Saturday, May 14, 2011
When I took the oath of office to become the Village Marshall for the town of Obetz it was not without a flood of reservations on my part. Until this day I held a commission as Deputy Marshall and had been serving as a patrol sergeant.
Having joined its police department eight years earlier after spending ten years as a deputy with the the Franklin County Sheriff's Office I knew full well of the challenges I would be facing both in protecting the town of Obetz and navigating through what had always been a political hotbed within its government offices.
Obetz itself has long had a reputation for being governed by sometimes less than savory characters from the ranks of its city council all the way up to the mayor's office.
That is not to say that all of its elected officials have always been persons with bad reputations or reasons to keep an eye on. In fact during my tenure with the village I served under two very good mayors, first the man who hired me in 1995 Mark Froehlich who soon after bringing me in left his post to become a respected Franklin County Municipal Court judge, and his successor Louise Crabtree who before becoming mayor had served a number of years on city council. As council president when Froehlich left for his seat on the county bench she inherited the mayor's position and later ran successfully to keep it.
The one constant that both mayors endured on a daily basis was distractions from other office holders and key appointed personnel who reveled in chaos. Some of them had histories of being town bullies long before I ever pinned on a badge there. Serving the town as a lawman was never an easy undertaking anyway but battling the daily politics that oversaw the police department made some days nearly unbearable. Fighting the bad guys on the street and keeping them in line while constantly battling other bad people who held down elective offices.
Being a cop in Obetz has always been a job that required a tolerance for bad behavior and having the wherewith all to keep it in check regardless of the direction it was coming from. Bad behavior on the part of some was often rewarded instead of punished. It depended on who was connected to whom. Those with the most money had the most friends and too often they were the worst people in the entire town. Worse in many ways than the thieves and other bandits that prowled the streets at night.
So when I accepted the position as Village Marshall which also held the title of Chief of Police I knew from experience that my workload ahead was about to become the greatest lesson in personal fortitude I had ever had to endure. I had to accept that my family would also be targeted for constant harassment and that there would be assaults on their character as there would be on my own. Letters and phone calls to my wife suggesting that I was cheating on her became the daily norm. Snide remarks about my children and other manufactured distractions all designed to test my willingness to serve and hopefully derail my intentions to follow the letter of the law as I had sworn I would do.
Still, I decided to take the job and not only promise to do it to the best of my ability but to hit the ground running, to begin immediately efforts to change what we all knew needed to be done. First on my agenda was to rid the department of some of the officers who had been for years making a mockery of their badges by showing up for work only to collect a paycheck and incite others to commit chaos. That was a decision that the mayor warned me not to make for fear of personal ramifications. But it was one that had to be made if I had any hope for not only a better, more professional department but a better town!
The bad seeds within our ranks were the ones most connected to the shadiest of politicians and to their biggest campaign contributors, the real power brokers. Without going into great detail I was able to achieve most of what I set out to do and I have explained the full saga in my book "Deputy in Disquise" but the one thing I was unable to accomplish was to stem the tide of bad or questionable politics there. I am not sure anyone could have done that, nor am I confident that anyone ever will.
For that reason when the time was right for me personally I walked away from it all. Leaving behind some bad memories but also leaving behind some very, very good ones. I wouldn't trade those years and the experiences that came with them for anything else I ever did in life. Being a cop in a small town in Ohio where boundaries are only lines on a map provided me with more personal satisfaction than I ever would have found in the largest sheriff's department in the state.
I have always said that in spite of its public service roster that is heavily contaminated with toxic personnel, Obetz is still one of the most interesting wide spots on any road that borders a big city like Columbus. Most of the people there are pretty amazing and most of them respect and support its peace keepers. During my tenure there I saw the town nearly double in size and thanks to the efforts of mayor's Froehlich and Crabtree and a few council members who really cared about it Obetz has become more than just that wide spot in the road with an eerie and mostly mundane past.
Where there were no hotels a few of them sprung up during their years of service and where there once was only one or two choices for commercial dining there is a wide variety now that includes most of the major restaurant chains. Those mayor's sparked something of an industrial revolution during my own years as part of its public service infrastructure. Today there is a public park that offers everything in the way of recreation that any park in any major city can offer and before I left we were all nestled into perhaps the most progressive and innovative municipal building of any town anywhere.
The police department more than doubled in size and more and more housing sub divisions offering newer, cleaner and safer environments for residents have been built and no longer do people from outside its borders see it as just another speed trap on their way into or out of Columbus.
So yes, I am proud of my service there and if I never again accomplish as much as I think I was a part of there I am okay with it. Like I said, I wouldn't trade the opportunities I had for anything I did before I took that oath. And anytime someone asks me if I ever miss the daily rigors of being a police officer I tell that I do but I preface that answer with a sigh of relief that I no longer have to watch over my shoulder or listen for the footsteps of well dressed, well paid public servants sneaking up on me from behind, intent on making me regret it.