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Let's take a field trip to Delaware County to learn about government and politics at their worst. 

Our field trip takes us to the City of Powell and Liberty Township, two contiguous entities in central southern Delaware County, where 30,000 of the county's 200,000 citizens live.

Four elected right-wing Republicans apparently have conspired to wreak havoc on the city and the township by acting to decimate the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) services provided by the Liberty Township Fire Department (LTFD). The actions show they have confused their radical ideology with their responsibility to provide valuable public services to the community.

This drama of disrespect toward the community and its fire and EMS professionals was instigated by Republican Melanie Leneghan, a Liberty Township trustee who lost close races last year in the 12th Congressional District primaries, in part because it was alleged that she voted to pave her own street.

Leneghan has had a tempestuous relationship with the LTFD over the years, once opposing its tax levy and later trying to dismiss the fire chief, a futile effort whereby the self-described fiscal conservative cost the township upwards of $250,000 and ultimately resulted in the chief landing a better paying job as an assistant chief.

Having gotten her patsy Republican Mike Gemperline elected as a trustee in 2017, Leneghan began running the township like her private fiefdom.

She unilaterally sought to gut the township's EMS and turn it over to the Delaware County EMS, in spite of the fact that local voters overwhelmingly passed a 5-year tax levy in 2017 to fully fund LTFD's EMS. The cutbacks would cause a major drop in the quality of care. LTFD sends 3-person emergency crews. Delaware County EMS, located further away, is only funded to send 2-person crews.

Hundreds of outraged local citizens are turning out at trustee meetings to support the LTFD, oppose the changes and back the reappointment of the longtime LTFD EMS medical director Dr. Warren Yamarick. Yet Leneghan and Gemperline removed Yamarick. The Delaware Gazette, Columbus Dispatch and TV channels 4, 6 and 10 are blanketing central Ohio with coverage of a township unable to govern itself

Leneghan has ignored the wishes of the people she was elected to represent, she has flaunted her power, she has had complaining citizens, including Yamarick, ejected from trustee meetings, and she has cut off citizens who dare to speak against her undemocratic ways.

Her intransigence has left the good people of Powell and Liberty Township with no recourse other than legal action. The City of Powell has sent a cease and desist letter. Yamarick has requested a public hearing and sued in federal court that his civil rights were violated. Citizens have filed suit under an obscure statute in municipal court to force trustees Leneghan and Gemperline to either post a $1 million bond (to cover increased liability linked to their recent actions) or forfeit their offices. A public official without the appropriate bond is immediately disqualified and his/her votes nullified.

Trustees ordinarily can only be removed for wrong-doing after a lengthy petition-passing and judicial process – yet one may be undertaken.

Leneghan and Gemperline's partners in this travesty, in this example of how not to serve as a public official, are two Delaware County Commissioners: Republicans Gary Merrell and Jeff Benton.

Benton and Merrell are disregarding the will of the people of Powell and Liberty Township, who voted overwhelmingly for a fire/EMS tax levy, and they are ignoring the sentiment of Powell residents, 80 percent of whom told the 2018 Community Attitude Survey they were “very satisfied” with LTFD services.

Rather than put more money from the half-cent county sales tax passed in the 1970s for EMS into the LTFD, Merrell and Benton appear to be collaborating with Leneghan and Gemperline to shift the money to the rival Delaware County EMS. It using 2-person crews would result in the layoff of as many as two dozen LTFD personnel who are cross-trained in firefighting and EMS.

This is a case study of the pitfalls of one-party rule, the inability of Republican leaders in Delaware County to police their own, and the unwillingness of Republicans in legislative and state office to intervene.

Only Leneghan is up for re-election this year. She is so discredited that she would be soundly defeated unless multiple opponents split the vote. It is likely that she will decline to run and back one of her zealot-surrogates who will echo her “God wanted me to run” mantra.

Meanwhile, the 30,000 residents of Powell and Liberty Township wonder what they did wrong to be “represented” by people so disrespectful of the residents' wishes.

Yet Leneghan told the Dispatch that she is being picked on. She called the citizens “unhelpful” and “unhappy.” Leneghan described citizens petitioning their government as “an attack on democracy by a handful of residents.”

It's a big black eye for Powell, Liberty Township and Delaware County. And it's all on the Republican Party.

(Please send your comments and suggestions for future columns to John K. Hartman,

(ColumbusMediaInsider, copyright, 2019, John K. Hartman, All Rights Reserved)

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