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Small town of Danube abuzz over criminal charges against police chief

The charges filed against Danube Police Chief Lester Schneider Jr. have been the talk of the town in Danube, pop. 560, for weeks now, said longtime resident Judy Lentz. "It's getting old," she said, "but it's also frustrating." Tribune photo by Eric Ludy

DANUBE -- The people eating breakfast at the Main Street Café in Danube on Thursday morning said that the charges against Police Chief Lester Schneider Jr. have been the talk of the town for some time now.

"It's getting old," said Judy Lentz, a Danube resident.

It's also frustrating, she said. People in the small community of 560 have been expecting action on the case for nearly a month, and so far, in her view, none has been taken.

"We have a council that likes to do nothing," she said. "Some are trying, but you can't fight when you're outnumbered."

Café owner Dianne Pfarr said the charges against Schneider -- which include three counts of felony theft and gross misdemeanors of theft and misconduct of a public officer -- warrant a leave of absence until the charges can be either cleared or verified. The fact that this hasn't happened, she said, is evidence of cronyism on the City Council.

"In any other place, this guy would have been suspended," she said.

Other patrons at the café expressed similar sentiments, but refused to be named.

But the police chief's father and City Council member Lester Schneider Sr. said that people in the community are gossiping about something that they don't know about. He said that all the buzz surrounding the allegations against his son come from being in a small town where not much happens.

"When's the last time you heard of any story coming out of Danube?" he asked. "This is the biggest news to hit this town since the bomb dropped on Hiroshima."

He said he couldn't comment on specifics of the case, but that everything the council has done so far is based on analysis of the information that they currently have. Much of that information is not open to public scrutiny, he said.

"It frustrates me. They weren't there, so why are they commenting on it?" he said of a closed City Council meeting when the details of case were discussed. Schneider, who has said that he will not be involved in any of the council's voting or discussions surrounding his son, said he was only at the closed meeting as an observer.

But Pfarr said that part of the problem is the council's lack of transparency. They often go to closed door meetings without explanation, she said, and the minutes from the meeting are available only online, where many people in the community can't get to them.

She raised the issue while attending Wednesday night's City Council meeting, where members agreed to look into getting the meeting minutes into a newspaper.

Lentz said that despite it all, she has never seen the likes of this case in her 38 years living in Danube.

"Never in my life did I think I'd see something like this in this quiet little town," she said.