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Oak Harbor mayor resigns following residency dispute

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    Oak Harbor Mayor Joe Helle, Tuesday, April 24, 2018.

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    State Rep. Steve Arndt, left, and Craig Butler, director of Ohio EPA, wait to speak during a panel discussion at the Grand Lobby of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Plaza in Toledo.

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OAK HARBOR, Ohio — The Democratic candidate for the Ohio House’s 89th District resigned as mayor of Oak Harbor on Monday following disputes with some council members over whether he was a resident of the village.

Joe Helle, 32, acknowledges he hasn’t lived in his Oak Harbor home for months but says it’s a temporary move because of an extensive renovation to his home for which he’s struggled to afford. He’s been living in Port Clinton at his fiancee’s home, he said.

On Tuesday, Mr. Helle said he decided to resign instead of putting the village through a potentially messy and expensive legal dispute and said the controversy will only fuel his campaign.

“I pray it’s not a political agenda,” he said. “It feels very much that way.”

Mr. Helle, who is challenging Rep. Steve Arndt (R., Port Clinton) for the state house seat, framed the dispute as a partisan one, pointing to Republicans on the city council as possibly trying to undermine his state campaign. Quinton Babcock, a councilman Mr. Helle pointed to as a strong proponent of the residency questions, said politics played no role in his actions, which he says were based on concerns raised to him by residents.

“Certainly, the mayor of the village should live in the village,” Mr. Babcock said.

Elected mayor in 2015, Mr. Helle is an Army veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. He says he gets a pension from his military service and his pay as mayor, so that he lives paycheck to paycheck, limiting how quickly he could get work done on his home.

The village solicitor, he said, had told him he wasn’t breaking any rules, as long as he intended to return to the village, which he says is his intent. 

Mr. Babcock said that council members’ questions to Mr. Helle were centered on whether he could give a timeline for his return to the village, and that Mr. Helle declined to provide a timeline. The concept of resignation was broached by Mr. Helle, and was not the goal of council, Mr. Babcock said.

Mr. Babcock said he researched the process to challenge Mr. Helle’s residency, but did so only to determine what could happen if Mr. Helle declared he would not return to the village yet planned to stay as mayor.

“Nobody wants to ask anyone to resign,” he said.

Mr. Arndt said he did not play a role in the residency questions. He said he didn’t know Mr. Babcock well, and hadn’t heard about the specific dispute until he received a phone call Monday night.

“I had absolutely nothing to do with it,” he said. “If you were to ask me the party affiliation of those involved, I wouldn’t have known,” he said.

Don Douglas, president pro tem of the Oak Harbor Village Council, became mayor after Mr. Helle resigned.

Mr. Helle and Mr. Arndt will face each other in the November election.

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