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Published: Sunday, 11/2/2008

Prosecutor contest on tap in Hancock County

BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

FINDLAY It s a county election year, but in Hancock County voters will only be selecting a prosecutor. All of the other county officeholders are unopposed in the general election.

Mark Miller, who was appointed to the job last year when longtime Prosecutor Bob Fry was appointed a Findlay Municipal judge, is being challenged by independent Jeff Routson.

Mr. Miller, 42, who has worked in the prosecutor s office since 1994, was chief assistant prosecutor in the criminal division for two years before he was selected by the local Republican Central Committee to complete Mr. Fry s unexpired term. He is chairman of the central committee but abstained from voting on the prosecutor s appointment.

Mr. Routson, 53, works as chief assistant prosecutor in the juvenile division of the Allen County Prosecutor s Office in Lima. A Findlay native, he has been a lawyer since 1997 and spent 14 years as a police officer, detective, and sergeant with the Chesapeake, Va., Police Department a combination of experience that he feels gives him an advantage when it comes to prosecuting criminal cases.

Mr. Miller doesn t agree.

We ve got an excellent sheriff and a fine police chief, Mr. Miller said. There s a difference between someone to lead those organizations and someone to go into court and represent the citizens in the county. In that regard, I think I have far more experience in court.

If elected, Mr. Miller said he hopes to expand the victim-services program to reach out to crime victims whose cases are unsolved and to retain the juvenile and adult diversion program, which offers alternatives to prosecution for some first-time offenders.

Mr. Routson a first cousin to Common Pleas Judge Reg Routson said he would work with law enforcement agencies to more quickly arrest and prosecute drug dealers and look for ways to cut costs in the prosecutor s office, including hiring law students from area law schools to intern at the office.

He said he is concerned about what he sees as a high rate of cases settled by plea agreements in Hancock County. Just three of 300 felony cases went to trial in 2007.

It s been my experience, being a cop for 14 years and a prosecutor for 10, that normally when there s a plea negotiation, at least to the charge, there s usually some incentive to plea bargain, to not take your case to trial, he said. In my mind it seems kind of excessive if you ve gotten 300 cases and you take three to trial that means you re plea bargaining about 99 percent of the time.

Mr. Miller defended the county s record on prosecutions. The number of jury trials is not indicative of what a prosecutor s office does, he said, explaining that about 80 percent of defendants plead to the charges they were indicted on with no reduction. Last year more folks ended up going to prison than as far back as I can recall.

The prosecutor is paid $115,703 a year.

• LOCAL ISSUES

Also on Tuesday s ballot, Findlay voters will decide whether to strike down City Council s 2007 decision to lease the former Brandman tire dump and Swale Park site to the Thayer Group for a $90 million office, retail, residential, and recreational development.

If approved, the ballot initiative would repeal legislation related to the development and lease of the property, require that any potential commercial or residential development of the site be submitted to voters first, and prohibit any future legislation that comes before City Council regarding the property to be approved as an emergency ordinance.

Ron Moor, one of the sponsors of the initiative petition, said people should support the initiative if they re interested in getting their voice back in local government, having a say in what surrounds their daily life.

Council approved the legislation as an emergency measure, but nearly a year later the developer has yet to pay the city a dime or move any dirt at the site, he said. Proponents of the initiative fear it will worsen flooding problems along the Blanchard River.

The thing was entered into with no studies, no EPA studies, no real, real descriptive development plans, and no background study done on the Thayer Group and their past developments, Mr. Moor said.

City Law Director Dave Hackenberg maintains that if passed, the initiative could not be legally enforced. Voters cannot repeal legally binding contracts entered into by the city and a developer, he said, and a city ordinance cannot deal with three different topics as this one does.

There are a lot of reasons why it s no good, Mr. Hackenberg said. If voters approve it, it still won t be any good.

Contact Jennifer Feehan at:jfeehan@theblade.comor 419-353-5972.



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