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story.lead_photo.caption A map showing the location of Alpena.

A mystery has been festering in Alpena.

Somebody cut down a maple tree honoring Fire Chief Walt Record, who died in 2003.

A prime suspect? Mayor Theron McCammond.

"He didn't cut the tree down himself," said City Council Member Ron "Cotton" Bailey. "But he gave the orders to have the tree cut. I'm not positive, but that's the only thing that could have happened."

"I'm not going to comment on that," the mayor said Wednesday when asked who cut the tree down or if he had given the orders.

The tree in Alpena City Park was removed three or four months ago, but the who and why have never been explained.

On Nov. 21, the Alpena City Council held a special meeting to discuss the matter.

By a unanimous vote, they asked the mayor to resign.

"I told them that ain't gonna happen," McCammond said.

Mark Hayes, executive director of the Arkansas Municipal League, said a city council can't legally force a mayor to resign.

"There could be circumstances when removal might occur but in no event would the council have any role in the removal," he said.

Bailey said McCammond declined to comment, for the most part, during the meeting.

"That makes me think they're guilty, when they take the Fifth," Bailey said.

But Roger Auman, the Alpena water superintendent, did talk.

According to Bailey, Auman told the council that he cut the tree down but only after Jeff Webb got his chain saw stuck in the tree and went looking for help.

Webb, who was a part-time Alpena police officer at the time, said he didn't attempt to cut down the tree.

Webb said he called Auman a "lying son of a b****," right there in the council meeting.

When contacted by telephone Wednesday, Auman said he had no comment.

Webb said he was told to cut the tree into pieces and haul it away after it was already down on the ground.

"I'm not a chain saw expert at dropping trees," he said in a telephone interview.

Webb said orders to cut down the tree came from McCammond.

"He said, 'I'm the mayor and I'm going to do what I want and ask for forgiveness later,'" remembers Webb, who was later fired by McCammond over a dirt-moving incident.

Webb said the mayor wanted the tree cut down because he was having a new light fixture installed in the park and the tree was in the way, eclipsing the light. But the tree could have been trimmed, instead, Webb said.

He said the maple was one of two trees removed from the park that day.

Bailey said neither Auman nor Webb would have cut Record's memorial tree without being ordered to do so.

Webb said he knew Record, and removing the tree was "just pretty much disgracing his memory."

Webb said the City Council had voted unanimously in 2003 to let Record's daughter, Robin Record Bell, plant the tree in the park. A monument at the foot of the tree reads: "In loving memory of Walt Record. 1946-2003. You will be missed."

Bell sent a letter to the mayor and City Council members on Nov. 19.

"When I was first approached about the removal of the tree at the Alpena City Park, my heart was broken," she wrote.

Bell planted the tree a month after her father died of a sudden heart attack at the age of 56. She wrote that the tree had grown to be a "perfect symbol of a big, beautiful, strong man."

But she's ready for the "fuss" to stop.

"What is done is done," Bell wrote. "We know who cut down the tree and by whose orders. So, whether it was justified or not, necessary or not, we cannot bring it back, just like we can't bring my dad back, however much we want to."

Bailey said the request for McCammond's resignation wasn't based solely on the tree incident, but that was part of it. McCammond took office in January.

"The mayor, he never brings anything before the council," Bailey said. "He just came in and tried to take everything over without going through the council."

"They hate me," McCammond said.

Bailey said the tree will likely be discussed again at the council meeting Monday.

SundayMonday on 12/01/2019


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