Off the Agenda: Hand to Throat Combat
Wm. Lee Smallwood roughed up Joe Musso in the men's room over a comment about Smallwood's wife
By MIKE HOOVER
Daily Record/Sunday News
Jan 18, 2006 — During a 10-minute break from an often-heated meeting Tuesday night, City Councilman Wm. Lee Smallwood grabbed fellow board member Joe Musso around the throat with both hands and banged his head into the tile wall of the third-floor men's room.
"The next time you talk about my wife like that, I'll kick your ass," Smallwood said. "The next time I'll come right over the table."
Smallwood said he was upset because Musso publicly insulted Smallwood's wife, Janis Rozelle, before a split vote supporting a redevelopment proposal for a downtown stadium.
During the fight, Musso kept calling for Smallwood to get off him. When Musso threatened to "get a cop," Smallwood called him a "baby."
"He caught me by surprise. It was bizarre," Musso said afterward.
The altercation occurred after Musso said Smallwood was "not in the loop" because Rozelle has been an outspoken stadium opponent. When Smallwood asked what his wife had to do with him, Musso responded, "Turn your head tonight and look at the pillow."
Rozelle, who was at the meeting, responded by muttering, "Jackass."
Reached afterward, Musso said he was "still very emotional" but would not file a police complaint.
"It was just a disagreement between two gentlemen," Musso said. "I'm letting it go."
Musso said Rozelle brought on the comment by antagonizing council and meddling in the stadium project.
"I understand he stood up for his wife," Musso said. "I would do the same for my wife. But she comes to council meetings and says whatever she wants. If I can't say a thing because she is married to a city council member, it isn't fair."
During the struggle, Smallwood told Musso he didn't get personal when Musso was recently cited in a domestic incident for allegedly pushing his wife.
Smallwood said afterward that he made his point.
"I forgot about it after I walked out of the men's room," Smallwood said, declining further comment.
Council President Cameron Texter said he heard screaming and someone yelling there was a fight in the men's room. He said he ran down the hall and found assistant city solicitor Don Hoyt coming out of the men's room. Texter asked who was fighting, and Hoyt said it was Smallwood and Musso "working things out."
"You could hear the melee out in the hallway," Texter said.
Earlier in the meeting, Texter had lectured council members and the audience about decorum after allegations of fraud, politics and sabotage were exchanged.
In a 3-2 vote, the council authorized using eminent domain if negotiations to acquire 25 properties needed to build a 5,260-seat stadium fail.
"Things got out of line tonight," Texter said at the televised council session. "I apologize to the public. I am embarrassed by the comments made tonight. Instead of smiling and laughing, stop playing these political games."
Councilwoman Vickie Washington responded, "Thank you, Daddy."
Texter and Musso claimed during the meeting that opponents in the November election turned the stadium project and the Arch Street neighborhood into a political battleground. They claimed the opposition - including Rozelle, Washington, council candidate Nina Aimable and school board member Tom Foust - misled property owners and meddled in city policy.
During the meeting, Washington accused Matt Jackson, the city's economic development director, and Blanda Nace, the stadium project manager, of "ripping people off" by not giving property owners fair-market value or relocation costs.
Musso said the city laid out the proper, legal procedure to acquire properties, including setting a policy to reimburse property owners and tenants an amount equal to or better than federal Housing and Urban Development guidelines.
"Are you cheating people, Mr. Nace? Mrs. Washington seems to think you are cheating the people," Musso said.
Nace and Jackson said they treated everyone fairly and with dignity.
Mayor John Brenner, who did not attend the meeting, said everyone needs to take a "deep breath" and save their energy for fighting for the city's future. He said that people can disagree about public policy without denigrating to a personal level.
The mayor said he would not condone councilmen fighting.
"There is no reason for that kind of behavior. There is no excuse for it," Brenner said.
Not all men are creeps.
"He should have killed me. I would have killed me."