Protesters seek to remove Roseville mayor


By Staff Report

Dozens of protesters gathered outside the Roseville municipal building late last month to voice their concerns and circulate a petition to remove the Roseville Mayor from office.

While many issues were raised, the critical complaint was the lack of a village police force and fears of rising crime amid a time of economic uncertainty.

The meeting drew additional scrutiny due to Mayor Darrin Strate’s order to move the special meeting from the village’s community center, where meetings had been previously held, due to social distancing requirements, back to the village’s municipal building.

The move, one Strate said was due to a recent uptick in COVID-19 cases in the community, caused everyone from members of the village’s council to members of the public to question the true motive of the change of venue.

As previously reported, village rules give the mayor the authority to decide when and where a meeting will take place, as was the case for the emergency meeting on September 23 when days prior three members of the village council called a special meeting to discuss the need to hire a village police chief.

Village Chief Fiscal Officer Heidi Milner says it was the first time in her nearly 15 years of employment at the village that council members have called a special meeting.

Strate, who could be seen during the meeting’s live Facebook broadcast with his facial covering around his neck for the entire duration of the meeting, said in a Facebook post prior to the meeting that the venue was changed in part due to members of the public not wearing their mask during the previous regular council meeting on Tuesday, September 13.

The recently elected mayor, who had been voted in for four terms as a member of the village council, also prohibited members of the media from attending, a move which no other elected body in Muskingum County has done during the Coronavirus pandemic.

Organizers of the petition to remove the mayor from office cited Strate’s actions to probit the public from attending open meetings, as well as his inability to maintain a proper police force, for which he oversees.

The special meeting called by three members of the six member council wanted an update as to the Mayor’s search for village police chief replacement following the resignation of Joey Carr earlier this summer.

The search committee made up of Muskingum County Sheriff Matt Lutz, South Zanesville Police Chief Mark Ross and Strate interviewed four final candidates selected by the mayor.

While many other candidates applied, notably former Roseville Police Sergeant Kurt Torres, Strate choose not to select him to be interviewed along with himself and the two seasoned law enforcement leaders.

Torres, a 16-year police veteran with the village, was terminated following attendance at a police conference in which he was instructed to use a village credit card and subsequently misplaced a receipt for a $5.98 purchase, for which he offered to pay out of his own salary.

According to Torres, he was also asked by Carr to remove fire extinguishers from the police vehicles without having replacements, a task he alleges is against the law.

Following his termination, Torres intended to challenge the firing to the village council, as legally prescribed in the Ohio Revised Code.

A heated confrontation occurred following a council meeting between Torres and Strate, which resulted in Torres submitting a letter of resignation.

While Torres would later retract the resignation, Strate accepted the original paperwork, effectively ending any employment Torres might have with the village.

Councilwoman Lois Guy asked Strate during the special meeting if Torres could ever be rehired and the mayor said it would never occur during his tenure.

In 2017 Torres approached the village about purchasing a K-9 unit.

Upon their approval and after achieving certification in November of 2017, Torres was the village’s first and only police K-9 handler.

Following his termination in February of this year, the village had to decide what to do with the 6-year-old police dog.

Ultimately after lengthy discussions on what to do with the dog, which included giving the canine to Torres, selling it to another department or boarding it until another officer could become certified, Carr received his certification.

Soon after Carr approached the village council to request a $3,000 raise for the additional duties, a stipended Torres never received.

Council denied the request and Carr would eventually resign as village police chief.

As of the time of publication, the village does not have any police officers to patrol the village.

According to both Strate and Lutz, the Muskingum County Sheriff’s Office has increased patrols in the area to help assist with calls of service and monitoring the village.

Strate says he is actively working to field a police chief for the village council to confirm and had no further comment as to protesters petition to remove him from office.

In reaction to Strate’s position that the Zanesville-Muskingum County Health Department had provided him advice to prohibit both the public and the media from the September 23 special meeting, the agency released the following message.

“ZMCHD has shared general guidance regarding COVID-19 with individuals in the Roseville community. We have no record of speaking directly with Mayor Strate. Dr. Butterfield has not given guidance to exclude media and has not spoken to anyone regarding the Roseville council proceedings.”