Brandy Jordan moved to “itty-bitty” Alvo in August 2020, seizing the chance to buy a white 3-bedroom home with her husband Nathan to raise their two small children. When they settled in, she imagined living a quiet life in this 115-person village sandwiched between Omaha and Lincoln.
She did not imagine that, 17 months later, she would be giving her 3-year-old and 4-year-old bottled water instead of tap after the Village of Alvo sent out a boil-water notice warning about E. coli, and then never followed up to explain if the village’s water is safe to drink.
She didn’t envision becoming angry every time a car kicks up dust on the unpaved main road running by her house. Alvo receives tens of thousands of dollars annually for streets, but a Village Board of Trustees member told the Flatwater Free Press he has “no idea” how the money has been spent.
And Jordan didn’t anticipate her husband telling her that he narrowly escaped being run over by a village board member, an incident that prompted a police report but no charges.
What started as a strange small-town fight over tires has devolved into something resembling a bitter battle over democracy itself.
A dispute over the gigantic tire pile at the edge of Alvo – a nuisance and an environmental hazard that prompted state enforcement – has spiraled into a financial and constitutional fiasco. It sparked a lawsuit filed by one of Nebraska’s most well-known lawyers, and prompted a new bill in the Nebraska Legislature seeking to ensure nothing like it happens again.
That tire pile came to signify something far beyond old Goodyears late last year. That’s when the Alvo Village Board was legally bound to hold a recall election of two board members – and then simply chose not to let the village residents vote.
The recall fight continues amid a flurry of allegations. Recall leader Dennis Tempelmeyer says Larry Langer, a village board member targeted by the recall and owner of the tire pile, threatened to kill him. City leaders have misplaced funds on the heels of several known embezzlements, and have ignored or stalled requests for financial statements, others say.
Board members, meanwhile, say they have acted in good faith. They blame a lack of civil participation from the public for Alvo’s current predicament.
Now Nathan Jordan, Brandy’s husband, shows up at nearly every Village Board meeting, propping up a GoPro to record the proceedings.
“The more you see the bigger picture, the more it makes you realize you don’t want to see it,” he said.
The trouble started in 2015, when Langer and his business partner Beth Ann Rose, who run a recycling facility in Alvo, began to haul old tires onto their property as a part of that business.
Tempelmeyer complained. The Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy did a check and found that Langer’s business stored far more tires than licensed to hold. In an April 2021 consent order, the tire pile’s owners agreed to halve a tire inventory that had grown to roughly 323,000.
However, in November, drone footage shows the excavated firelane was covered with tires. The NDEE report stated that the tire piles appeared to again be growing, though Langer’s son Pete Langer told state officials that the on-site inventory is under the legal limit.
Tempelmeyer has repeatedly taken issue with the noise, disturbance and runoff caused by the tire pile and recycling business. He has more recently argued that Langer, that business’ co-owner, has conflicts of interest on the village board and is thwarting efforts to clean up the tire pile. These disagreements have on several occasions allegedly turned dangerous, according to police reports and Tempelmeyer himself.
Several years ago, Tempelmeyer called Langer’s business partner Beth Rose to ask Langer to slow down when driving. “On his John Deere rider [Langer] came flying right into my driveway threatening to kill me and my son and burn my house,” Tempelmeyer said. Tempelmeyer said sheriff’s deputies came and told Langer to stop.
Last year, Langer also allegedly nearly ran over Templemeyer and Nathan Jordan with his dump truck during a planning and zoning committee visit to Langer’s junkyard. One of the committee members called the county sheriff. In the resulting police report, a witness said Langer accelerated towards Tempelmeyer and Jordan. Langer said he didn’t see them.
“He is a bully,” Tempelmeyer said. “He just tries to use that to get his way, and I don’t run from bullies.”
Tempelmeyer filed a recall petition against Langer last August. A month before that, resident Cathina Reeves filed a recall petition against Village Board President Robin LaPage, alleging she misappropriated funds and abused public records.
LaPage and Langer sent out letters to village residents saying the allegations were false. The Flatwater Free Press requested interviews with both board members. LaPage cut off an in-person conversation and hung up on or didn’t return later phone calls.
