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Published: Thursday, 7/25/2002

`Paperwork error' creates phantom Risingsun mayor


RISINGSUN, Ohio - Rick Whetsel thought he was mayor. So did the 600 people in this Wood County village.

Imagine their surprise when they found out this month that Mayor Whetsel wasn't really mayor at all. The reason: he didn't know he was supposed to run for re-election in November.

Neither did anyone else in Risingsun.

“My main concern was, here I am, playing mayor from January to two weeks ago,” Mr. Whetsel said about getting the news. “How much trouble can I be in for everything I signed?”

The mayoral snafu was discovered by the Wood County Board of Elections on July 8 after Mr. Whetsel, 43, visited the county office seeking information about upcoming village tax issues.

When election officials did some checking, they couldn't find Mr. Whetsel's name on their roster of public officials. They soon discovered the mayor's post was on the village's November ballot, but no one had run for the job.

Mr. Whetsel, a Fostoria street department employee, said he thought the mayor's seat wasn't up for re-election until November, 2003. That's why he didn't take out any nomination petitions last year.

He blamed the confusion on the elections board. He claimed someone at the board told him he did not have to seek re-election until November, 2003.

But elections board officials said the allegations are unfounded. After getting the news, village leaders had some explaining to do to the community. And they had to make some quick changes. The first step: stop using Mr. Whetsel as mayor.

“The council and everybody was shocked. What I told people who called me was I said: `Don't call me. I'm not the mayor anymore. It's just confusion. It'll be straightened around by the end of the month,'” Mr. Whetsel said yesterday.

Council President James Essman stepped in as mayor for a two-week period, and it wasn't until this week that Mr. Whetsel had his old job back.

After getting advice from the village solicitor, council members appointed Mr. Whetsel mayor on Tuesday night.

In addition, council retroactively approved all Mr. Whetsel's actions since Jan. 1, such as applying for village grants and writing payroll checks.

Mr. Essman called the mistake “a paperwork error.''

The council president said he believes the confusion occurred when Mr. Whetsel was appointed mayor in September, 2000, to replace a former mayor who moved out of the village. That mayoral term was set to expire in November, 2003. But according to state law, mayors who are appointed to posts must run for election the following year.

Village leaders also believe the county elections board gave them wrong information.

Nonsense, said Debbie Hazard, elections board director.

She said the mayor's job appeared on the November ballot, but no one filed petitions to run for the office. And no one called to question it, either.

“On Election Day, when they went in to vote, everyone would have seen it,” she said.

Mr. Whetsel, who intends to run for re-election in November, 2003, agreed that the situation was peculiar.

“I don't remember seeing the ballot but one council member said he did and he wrote in my name,” Mr. Whetsel said. “Personally, I don't remember seeing it - and it probably was there - so I better start seeing things better.”

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