Just My Opinion – Did We Just Have a Coup in Swanton’s Village Government?
The word “coup”, used in the context of taking control or overturning a government, has been used countless times in the past four years and an unimaginable amount in the past week with the chaos involving the insurrection at the U.S. Capital Building in Washington. We always think of coups taking place at the highest level of a country’s government. But make no mistake, no matter how you choose to define it, it can happen with any governing body of any organization.
What transpired at Swanton’s first Village Council meeting of 2021 this past Monday night may not have officially been a coup, but it absolutely had the feel and effectiveness of one. Topping the list of housekeeping priorities at the beginning of every year for the Swanton Village Council is the election of a President Pro Tempore or President of the Council and establishing the Rules of Council. The Council re-elected Craig Rose by a 6-0 margin after which Mr. Rose read two major changes to the Rules of Council which would need Council’s approval.
The first was the elimination of the Mayor’s Report on the meeting agenda. Furthermore, all items placed on the agenda must be pre-approved by the President Pro Tempore, Mr. Rose. This report has been used by Mayor Neil Toeppe to inform the Council and the public of activities, events, meetings and various interactions with other state and local officials as they relate to the duties of the mayor of Swanton. He also uses the time to bring up new initiatives to improve the Village and it’s standing in Fulton County and Northwest Ohio and sometimes areas of concern that he has been made aware of by Village residents.
Mr. Rose justified this change by saying the Mayor’s only duty during Council meetings is to be a non-partisan observer of the process and not to give his opinion on matters being discussed by the Council as the legislative body. He added that the report was something implemented by the previous mayor, Ann Roth. “It was not part of the process before, stated Mr. Rose. We’re going to go back to the old process.” Maybe Mr. Rose believes the best way to adhere to the portion of Swanton’s motto that states “Honoring the Past” is to live in it.
The second major change to the Rules of Council was to remove the position of the mayor from being an “ex officio” on the Village’s standing commissions such as the Planning and Tree Commissions. An ex officio attends meeting only to participate in the discussion and does not have a vote when deciding on recommendations to the Council. As explained by Mr. Rose, the reason for this change was to give Council control of that process even though the Council had full authority to accept or reject any recommendations by the commissions. Mr. Rose also stated the the practice was not standard in the State of Ohio to which Councilman Dave Pilliod responded by saying, “We don’t have to emulate anybody.” The rationale was not only weak, it was unsubstantiated.
When the discussion was finished the Council voted 5-1 to approve the changes with only Mr. Pilliod voting against while Mr. Rose, Tony Stuart, Kathy Kreuz, Mike Rochelle and Dianne Westhoven voted for. It seems obvious to me this action by the Swanton Village Council amounts to no more an attempt to minimize any effect or influence Mayor Toeppe would have in the governance of this Village. They would like him to sit and be quiet not allow another voice of the people to be heard. Mr. Toeppe ran and was elected on a platform of boosting the Swanton economy with economic development initiatives and has been blocked every step of the way by the Council.
I attended every Village Council meeting in person or by live-streaming through Zoom in 2020 and witnessed first-hand a lack of cooperation with Mr. Toeppe by the Council, mainly coming from Mr. Rose and Councilman Rochelle who was in lock-step with Mr. Rose when it came to objecting to the Mayor’s initiatives. In the end, who winds up on the losing side of all of this? The Village of Swanton.