During a brief conversation after the December meeting, Langer told the Flatwater Free Press that Tempelmeyer “was lying and wrong.” In a subsequent phone call, Langer agreed to be interviewed at a later date. He then didn’t respond to or return eight phone calls and four text messages sent in December and January.
For a recall petition to proceed, Nebraska law requires it to reach 45% of the highest number of votes that any board member received in the most recent election.
For Alvo, that meant 17.1 votes.
Leaders of the effort gathered 25 validated signatures from registered village voters to recall Langer. Twenty-six residents signed the petition to recall LaPage.
Cass County Election Commissioner Linn Moore notified the board of the successful petitions. She included pages of statutes providing that the governing body “shall…order an election” within 21 days of notification.
In October, LaPage announced that the board needed to take action on the recall petition. Rather than state the board’s legal duty to hold an election, she said this: “We have to vote either yes or no, whatever on whether to have a recall election.”
She presented the vote as a choice between paying for the recall election or saving the money for the town’s municipal insurance.
“It’s going to cost thousands of dollars to the town, which we don’t have,” LaPage said. “I feel… insurance is more important.”
The board’s five members then voted no on the recall.
Later, LaPage seemed to suggest that the board had been misled by Cass County Election Commissioner Linn Moore.
In an interview with the Flatwater Free Press, Moore laid the blame on LaPage for the seemingly unlawful decision not to hold the recall.
Moore said she repeatedly told LaPage that she cannot give legal advice and suggested LaPage speak with a lawyer. LaPage responded that the village couldn’t afford one. Instead, LaPage “kept twisting” what the statutory language of “shall” means, Moore said.
“She’s already made up her mind on what she’s gonna do, no matter what anybody says,” Moore said. “Now that that’s backfired, she’s trying to find someone else to blame.”
The village terminated its longtime legal counsel Roger Johnson earlier in 2021, citing costs.
Johnson, who represents several other small towns, believes Alvo board members simply misunderstood the law. “I don’t think you could convince me that they acted so knowing they were doing something they shouldn’t have done,” he said.
Other legal minds disagree. Plaintiffs’ lawyer David Domina said the board flouted the law with “callous arrogance” for months until a judge’s order forced them to comply in December.
“They have no right, not even arguable right, to refuse to call the election,” Domina said.
The board members’ refusal to hold the elections, Domina said, should sound an alarm for public officials across Nebraska. “You can’t disregard the law. If you don’t like it, you have to change it. Until you change it, you have to obey it,” he said.
To understand just how confused and how personal this fight has become, look no further than the actions of Alvo board member Mike Lanctot.
Lanctot initially voted not to hold the recall election for fear of the cost. However, weeks earlier, he had actually signed onto the petition to recall Langer in the first place.
Lanctot said other board members tried to discuss Langer’s business’ compliance with village ordinances, but Langer wouldn’t respond at public meetings.
“I think he was trying to use this board for his own personal gains and not for the best interests of the town,” Lanctot told the Flatwater Free Press.
In 2021, village board meetings often grew heated, as residents and Langer traded accusations.
At the May meeting, resident Neil Wilhelm quizzed Langer on the tire cleanup, according to an audio recording and official meeting minutes reviewed by the Flatwater Free Press.
“How long would it take you to clean up down there 100%? It’s up to you to say something now,” Wilhelm said.
“You called the state, fire marshalls, instead of talking to me like a man,” Langer responded. “I am not talking to you about this.”
Brandon Badberg, who lives next door to the tire pile, then confronted Langer.
“I have two girls that can’t sleep because your semis sit out there and run all day,” he said.
LaPage asked Langer to shorten his hours. Langer responded by threatening to sue, she told the audience. Langer knew the board couldn’t afford another lawsuit, the minutes noted.
Badberg said Langer shouldn’t be eligible to serve on the board because he does not live in town. Langer replied that the sheriff’s office has verified that he has an apartment in his recycling business.
“You live there but then I see you and Beth leave every night,” Badberg said to Langer.
“So you are the liar,” Langer said and laughed. “You don’t see me.”
The village planning and zoning committee wrote Langer’s business up for 24 infractions. LaPage said the board couldn’t afford to enforce them.
