have very few options left.’

The May 16 closed session was apparently the second time Nordstrom was involved in an alleged violation. An agenda memo sent to council members April 22nd setting a special budget meeting for April 25 stated the public would be welcome, but no public input would be taken because the meeting would be a work session. Talaske was informed of the memo and had Detective Pratt hand deliver a written opinion to Nordstrom which said all public meetings must include time for public input.
Councilwoman Marjorie Brown White who voted against Monday’s closed session said the session lasted nearly an hour and other subjects besides salaries were discussed, however, she did not elaborate.

Prosecutor Talaske

What they were trying to do was not discuss in public how badly the city was in debt, and why. Going back over old newspaper accounts, there is nothing about the embezzlement in the papers. It hadn’t gone public yet. But that was about to change…

Remember, this was all happening just months after the murder of Janette Roberson. Her mother, Marion, was at each of these meetings taking notes, and in the May 23, 1983 meeting, she was also taking pot-shots from Councilwoman Brown White.

First, Jim Thompson, the city attorney, read the salary resolution. Council members approved all salaries, but White and Noreen voted no on the city clerk’s salary. 

Really? Her daughter was murdered four months ago and you’re going to challenge her pay now? 


It is of note that the same two council members voted yes for the deputy clerk’s salary. The police chief’s salary motion was defeated as well. Councilpersons White, Brooks, and Noreen voted no, and five affirmative votes are needed. 

City Manager Nordstrom stated his proposal was to make sure the Chief made more than his officers, since they received overtime, whereas he did not. Then the status of the police union contract was discussed and it was decided to wait until those negotiations were concluded to discuss the police chief’s salary.

Next Councilwoman White commented that the council had never reviewed the Water and Sewer budget. It was time they discussed it. She also suggested that all citizens read their own meters. This was her way of pushing a bruise. Nothing had been widely reported about the embezzlement, and the only locals who knew anything at all were the council, city attorney, Chief Rathbun, and anyone who may have been passed the scuttlebutt straight from the council members themselves. 

Councilwoman White’s suggestion was ignored and the city council moved on to other matters.

City Manager Nordstrom read correspondence from the Teamsters State, County, and Municipal Workers Local 214, regarding a petition for representation for the city department heads.

Councilwoman White: (to Marion Fisher) Did you start the union business?

Marion Fisher (Clerk): I do not feel I have to give out that information.

One has to wonder why Councilwoman White was instigating the woman who’d just lost her daughter in a more vicious manner than most of us can comprehend. Did she believe Marion had something to do with the embezzlement? There is no evidence to suggest Marion Fisher had any knowledge of the embezzlement going on in her office, but that doesn’t mean that wasn’t the gossip on the street. Councilwoman White was out there quietly telling citizens to scan their Sewer and Water bills for inconsistencies, so it isn’t out of the realm of possibility that she was also suggesting the city clerk might have had a hand in the illegal actions. And she wasn’t finished pointing fingers at Marion Fisher, either.

The June 30, 1983 Special Council Procedures meeting was when the “Sewer Scandal” erupted, in earnest. Mayor Collison called the meeting to order and stated that the agenda for this meeting consisted of one item only – Water and Sewer Billings. 

Then he turned the meeting over to Councilwoman White, who read directly from her pre-prepared statement. It must have been a glorious sight to behold, in a live broadcast, no less.

Someone’s ready for their close-up, Mr. DeMille…

Marion Fisher prepared these minutes, so you have to wonder about her mood when she typed this: “Councilwoman White, at this time, held the printout sheets of Ward 1 up one by one for the television camera.”

Her daughter had been dead for a little over six months, she continued to show up for work every day, and for the flurry of meetings at night, and there she was being publicly (and not very subtly) accused of gross incompetence at the very least, and at worst, knowledge and/or participation in the embezzlement by a member of the council. It really is rather astounding when you look at it all in context.

So… the city council soldiered on, as did the Janette Roberson murder investigation.

On September 27th, 1983, Dorothy Anita Critchfield was charged, and on November 21st 1983 she was found guilty of one count of felony embezzlement, sentenced to one year in jail, five years’ probation, two-hundred hours of community service, and ordered to make monetary restitution in the amount of $42,496.

That’s how much she embezzled in the last couple years of her employment. Imagine how much more she could have gotten away with in her over 20 years working for the city. The possibilities are staggering.

I never uncovered anything to suggest Marion Fisher had any knowledge of the embezzlement. In fact, she went on to work for the city for years after the murder of her daughter, and I never heard anything other than she was a very good employee, and an honest, decent human being.

It was an unseemly chapter of the city’s history, finally closed. 

But the investigation into the death of Janette Roberson was nowhere near being resolved. be continued...

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