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Mid-Missouri Bank regroups after chairman's death

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Lee Gilbert, chairman of Mid-Missouri Bancshares Inc., the holding company for Mid-Missouri Bank, died at Cox South on Oct. 6, and bank officials are now plotting the next step for the $492 million bank.

Gilbert, a member of the Missouri Banker’s Association and the American Banker’s Association, had given more than 50 years of service to the banking community, according to his obituary. Gilbert was 79.

In 2006, Gilbert managed the merger of Mid-Missouri, Central State Bancshares Inc. and First Financial Bancshares Inc., and served as president and CEO of the merged company, which kept the Mid-Missouri name.

The bank’s assets were $491.9 million as of June 30, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., across 15 branches throughout central and southwest Missouri. The bank employs 178.

“He was the main guy who put this together, and we are going to greatly miss him,” said Mid-Missouri Bank President and CEO Eric McClure. “He was a good friend and mentor to all of us.”

An interim chairman has not been named, and McClure said the bank board would develop its plan in the coming weeks.

Mid-Missouri has at times been a subject of scrutiny during Gilbert’s tenure, most notably during a multiagency investigation in the Joplin market roughly four years ago.

“He had guided us through the past years, and the bank hit some road bumps,” McClure said. “And we’ve gotten out of the ditch and are doing good.”

Since 2007, the bank has been marred by high turnover and firings and at least seven resignations of key leaders. Two former executives filed lawsuits against the bank in that time, and the bank was jointly investigated by the Missouri Division of Finance, the FDIC, the FBI and the bank’s bonding company following dismissals of Joplin officials during Gilbert’s tenure.

Amid the investigation, 34 employees were laid off following the bank’s sale of its consulting firm, Superior Consulting LLC. Travis Ford, a spokesman for the Missouri Division of Finance, said state statutes prevent him from disclosing whether the investigation concluded or if penalties were levied on Mid-Missouri. State officials have previously declined to disclose the reason for the investigation.

An age-discrimination lawsuit filed by former executive vice president Gary Rice was dismissed with prejudice last year, but a wrongful termination suit filed by former bank President and CEO Doug Watson is ongoing.

According to Laurel Stevenson, the attorney representing the bank’s holding company, damages from Gilbert’s estate will be sought. Bolivar attorney Jay Kirksey of Kirksey Law Firm LLC is representing Watson.

“Mr. Kirksey advised the day after (Gilbert) passed away that he was planning to add a claim against the estate of Mr. Gilbert,” said Stevenson, attorney for Lathrop & Gage LLP’s Springfield office.

Kirksey could not be reached for comment by press time. A voice recording said he would be unavailable until Oct. 17.

McClure declined to provide details surrounding Gilbert’s death or to discuss the lawsuits by former executives.

Watson, who served as CEO for Mid-Missouri between November 2009 and July 2010, alleges in a 200-page suit that he was wrongfully terminated without cause. He is seeking damages of $500,000. Records of what he might be seeking from Gilbert’s estate were not available as of Oct. 12.

Mid-Missouri states in the suit that Watson was terminated for violating company policy by “threatening an act of violence toward another individual while on company property.”
Watson claims in the suit that during the week of Jan. 11, 2010, he discussed a letter written by board secretary Tawnya Dampier to the FDIC, in which she expressed concerns about how Gilbert requested the removal of board member and bank audit committee member Ray Pritchett without board approval, and those discussions led to his dismissal.

He further alleges that Mid-Missouri Bank, under Gilbert’s management, became a troubled institution with losses around $88 million.

According to the suit, the FDIC and Missouri Division of Finance placed the organization under a letter of agreement saying Gilbert was to step down from management and relinquish daily operations of the bank, which he did in July 2007.

The bank recorded its highest troubled asset ratio of more than 60 in June 2008, according to BankTracker, an online research tool developed by the Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University in Washington, D.C., but its rating has improved steadily since. BankTracker reported in June, the most recent data available, that Mid-Missouri’s troubled-asset ratio was 30.3. The national median is 14.3, and a ratio above 100 is considered a threatening stress level.

According to Springfield Business Journal archives, the bank dismissed Joplin branch President Scott Rosenthal and loan officer Kay Muskrat in April 2007. Loan officers Chris Couch, Frank McReynolds and Tim Langston each were terminated shortly after that.

Rice worked for Mid-Missouri for 44 years before being fired seven days before his 65th birthday. In his case, Rice alleged Mid-Missouri – under the direction of Gilbert and then-President and CEO Lee Keith – implemented an unspoken policy that punishes senior employees and rewards younger ones. That case was dismissed Dec. 3.

Since July 2007, four executives – McClure, Watson, Keith and Brad Weaver – have held Mid-Missouri’s president post.

In the Watson suit, eight judges have recused themselves since it was filed Sept. 7, 2010, according to court records. Jacqueline Cook, a circuit court judge in the Kansas City area, is currently assigned to the case.

“There are a couple of attorneys who are likely to be witnesses in the case and so that pretty much excluded the judges from Greene County because there are some evidentiary issues the judges would have to rule upon concerning the testimony of those individuals,” attorney Stevenson said.

McClure described Gilbert as an optimist, who buoyed others during tough times, and leaves a positive legacy with the communities and individuals he touched during his life.

“Southwest Missouri is a much better place to live because of Mr. Gilbert,” McClure said.

According to the obituary, Gilbert was born in Quincy and raised in St. Clair County before he served in the 10th Infantry Division of the U.S. Army from 1952–54 during the Korean War. He and Wanda, his wife of 60 years lived in Nevada – about 100 miles north of Springfield – for more than 20 years before moving to the city 14 years ago.

Gilbert is survived by his wife; two daughters, Stephanie and Elizabeth; two grandchildren, Brian Riedy and his wife Kristen, and Jennifer Riedy; two great-grandchildren; and several nieces and nephews, according to his obituary posted on[[In-content Ad]]


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