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Published: 4/9/2001

Coffee caper spurs calls for reform in Waterville

Waterville's controversial coffee caper is brewing talk of recall petitions, charter revisions, and resignations.

Some residents, concerned about recent actions of council, are looking into the village charter's provisions for a recall of the mayor while other taxpayers are discussing the possibility of forming a slate of “reform candidates” to run for council seats this November.

In an effort to put the current controversy to rest, Mayor David Myerholtz and five council members sent a letter to village residents last week, outlining what they described as the facts associated with the recent resignation of the village solicitor and the retirement of the village police chief.

George Runner, the village's longtime solicitor, resigned in March after a covert surveillance operation videotaped him taking village property, including packets of coffee. The following week, Lance Martin, the village's police chief, retired. The chief's officers conducted the surveillance operation.

Some residents plan to voice their concerns during council's meeting which begins at 7:30 tonight in the town hall.

Councilman Norm Witzler, who declined to sign the letter that was sent by the other council members, said that perhaps this would be a good time to look into a “strong mayor” form of government for Waterville. Doing so, he said, could curb the authority of municipal administrator Thomas Mattis and give more power to an elected official.

“It's time council stepped back and reviewed its purpose and the need to respond to its electorate as they have been asking council to” do, Mr. Witzler said. “Many letters and phone calls have asked for an answer to all that has happened. It is now up to the mayor and council to decide the future and repair any damage with the morale of our village employees.”

Mr. Witzler said that he plans to ask tonight why Mr. Mattis was permitted to appoint an acting prosecutor. According to the village's charter, the town's legal department is to be headed by a solicitor appointed by council.

“I'm highly upset. That is council's decision to make,” Mr. Witzler said, but Mr. Mattis “took it upon himself” to hire the acting prosecutor.

In addition, Mr. Witzler and others in the community expressed concerns over Mr. Mattis's choice for acting prosecutor: Raymond Runner, brother of George Runner, the town's former solicitor.

Mayor Myerholtz and Mr. Mattis defended the appointment, saying that Raymond has served as an assistant solicitor for the village in the past.

George Runner's “indiscretion in the latest incident does not necessarily reflect on his brother's capabilities,” the mayor said.

John Deck, a longtime village resident, said Waterville officials should have made an effort to find an acting prosecutor who had no association with Mr. Mattis or George Runner.

Mr. Deck said he contacted the Lucas County prosecutor, asking for an investigation into Mr. Mattis's actions in the police chief's resignation. The chief's departure was a result of a “political move” by Mr. Mattis, Mr. Deck alleges.

Robin Madigan, a Waterville resident, is considering circulating petitions for the removal of the mayor. The mayor, she said, is like the captain of a ship and is ultimately responsible for what goes on at the town hall.

“I feel very strongly about how the whole situation is being handled in this community,” she said. “I was appalled that we would fire the police chief for doing his job.”

Mr. Mattis is “overstepping his bounds” and council is permitting that to happen, she contended, noting that “He works for council and council works for me.”

Lucas County Prosecutor Julia Bates said her office is following up on about six phone calls from Waterville citizens who complained about Mr. Martin's resignation and how Mr. Mattis handled the investigation of George Runner.

“Also, they were concerned about why a prosecution wasn't taking place of George Runner,” Mrs. Bates said. “The answer is that the victim, the Village of Waterville, wasn't initiating a complaint.”

The prosecutor's office did refer the allegations against Mr. Runner to the Toledo Bar Association. Mr. Runner's case could be taken to a Lucas County grand jury if the bar association recommends it.

Some Waterville residents have suggested that council should ask Mr. Mattis to resign.

Mrs. Madigan said she is confident that she will be able to collect 664 valid signatures in order to place the recall issue on the ballot.

A vocal minority might be talking about making changes, but most residents support the village's current form of government, according to Mr. Mattis, who said that switching to a strong mayor “would be a huge mistake.”



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