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Published: Sunday, 10/19/2003

Who's on the ballot?

BY TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Broughton Mayor Ron Hunter's sheer approach to politics makes it abundantly clear he's not mayor of a big city like Toledo. Or even a small city with farm roots, like Bowling Green.

“I'd gladly step aside if somebody else had better ideas and wanted the job,” Mayor Hunter said, with the nonchalant tone of a generous, 62-year-old man willing to pass along his gavel like an old baseball mitt or worn copy of a good novel.

Mr. Hunter has been mayor of the Paulding County town of 166 since the late 1970s. But he's only run for the job a couple times. The last time was eight years ago, and that was only out of idle curiosity to see how many votes he would get.

As best he can recall, Mr. Hunter has never had an opposing candidate.

Several northwest Ohio villages will have elected positions filled by appointment because of a lack of candidates.

In Wood County, for example, nobody's running for mayor, clerk, or council in Milton Center. Nobody's running for clerk-treasurer in Hoytville. Various jobs have drawn no candidates in Bairdstown, Custar, Grand Rapids, Jerry City, Risingsun, Tontogany, Walbridge, and Weston.

Similar situations can be found in Allen, Hancock, and Henry counties. Paulding's vacant ballots aren't limited to Broughton: There are a lack of candidates in the village of Grover Hill as well.

If nobody runs, the current officeholder is appointed to another term. Long-term mayors like Mr. Hunter count on it.

Broughton hasn't had anyone run for public office for eight years. It has nobody on this year's ballot either.

Over in nearby Grover Hill, clerk-treasurer Susan Moon would have had her name on the Nov. 4 ballot. But one of the required 10 signatures Ms. Moon had turned in was invalidated, said Jan Commers, Paulding County elections board director.

No problem. Just before the deadline, Ms. Moon got word that nobody else had filed for her job.

So, at that point, she didn't see the need in getting another signature and paying the $30 filing fee to get her name on the ballot. She decided to save her money and wait to be re-appointed, just as several other incumbents without opposition are doing, Ms. Commers said.

That's usually how vacant seats in small towns are filled when no candidates have met the requirements of either being on the ballot or registered as write-ins. Ms. Commers is so used to the practice she can even recite the exact Ohio Revised Code that allows it to happen, election after election.

It may sound loose-knit, but the state has no problems with it.

“More often than not, it's something that they work out among themselves,” James Lee, spokesman for Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell, said. “It's not uncommon in these small towns. It stands in bold contrast to races for office at the state or national level.”

The Ohio Municipal League recognizes it as a norm too.

“It's one of those problems you could study, but what would you do about it?” John Mahoney, league spokesman, said.

“You may find something slightly different from one village to another. But if no one's aggrieved, that's how it works. It's kind of government by consensus,” Mr. Mahoney said.

Ohio has about 700 villages. About a third of them have 250 or fewer residents, Mr. Mahoney said.

Risingsun had a bit of a unique problem last year. Its village council forgot it was supposed to have Mayor Rick Whetsel go through the formality of being reappointed.

For six months - from January until July, when the problem was discovered by the Wood County Board of Elections - Mr. Whetsel was technically signing papers as mayor without having the job.

The council's remedy on July 23, 2002, was to approve retroactively all of Mr. Whetsel's actions since Jan. 1, 2002.

Perhaps it's no coincidence that Mr. Whetsel went to the trouble of getting his name on this year's ballot - just to be sure.

“The only reason I did it was because it was the right thing to do,” he said. He is running unopposed.

Mr. Whetsel, who ironically is on Risingsun's election board committee, said he was confused about when he was supposed to file for re-election. While council president, he was appointed mayor in 1999 shortly after then-Mayor Rob Cox had been re-elected.

Mr. Cox moved out of the village and resigned, leaving nearly all four years of his term to Mr. Whetsel - or so people thought.

As it turned out, Mr. Whetsel was supposed to run for the job at the next election, which was in the fall of 2001.

“All of a sudden, we got a call from the election board that Risingsun didn't have a mayor,” he said.

Terry Burton, deputy director of the Wood County elections board, said the number of vacant slots on this year's ballot isn't unusual.

“Pretty much what drives it is controversy,” Mr. Burton said. “If there's some controversy in some area, then you end up with candidates.”

Mr. Hunter said he got his start in public office back in 1972, when he became a member of Broughton's village council. He was appointed mayor at the end of that decade after the incumbent died.

He agreed that Broughton's lack of controversy is partly responsible for its lack of candidates.

Broughton's bustling era was many years ago, when it had four churches and a pool hall. The village's center of activity was its railroad depot. The village hall was built in 1904, he said.

These days, a sidewalk construction project takes center stage.

“You've got to understand a couple of things,” Mr. Hunter, a trucker for more than 40 years, explained.

“A lot of people want to complain, but they don't want to get involved. The state has made it hard for them to run for office.”

It's not hard in the sense that all it takes to run is a $30 filing fee and a petition with 10 signatures.

But it's hard in the sense that, for his services as mayor, Mr. Hunter gets paid as much in one month as a lot of people might spend on a steak dinner in one night - and not necessarily at a five-star restaurant either.

Mr. Hunter gets $25 a month. Clerk-treasurer Pat Doster gets $50 a month. Broughton councilmen get $25 for each meeting they attend: meetings are usually only once a month.

“That's to make sure they show up,” Mr. Hunter quipped.

“If you spend a month's salary for a filing fee,” he said, “it's not worth it.”



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