Earlier this month, three Branson Board of Aldermen incumbents lost re-election to a slate of candidates backed by Mayor Larry Milton. After consolidating municipal power, Milton promised to oust civil staff at City Hall — starting with Branson’s city administrator.
“Over the coming days and weeks you will notice some staff changes at City Hall. When you elected me to be your Mayor, and you elected a new Board of Aldermen over the past two years, you voiced your concerns loud and clear and we are going to act on them,” Milton wrote on Facebook two days after Branson’s April 12 municipal election.
“It is your Board’s intent that from the top down you have a City government that serves YOU, the people of Branson.”
Milton made good on that promise without delay — the newly inaugurated Board of Aldermen voted unanimously in an April 19 closed session to place City Administrator Stan Dobbins on administrative leave and announce his retirement, effective April 30.
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Dobbins previously served as Branson’s chief of police and was chosen as city administrator in 2017 — hired under the administration of former Mayor Karen Best.
Speaking to the News-Leader, Best said Dobbins “did an excellent job” of getting Branson out of debt.
While admitting the Board of Aldermen have the right to make these staffing changes, Best says she wishes they did not all occur within two weeks after the election.
“The administration has every right to get people into positions that they feel are congruent with their vision. I would have liked to have seen it spread out maybe a little more over time to get their new people acclimated. I’m sure the city will be fine. I’m sure the city will move forward. But there is the possibility of a lack of continuity,” Best said.
Until a permanent replacement is chosen for Do, City Clerk Lisa Westfall will serve as interim city administrator.
While no reason was given for Dobbins’s dismissal, the former city administrator had argued with Milton over police funding at a board meeting last year.
In a Facebook post after the vote, Milton thanked Dobbins “for his service to the City of Branson.”
On the same day Dobbins was placed on administrative leave, assistant city administrator John Manning resigned. Several other city employees quit before the new board members were seated.
On April 22, the city announced the firing of Finance Director Jamie Rouch but did not announce an interim replacement. Rouch had also argued with Milton during council meetings last year when discussing the amount of debt the city owes.
Last week’s vote was not the first time Milton tried to oust Dobbins — taking another closed session vote last October. At the time, the six members of the Board of Aldermen saved the city administrator in a 2-4 vote.
The recent departure of city staff is the culmination of Milton and his allies’ success in overtaking Branson city government over the past two elections.
Milton defeated an incumbent mayor in 2021 with a promise to repeal Branson’s mask mandate. Coasting to victory with allies elected to the Board of Aldermen — including local country music star Clay Cooper — Milton repealed the mask mandate in a unanimous vote days after the election.
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Alderman says remaining staff are ‘terrified’ of being fired
Despite these political victories, this faction had not wrested full control over the board — with several of the board’s preexisting incumbents supporting Branson city staff in their administration of governmental duties.
Chief among them was former Alderman Bill Skains — who spoke against the firings at Tuesday’s Board of Alderman meeting.
“It’s embarrassing to the city to see this type of stuff happen,” Skains said of the firings.
“Branson does not need this, gentlemen. You three were not elected to conduct business like this. Larry hit the nail on the head about good governance. That’s what we’re supposed to be doing. We’re not supposed to be tearing the city apart.”
According to Skains, remaining city staff are “terrified” of being fired at any moment.
He also implored the board to help former Finance Director Jamie Rouch.
“They may lose their COBRA (insurance) and we have an ex-fiscal director who has a daughter with cancer and they cannot stand to lose that funding. So whatever you got to consider, get into your heart and your humanity and find some way to help that woman,” Skains told his former colleagues.
“Because I worked with her for four or five years … We’ve all said what sort of great job those people have done over there. They’re in tears over all this … I think she’s owed an apology. She didn’t deserve to be treated like this.”
In response, Milton said the Board was not involved in Rouch’s firing.
“I want to be clear. This board had nothing to do with Jamie and Stacy’s termination. Board did not know about this until after the fact. The city administrator notified the board and by direction of legal counsel took the action that city administrator and city legal felt was appropriate,” Milton said of acting city administrator Lisa Westfall.
In an interview with the News-Leader Skains said he fears the rush of firings and resignations could create “a loss of confidence” in Branson city government.
“The city attorney resigned. He was a good attorney. He left. The chair of the Planning and Zoning Commission resigned and left. The head of Planning and Zoning at the city Joel Hornickel resigned and left. The city manager is gone. The assistant city manager gone. Head of Finance gone. Her assistant gone,” Skains said.
“It’s the preponderance of the evidence. You always have change with a new Board but you’ve got to have some continuity of leadership.”
Asked if he had any plans to run again in the future, Skains said it is not likely.
“You get called a commie, a dirtbag, a PoS, a pinko, a socialist, a liberal, and any word you can imagine just for $10 a meeting. You don’t run for personal gain, you do it to serve your community.”
Skains also bemoaned the tenor of the past two campaigns in Branson, which he claims were filled with “wild false accusations” about him and other incumbents.
“They don’t have to pay a price for malicious accusations anymore. They can just throw out whatever they want to on social media,” he said. “But there’s no repercussions anywhere. There’s no limit to what they can say, even if there’s no truth in it.”
Skains’ defense of city staff was a major point of contention in his losing 2022 re-election campaign.
“I think our current leadership and department heads are servicing us with distinction,” Skains told the Branson Tri-Lakes News prior to the April election.
His opponent said he would institute “a new directive for city staff” if elected.
“After the election we will have serious discussions about personnel changes that may need to occur at City Hall. I take this responsibility very seriously and will evaluate every decision on a case by case basis. However, I can assure the citizens that I will not be afraid to vote in favor of making changes if myself and a majority of the board believe changes need to be made,” Marshall Howden told the Branson Tri-Lakes News.
Despite his young age, Howden is a perennial candidate in Branson and was a short-lived mayoral candidate last year — dropping out to endorse Milton. Mayor Milton appointed Howden as Branson’s “Ambassador of the Shows” and supported him in his bid against Skains.
In the campaign, Howden cast Skeins as an alderman who wants to “shut down citizen voices and keep City Hall closed off to the public.”
“There is a significant difference between myself and my opponent. Branson has been served in the past by a “good old boys” club, and I come from an entirely different school of thought. Instead of being for my own interests, I choose to serve the citizens,” Howden said.
‘Drain the swamp’ message in campaign helped oust incumbents
This “drain the swamp” messaging pervaded the campaign and delivered a 23 percentage point victory and ousted the three incumbents on the ballot.
The victory delivered further control over city government to Milton and his allies — but also to the budding dynastic political family who ran their campaigns.
All three victors in the 2022 contest and Milton’s 2021 campaign were run by Daniel Seitz — Communications Director for the Oklahoma state House of Representatives Republican Caucus and the son of Missouri state Representative Brian Seitz.
“Clean sweep in the Branson Aldermen elections!! I’m proud of my candidates, I’m grateful that they put their trust in me to oversee and guide their campaigns and I’m proud to say that I have kept my undefeated streak on campaigns I’ve managed intact at 8-0!” Daniel Seitz wrote on Facebook the night of the election.
Representing Branson in the state legislature, Brian Seitz was a major figure in Branson advocating for the end of the city’s mask mandate — even comparing the protective measure to the Holocaust.
“This is being driven by fear, plain and simple,” Brian Seitz said of the mask mandate at a Board of Aldermen meeting last year. “He spoke with people showing their papers and putting up signage. Are we going to have to wear a yellow star? I mean, this is America. It’s absolutely ridiculous.”