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Published: Wednesday, 2/5/2003

Speeding-ticket happy New Rome puts the brakes on dissolution

BY KELLY LECKER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

NEW ROME, Ohio - In a record high turnout - 32 people - voters decided yesterday to keep this tiny town intact, along with the police force that has made it infamous.

The vote was 21 against and 11 in favor of dissolving this 60-person village on the western edge of Columbus that covers a 0.19-mile stretch of West Broad Street.

Before yesterday, the most people who ever voted in an election in New Rome was 18.

Some residents, including the New Rome mayor and one village councilman, were pushing to have the village dissolved into Prairie Township. They said New Rome was nothing more than a speed trap that gave the area a bad name.

In one year, the village collected $377,000 in traffic fines – more than 90 percent of its budget.

“The whole system is a failure, a horrible, horrible way of letting the village go on,” said Jim Bussey, who got a ticket from New Rome police and has been fighting to get the town dissolved.

Three former officials have pleaded guilty since 1991 to stealing money. A fourth person resigned after thousands of dollars vanished. Last year, the state auditor's office recommended the village dissolve itself because its sole function appeared to be producing tickets.

The traffic fines and the feuds that arose among village officials attracted national attention. The town and its battle were in newspapers across the country and featured on ABC's 20/20 last week.

Mayor Jamie Mueller, who moved into the village in 1999 and was elected mayor in 2001, owns a retirement home near New Rome. He ran for office specifically to abolish what he saw as a speed trap that kept motorists away from businesses. He said he was disappointed by yesterday's vote.

“But we are not done. We are working step by step to fix this problem. We have picked up two council seats this year,” he said. Mr. Mueller said a class-action lawsuit is pending against New Rome police regarding the traffic fines.

Mr. Mueller appointed Councilman Ed Anthony, who led the effort to have New Rome dissolved. His adversaries tried to prove Mr. Anthony and his family lived outside the village and shouldn't be allowed to vote, but the Franklin County Board of Elections disagreed.

The village had 65 registered voters, but the 2000 Census showed that only 60 people lived in the village, including 42 who are old enough to vote. Elections officials said people likely moved out of the village and didn't change their registration.

New Rome still could be dissolved under proposed state legislation.

Rep. Larry Wolpert, a Hilliard Republican, and Sen. Steve Stivers, a Columbus Republican, have introduced a bill that would allow the state auditor and county commissioners to dissolve troubled villages with populations of fewer than 100.

This report includes information from the Associated Press.



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