Just My Opinion – The Price of Political Apathy in Swanton
We are fortunate to live in a democratic country where we, the people, elect our leaders and decide how we are to be governed. This system is applied from our nation’s top elected office to our lowest at any local level. However, there are times, more often at the local level, where an elected position suddenly becomes vacant and the replacement is chosen by the governing body, not the voters, to finish out the term. This practice allows the vacancy to filled relatively quickly and at very little cost. Unfortunately, it places an individual into an important leadership position with the constituency knowing little of their background or their stand on the issues.
Another common way to be easily placed into a seat of political control at the local level is to run for office without opposition. This occurs frequently in lowly populated municipalities when there are a relatively large number of seats up for election. Many small communities have a difficult time finding enough eligible people willing to step into a role of leadership for a variety of reasons. These reasons, some of them valid, will always not only shrink the number of candidates but diminish the overall quality of the pool as well. In effect, voters become insignificant when candidates run unopposed and they get what they get.
The Village of Swanton has six members on their council. Of these six, five (Craig Rose, Michael Rochelle, Kathy Kreuz, Dianne Westhoven and Dave Pilliod) gained their seat while running unopposed and one (Tony Stuart) was appointed to fill a vacancy. Are these the best six individuals the residents of Swanton want running their town, deciding how much to pay for utilities or in taxes or who should collect their garbage or a host of other quality of Village life decisions? As the Swanton Village Council is currently seated, it does not matter. The elections came down not to good or bad choices for the voters but rather having no choice at all.
We can take Mr. Rose’s time on the Council as an example of how we get to the current situation. Craig Rose was first appointed to the Swanton Village Council in 2014 to serve the remainder of Councilman Dave Pilliod’s term after Mr. Pilliod stepped down to serve as a Fulton Township Trustee. With two open Council seats available in the November 2015 election, Mr. Rose ran and was defeated. In 2017 Tamara Haselman resigned her seat and Mr. Rose was again appointed to serve the rest of her term. In the November election of that year, with four Council seats open, he ran again, unopposed with three others and received the lowest vote total of the four, not that it really mattered. Perhaps, if only three seats up for grabs, we would not be having this conversation. But here we are.
At the beginning of 2020, Neil Toeppe was sworn in as Swanton’s Mayor, having defeated incumbent Ann Roth in November. Mr. Rose was then elected as President Pro Tempore or President of the Council by the rest of the Council members, giving him new-found authority. What developed over the next 12 months was a contentious relationship between Mayor Toeppe and Councilman Rose when discussing initiatives proposed by the Mayor. The initiatives concerned economic development during the pandemic, giving residents greater access to Council meetings and better cooperation with Swanton Local Schools in managing the Village’s youth sports program. These initiatives and several others were summarily rejected by Mr. Rose on several occasions with strong support from Councilman Rochelle.
In the first Council meeting of 2021, Mr. Rose was re-elected as President Pro Tempore and proceeded to make significant changes the Rules of Council. He made it clear that he, as President of the Council had to approve all meeting agenda items or agenda amendments and started by removing the Mayor’s Report from the meeting agenda. Mr. Rose also had the Mayor removed from his position as an ex officio, or a non-voting member, of all Village committees so he would not be allowed to participate in committee discussions. This included the Public Safety Committee which is comprised of the Police and Fire departments, both of which report to the Mayor. The Council approved these changes by a vote of 5-1 with Mr. Pilliod voting against and, for all intent and purpose, handed control of the Village of Swanton over to Mr. Rose and literally silenced the Mayor when conducting Village business.
The solution to counter this type of influence and control is for the citizens of Swanton to be more active in their politics, more interested in the decisions being made on “their behalf” and more willing to step into leadership roles when the direction of the Village is headed down the wrong path. They need to care more about how local government is affecting their lives and stop believing there is nothing that can be done. The alternative is too costly. Swanton chose a new mayor in 2019 because they wanted a new direction that would make the Village a better place to live and raise a family. But the Council is the legislative authority and those six members that currently sit at that table, who may all not be there if the citizens were more involved in their government, will decide what kind of Village we will live and or work in, whether we like it or not.
Four Council members, Kreuz, Rochelle, Rose and Stuart, have terms that will expire at the end of this year on the 31st of December. Hopefully, Swanton will have several civic minded individuals who will be willing to step up and and challenge any Council member that decides to run for re-election or run to fill any potential vacancy. The Village is desperate for new leadership.
Photo: Swanton Village Council President Pro Tempore Craig Rose
Your opinion is right on. I wish all of Swanton residents would pay attention to you site in order to learn the FACTS. Thanks Bill !!!
Very well written and very informative !
I absolutely agree. Rose needs to go. Sounds like he is power hungry.
Turning the table on council is happening! Time is on the side of Swanton residents. As they say, if you see something, say something!
I have said the same thing for 14 years and fought the system with no help or understanding. We need to help our youth and not make them stars by their parents or names. I had the ex football coach in a meeting with other council members there tell me that we have no talent in Swanton after I took 12 kids to the World Series of baseball, all from Swanton at 14 years old. I told him he was to lazy to train them the right way and he just went athletically inclined individuals to run a team. Track it kinda words but every other sport it takes several individuals to play together so all needs to be taught . Food for thought! I would love to be that person because I don’t take sh@t from anyone!