It’s true that Alvo has had financial problems, though supporters of the recall argue that they are largely due to Village Board mismanagement.
In 2017, the Nebraska auditor’s office uncovered embezzlement of more than $100,000 by a former clerk.
Then, LaPage said, another clerk failed to send water bills for almost a year, costing the town a main source of income, though residents said another clerk recovered most of the payments later.
In 2020, board member Ben Glantz was found to have wrongly received reimbursement for personal expenses, including his mortgage, auditor’s records show.
Each year, Alvo receives state money for its streets. In 2021, it got $20,222. Resident Cathina Reeves, who works for the Nebraska Department of Transportation, filed requests for bank statements to determine how this money was spent. She said she never received a response from the board.
Reeves urged the state auditor’s office to complete a full audit, but was told that the village opted for an audit waiver. The annual waivers in 2019 and 2020 show village spending was over budget. The only explanation given: Unexpected expenses.
In 2017 and 2018, clerks didn’t complete the waivers, noting they were new to the job. One clerk wrote, “Don’t know if former clerk performed bank reconciliations. All information on her personal computer when she left.”
While reviewing the most recent audit waiver, state accountants identified accounting errors. In an email to LaPage, the auditor’s office stated that the street funds — restricted for roadway repairs and maintenance — were “expended as if they were general funds.”
Without a full audit, the state can’t know whether these highway funds were used incorrectly, said State Assistant Deputy Auditor Craig Kubicek. Alvo hasn’t undergone a full audit for at least twenty years. It will this spring — but only because the village failed to submit its 2021 audit waiver on time.
LaPage has said that the street funds were used to repair the village’s share of Highway 63. Jodi Gibson, manager of the Nebraska Department of Transportation’s Local Assistance Division, said the state maintains and repairs the state highway.
In a recent letter sent to villagers, LaPage said the street funds were simply deposited into the general fund account.
While the village fights over street funding, the town’s main street continues to crumble.
First Street was paved when Reeves moved to Alvo in 2018. Now it’s dirt and rubble, which residents blame on traffic diverted through town while Highway 63 was under construction.
“If the board members had done something, such as requesting our village be closed off from through traffic, the road could have been preserved,” Reeves said.
Gibson said the annual street funds allocation “does not go a long way.” On average, a mile of paved asphalt costs an estimated $800,000. “A lot of counties and municipalities don’t have money, so they save up to be able to afford a project,” Gibson said.
Far from saving, the Village of Alvo was mired in debt.
At the June meeting, former Alvo Village Board chairperson Ryan Anderson said that the state allocation should have paid off road loans, with $5,000 extra saved each year. Reeves later contacted board member Gary Marcoe, who showed her emails from the bank indicating the village owed at least $100,000 in street loans, other loans and past-due payments as of June 2021.
Marcoe is suspicious of the hole in the village’s street funds. After being on and off the board, he was elected again in 2020.
“There may have been some stuff done in there, but I can’t prove it,” Marcoe said. “The road’s never been repaired. It’s still a mess.”
Marcoe said he doesn’t know where the money went.
“The money has to be gone before we did the roads because… we borrowed money from the bank to be able to do the road,” Marcoe said. “I don’t know if that money was missing, or wherever it has gone or what…I have no idea.”
Marcoe knows this: No road repair was done in 2021, he said.
The village’s perilous finances have been repeatedly offered as a reason not to file lawsuits or hold the recall election.
LaPage said Alvo will spend up to $21,000 on the recall. Much of that cost comes from legal fees Alvo could have avoided if the village board had originally voted to hold the election.
Instead, many board members blame Tempelmeyer for the lawsuit and the financial burden to the village. At a December meeting, after the board finally voted to hold the recall under court order, LaPage said to Tempelmeyer: “You cause so much grief by stirring stuff up.”
At long last, on the day after Valentine’s Day, a recall election will determine the two board members’ fate.
Residents like Jordan and Reeves say they want to change the board’s culture. But there’s resistance.
That’s why Roger Paul showed up to the December meeting. The 62-year-old village resident said he never had any interest. But Paul said he attended after Langer suggested Paul should run for the next open seat.
“Larry wants to pass it on to somebody that’s older,” Paul said. “So the younger people don’t turn the thing Democratic.”
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