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5 in contest to take over for Wood's prosecutor

BOWLING GREEN - In January, 73 people will gather to select the next Wood County prosecutor.

The central committee of the county Republican Party will pick a successor to longtime Prosecutor Alan Mayberry when he moves Jan. 1 to the Common Pleas Court bench now filled by Judge Charles Kurfess. Judge Kurfess is retiring, and Mr. Mayberry is unopposed in his bid for the judgeship.

Although the party won't take applications for the prosecutor's job until Mr. Mayberry resigns, the race has been heating up all year. Five candidates are touting themselves to committee members. “It is like running a very small-scale election,” said Terry Burton, deputy director of the Wood County Board of Elections.

Bowling Green City Prosecutor Matthew Reger said he has been talking with central committee members about his interest in the post since March. “It's a very down-there campaign because you get to talk to each person who's going to vote for you,” he said. “That's kind of the exciting part about it. It's not a faceless name they're voting for in a booth.”

In addition to Mr. Reger, Perrysbury attorney Walter Celley and three assistant Wood County prosecutors - Gary Bishop, Raymond Fischer, and Linda Holmes - are seeking the appointment.

Most have sent letters to committee members letting them know they are interested, and, if they were not already doing so, they have been attending Republican meetings and fund-raisers.

Ms. Holmes, 55, chief assistant prosecutor in the civil division, said in previous years, she “purposely stepped back” from party activities. “Given my position, I felt I needed to be able to work with whoever was elected. I didn't want political affiliations getting in the way of performing my job.”

Mr. Fischer, 54, also an assistant prosecutor in the civil division, said he has been taking a personal approach to campaigning for the job, meeting with committee members individually to get better acquainted, discuss his qualifications, and answer their questions.

Mr. Bishop, 42, is the most experienced candidate in criminal law. He has been an assistant prosecutor since 1987 and chief assistant in the criminal division since 1996, handling all major felonies including capital murder cases.

Two of the candidates - Mr. Celley and Mr. Reger - are members of the Republican central committee. Mr. Celley, 49, said his private practice focuses on real estate and domestic relations work, although he works as assistant solicitor in Waterville Township and as local counsel for the Perrysburg school district. Mr. Reger, 35, city prosecutor since 2000, handles cases at the municipal court level. He also serves as village solicitor in Bloomdale, Wayne, and Hoytville, and as prosecutor in North Baltimore, Bradner, Bairdstown, Custar, and Tontogany.

Whoever is selected would fill out the remaining two years of Mr. Mayberry's term and would have to run for election in November, 2004. The job pays $101,255 a year for a full-time prosecutor, $61,506 if the prosecutor works part time in private practice.

The prosecutor oversees a staff of 25, including nine attorneys.

Mr. Mayberry said he cannot endorse a candidate for the job, although he would like to see the office continue to operate much as it has under his direction since 1989 and under his predecessor, Betty Montgomery.

“The electorate is seriously limited in who will make this decision, but [the candidates] will tout their attributes to those people between now and January,” he said. “I will be an interested spectator.”

John Miller, county GOP chairman, confirmed that the five candidates have made their interest known to the central committee, but he said the party won't formally solicit names for the post until after the November election. The last county appointment made by the party was of Jill Engle to fill the unexpired term of County Treasurer Robert Van Horn after his retirement in 2000.

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