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Activists say razing played role in Seneca County commissioner's race results

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Ben Nutter, a Democrat who was seeking a third four-year term on the board, was soundly defeated by Republican Fred Zoeller, owner and chief executive officer of Tiffin-based Laminate Technologies.

The Blade/Dave Zapotosky
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TIFFIN — Though the Seneca County courthouse that was demolished in January went largely unmentioned in the months leading up to Tuesday's election, those who worked to save the landmark say it was undoubtedly a factor in Commissioner Ben Nutter's defeat.

“I really felt a lot of people, even though they didn’t show up and protest it, I think they realized [demolition] was foolish,” said Lenora Livingston, one of six county residents who sued commissioners in 2007 in an attempt to halt the board’s demolition plans.

Mr. Nutter, a Democrat who was seeking a third four-year term on the board, was soundly defeated by Republican Fred Zoeller, owner and chief executive officer of Tiffin-based Laminate Technologies. He had vacillated over the years between plans to tear down the vacant courthouse and a plan to restore it for the common pleas courts, which had been moved in 2004 into an annex designed for the probate and juvenile courts.

“Mr. Zoeller is very well liked in the community, and he’s a go-getter,” said Jackie Fletcher, president of the Tiffin Historic Trust and onetime candidate for county commissioner.

She said people were eager to hear Mr. Zoeller’s message about actively seeking out new business and jobs for Seneca County, although the long-gone courthouse “couldn’t help but be a factor” in Mr. Nutter’s defeat.

The commissioners “fudged away eight good years. They could’ve accomplished something,” Ms. Fletcher said, adding that none of the candidates offered a solution to the still real problem of having probate and juvenile courts in a cramped building that is not handicapped-accessible.

“I really don’t see an easy solution or an apparent solution to this problem of not having enough space for the courts,” she said. “I would like to say I do, but they removed that solution.”

While some residents could not forgive Mr. Nutter for his role in tearing down the 1884 courthouse — at a cost of more than $400,000 — in the face of a valid plan for preservation, others said they didn’t care about the courthouse but wished commissioners had done something years ago.

“Frankly I think it was voter fatigue over the whole thing,” said Doug Collar, another of the plaintiffs in the failed 2007 lawsuit against the county. “Whether you were for it or against it, it just became an issue that never really reached a resolution year after year, and people felt it was time for a change.”

Mr. Nutter couldn’t be reached for comment. Commissioner Dave Sauber, who voted against demolition, lost the March GOP primary to Holly Stacy, who was elected to his seat Tuesday.

Contact Jennifer Feehan at: feehan@theblade.com or 419-724-6129.

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