Just My Opinion – The Right Path Taken for Changes in Swanton
In 2019, Swanton resident Neil Toeppe ran for the office of mayor with local economic development being the defining issue of his overall platform. The voters chose Mr. Toeppe by almost eight percentage points over two-term incumbent Ann Roth and it appeared that a much-needed effort and focus on boosting the Swanton economy was in the making.
However, several members of the Swanton Village Council were not only against the new mayor’s economic incentive plans, but pushed back on virtually all of his community-enhancing initiatives. Several citizens and business owners came forward to address the Council and express their support for Mr. Toeppe’s ideas to no avail. When local businesses began to suffer heavily under the weight of pandemic-related restrictions imposed by Governor Mike DeWine, the Council, sadly, was not moved to change its stance. It was not long before Council meetings devolved into contentious affairs, creating an almost toxic environment at times.
Frustrated by Council’s lack of response to the concerns of the Swanton community and unwillingness to enact positive change, resident and business owner Janet Ritter organized a grassroots effort earlier this year to give a voice to the voters of Swanton. And, with four Council seats up for reelection, find citizens willing to challenge for those seats and work for the community. She created a Facebook page called “A Community Forum” and began to hold meetings for with the following objective: “Creating a safe space where Swanton residents can equitably discuss ideas and solutions. A platform where residents can become involved with their community through social programs, event organization, and politics.” And a Mission Statement: “A Community Forum will provide information and tools necessary for Swanton residents interested in becoming involved to improve their community in a manner that is impartial for everyone.”
What developed from this political movement over several months of meetings was a strategy and a game plan, if diligently followed, would give the Swanton community a path and an opportunity to be taken seriously by its leaders and have an impact on its future. Four individuals, Patrick Messenger, Mike Disbrow, Derek Kania and Sam Disbrow stepped up and solicited for petition signatures to put their names on the November ballot to replace any incumbent that decided to run for reelection. Registered voters flocked to organized petition signing events, giving the hopeful candidates more than enough signatures for eligibility. The citizens of Swanton answered the calling, choosing to take the right path to change. No torches. No pitchforks. No storming Village Hall. Just a pen and later, a short trip to the polling station.
As added insurance to realize true change, John Schmidt circulated petitions to create ordinances for an economic development commission and to live-stream all Council meetings, placing those decisions in the hands of the voters. Unfortunately, a special requirement allowing Village officials to hold the petitions for ten days before being submitted to the Board of Elections, pushed the petitions past the deadline but can be placed on the ballot in the November 2022 election if still needed.
Fortunately, a new Council will be in place by then because all four incumbents chose not to seek reelection. A wise choice given what could be surmised from local social media’s commentary on Council’s behavior and decision making the past 18 months. At the August 4, 2021 4:00 PM deadline only the four newcomers had filed petitions. Now, the hope is the four new Council members will join Councilman Dave Pilliod and Councilwoman Diane Westhoven in forming a coalition with Mayor Toeppe and the Village Administration to make decisions that best serve the interest of the Village of Swanton and its residents.