Ordinarily, the decision by an obscure politician in a small county not to seek re-election would merit little if any comment. But the pending end — for now and, it’s to be hoped, for good — of the public career of Seneca County Commissioner Jeff Wagner should remind voters everywhere of the need for adequate care in deciding which candidates deserve their trust.
Mr. Wagner, a Republican, was one of two commissioners on the three-member county board who voted in 2011 to tear down the county’s historic courthouse in Tiffin. Mr. Wagner and then-commissioner Ben Nutter, a Democrat, opted for demolition even though preservation advocates offered a credible long-term plan to rebuild the 1884 courthouse that would have been millions of dollars cheaper than spending $400,000 to raze it and then build a new facility.
Mr. Wagner did not explain his decision to step down when his term ends next year. He allowed the chairman of the county Republican Party to announce last week that Mr. Wagner wants to spend more time farming.
But the GOP official conceded that Mr. Wagner understands county residents will remember his courthouse vote “20 years from now.” Voters rejected Mr. Nutter’s re-election bid last year; the courthouse issue was part of that calculus, along with his previous deletions of courthouse-related emails that ran afoul of Ohio’s open-records law.
Mr. Wagner indulged his appetite for destruction, to borrow a phrase from Guns N’ Roses, asserting that a then-empty building was more of a detriment to downtown Tiffin than a vacant lot would be. A rebuilt courthouse should have been the catalyst for broader development that would have attracted visitors, created jobs, and generated tax revenue. The project would have been eligible for state and federal aid.
That’s happened in other Ohio counties that have renovated their historic courthouses. Seneca County has forfeited that opportunity, for good.
In four years, Seneca County will observe its bicentennial, but it isn’t apparent now what the county will have to celebrate. That’s Mr. Wagner’s legacy. He ought not seek any other office, such as a return to the state House. The greatest contribution he can now make to public service is to leave it behind.
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