Nelson’s City Council meeting Monday was quiet and devoid of the national media that was there in April when the council voted to enact the Family Protection Ordinance, a law which loosely requires all “heads-of-household” to own a gun for protection.
But former Nelson mayor David Leister broke the silence when he rose during the meeting and accused Mayor Mike Haviland of attempting to keep him personally from owning a gun, because he was a “felon.”
Leister was the mayor of Nelson from January 2010 to May 2012, when he resigned to run for Pickens County Tax Commissioner. Haviland succeeded him.
Leister told the city council Monday night that Haviland had spoken with Nelson Police Chief Heath Mitchell and asked if there was any way the city could keep him from having a gun, in spite of the new gun law, because he was a “convicted felon.”
“That disturbs me to no end,” Leister told the council. “This is unacceptable. You’re the elected official, the spokesman for the city and you should never have ... made that suggestion and that accusation against me and my character.”
Leister said after the meeting Monday that at one time he had a felony on his record, but not anymore, as his record was expunged.
When Leister, now 59, was 19 years old, he was arrested in Baltimore, Md., for possession of marijuana, “less than a quarter ounce of marijuana,” he said.
“In 1973 (that amount) was a felony,” Leister said.
He completed six months of probation and went back to court to be released.
“When I went in front of the judge, I was shaking,” the former mayor said. “And I thought he said ‘After a year (the charge) will be expunged,’ when in fact it was ‘After a year you can have it expunged.’”
Almost 40 years later, after submitting to years of background checks, Leister said he was shocked to learn that the charge was never removed from his record.
“I went through life happy and stupid,” he said, until the felony showed up when he tried to get a gun permit while serving as the mayor of Nelson.
Leister said the news got out and things didn’t go well for him in Nelson.
“There were threats being made against me here, threats of harm, physical harm,” he said.
The charge was later removed from his record, and Leister said Monday that he thought the incident was behind him until he heard that Haviland “took it upon himself” to speak with Mitchell and ask if he could be kept from owning a gun.
Leister asked Mitchell, who sat in the back of the council meeting, to confirm that the conversation took place.
Mitchell nodded his head, affirming that it did.
Haviland said Tuesday that the situation is just a misunderstanding.
“I don’t know what’s going on,” he said. “Your guess is better than mine. It’s totally strange.”
Haviland said he and Mitchell did discuss Leister owning a gun, but “it was a joke.”
“I don’t have any argument about if he’s a felon or not,” he said. “I totally agree he’s not a felon.”
Mitchell, Nelson’s lone police officer, confirmed again Thursday that the conversation did happen, but declined to go into specifics.
“They just need to leave me out of it,” Mitchell said. “(The mayor) did say that to me, and that’s all I need to have to do with it. Hopefully they’ll just leave it alone.”