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Records show House candidate struggled as police officer

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Former Oak Harbor Mayor Joe Helle

THE BLADE/ANDY MORRISON
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A candidate for state House who made national headlines this year when he confronted Secretary of State Jon Husted about Ohio’s voter purging law resigned as a police officer in Fremont during his new-hire probation after supervisors questioned his temperament for the job, personnel records show.

Joe Helle, a U.S. Army veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, was a patrol officer for eight months in 2013 before he quit citing “personal reasons,” according to records reviewed by The Blade.

Mr. Helle, 32, resigned as mayor of Oak Harbor earlier this month after village council members questioned where he was living. The former mayor has been staying with his fiancée in Port Clinton while renovating his home and couldn’t provide the council with a time frame for returning.

Reached for comment, Mr. Helle, who was elected mayor in 2015 and is running in the 89th District against incumbent Steve Arndt (R., Port Clinton), said he was targeted for political reasons.

“Every time I get an inquiry like this I just think it’s people looking for dirt,” he said. “I would much prefer that people call me and ask about all the positive things I did for Oak Harbor, but today I haven’t received a single one of those calls.”

In January, Mr. Helle was recorded confronting Mr. Husted, a Republican, outside the U.S. Supreme Court about his removal from Ohio’s voter rolls while he was serving overseas due to the state’s stringent voter laws that scrub registered voters who fail to vote in consecutive elections. The Plain Dealer and Mr. Husted’s office later revealed it was under Mr. Husted’s predecessor, Democrat Jennifer Brunner, that Mr. Helle’s registration was canceled.

Mr. Helle said he decided to pursue a career in law enforcement after he was discharged from the military in 2011.

His personnel records from the Fremont Police Department show he was disciplined twice in November, 2013, once for lying to commanding officer and another time for an outburst with a supervisor and disregarding orders while responding to a traffic stop. He resigned Nov. 15.

“I am very worried about Helle and I do not think he is thinking very clearly on the street. He has a million things going through his mind and is struggling with his job performance. At this point I am strongly considering we take him off the road until he seeks some counseling,” then-Sgt. Ty Conger wrote to the department’s chief on Nov. 5, 2013. “Not only have his issues here at work (sic), but also with his transitioned (sic) from the Army, back into civilian world.”

After the traffic stop dealing with a man acting erratically, “I advised Helle he has tremendous potential, but he has trouble showing self-control in semi-stressful situations such as this one,” Mr. Conger wrote in a report.

Mr. Conger, now a captain on a police force of 28, said it’s not unusual for new recruits to leave during their initial probation.

“This position isn’t for everybody,” he said. “We have officers who make probation and have successful careers and other officers who leave the department in the first year for whatever reason and go on to have successful careers in other areas.”

Mr. Helle said he sought counseling after resigning and continues to get help for his mental health.

“When you go out to war you see things that are tough and everyone deals with it differently. Like a lot of folks, I still see a counselor and I’m proud of that,” he said. “I was low for a little bit about resigning, but I got into local civics and volunteering. I ran for mayor.”

By several accounts, Mr. Helle’s relationship with the village council was rocky. Councilmen reached by The Blade described a contentious relationship between Mr. Helle and the elected council for the village of 3,000.

“Certainly he and I have had our disagreements and I’ve had to be firm with him,” Harbor Oak councilman Quinton Babcock said. “There have been instances where he has left the room because he’s very angry.”

“He took a more active, aggressive role than some of the past mayors,” said Don Douglas, a former councilman who is serving out the rest of Mr. Helle’s term.

Mr. Helle’s House opponent, Mr. Arndt, said he had nothing to do with what happened in Oak Harbor.

“The council is clearly within its right to ask about his intent to return to the village. I don’t have anything to do with his residency. It’s between him and council,” he said.

Mr. Helle earned a little over $400 a month as mayor. After selling his Oak Harbor bar last year, he said he lives on a military pension and Social Security disability payments, which aren’t enough for him to finish renovations on his home.

Mr. Babcock said Mr. Helle was not asked to step down, but offered his resignation when pressed by council members about when he would be able to return.

‘It’s a small town,” Mr. Babcock said. “People know where he lives. They drive by and see he’s not there.”

Contact Liz Skalka at lskalka@theblade.com, 419-724-6199, or on Twitter @lizskalka.

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