BY MIKE McCARTHY | MIRROR EDITOR — While the early actions of the October 16 meeting of Maumee City Council were somewhat mundane, the council comments portion of the meeting marked a significant escalation of intensity and emotion that was evident to all 19 members of the public who were in attendance.
It was during that segment, late in the meeting, that all seven council members united to defend city administrator Dr. Patrick Burtch in the aftermath of a personal attack on his character that came in the form of a postcard that had been mailed to all Maumee residents just a few days earlier.
The postcard was produced by the political action committee Maumee Citizens for Common Sense. The PAC’s founding member, Denny Noneman, a local realtor and landlord who does not live in Maumee, claimed sole responsibility for the postcard’s content and funding in a post he made on Facebook a few days following the mailing. Bradley Reynolds, who resides in Mamee and owns several rental properties in and around Maumee, serves as the PAC’s treasurer.
Both men have led a small but vocal group of Maumee landlords who have heavily criticized Burtch and Mayor Richard Carr in public and on social media in recent months for their roles in the creation of a non-owner-occupied rental property ordinance that was passed by Maumee City Council at its March 21 meeting.
The ordinance was created at the request of the mayor as a legal instrument to hold local landlords accountable for the safety and sanitation of their rental properties. The mayor stated that it was his intention to combat blight and preserve the integrity of Maumee’s neighborhoods while also deterring crime.
Burtch and Maumee Law Director Alan Lehenbauer played an integral role in constructing the language of the ordinance, which is now on hold pending the outcome of an upcoming hearing by the Lucas County Board of Elections pertaining to the validity of a referendum petition that was filed in opposition to the ordinance by Maumee resident Colleen LaChapelle. There has been no date set for that hearing.
Although he is not an elected official and was following the mayor’s directive pertaining to the creation of the rental property ordinance, it was Burtch who was the sole target of the controversial postcard attack.
The front of the postcard leads off with a provocative headline claiming that Burtch “has imposed his form of martial law on Maumee” and that “Maumee City Council embraces it.” It also calls for the firing of the city administrator, saying that “Burtch’s martial law has ruined Maumee. He needs to go.”
The postcard’s text also claims that Burtch’s “autocratic leadership and a narcissistic personality have caused nearly 100-percent turnover of nearly 20 administrative staff” and further claims “he has groomed most council members to support his initiatives and empower him to act without scrutiny.”
The text also heavily criticizes Burtch’s employment agreement and compensation package.
The postcard also alleges that Burtch “was appointed city administrator without proper vetting of his history in Dundee and Jackson.”
During the October 16 meeting, six city council members read personal statements into the public record to express their disgust with the postcard and to refute its allegations. A seventh member of council, Josh Harris, had staunchly defended Burtch on social media a few days prior to the city council meeting and did not read a prepared statement.
Council member Jon Fiscus led off, calling the mailer “reprehensible.”
“It goes on extensively about the administrator’s pay but fails to properly point out that he is fulfilling the roles of three separate directors’ duties: administrator, safety director and service director,” Fiscus stated.
“The claim that he is ‘grooming’ council members is laughable to me,” Fiscus continued. “It’s a sad attempt to try and gaslight members of this council into thinking we don’t have our own thoughts. We are all adults up here, perfectly capable of making our own decisions. We are elected officials, so why would we willingly make decisions that we didn’t think were in the best interests of the city and, therefore, potentially cause us to lose our positions?”
“As far as the claim that he uses the permitting process to force improvements, I would ask: Do we not want properties to be well-maintained? If the city consistently allows properties to not make upgrades over time, the infrastructure in the city will start to crumble,” Fiscus stated.
“The administrator has the motto of always trying to find a way to say yes. He goes above and beyond to work with homeowners and businesses to find a way to get their projects completed,” Fiscus said.
“Can he be hard-headed? Sure. Are there going to be times that people feel they are being treated unfairly? Probably. But the city needs someone to protect our interests. We have high standards and not everyone likes that, but it is a necessary thing. Otherwise, our aging city will fall into decline.
“I, along with many other people in this room and in this city, am glad that we have his vision to ensure that Maumee prospers long into the future,” Fiscus concluded.
Council member Philip Leinbach stated, “In my value system, I believe that personal attacks on one’s character, rather than one’s positions or their arguments for or against an issue, in any communication media, is counterproductive, regardless of who the target is; whether it’s an elected official, a city employee, a candidate for office or even a Maumee citizen.”
“Personal attacks should be totally out of bounds,” Leinbach continued. “Such messaging has a corrosive effect on individuals and our community. I think better arguments are based on facts rather than emotion.
“All of us know that Dr. Burtch has been the target of such negative messaging. I wish to state that during my time on council, my interactions with Dr. Burtch have always been professional. We have always been able to discuss city business at length, answering all my questions, and we do so without raising our voices at one another.
“Do we agree on everything? No, we don’t, but neither of us resorts to name-calling,” Leinbach stated.
“I think it would be far better for everyone to remember what scripture teaches in Matthew: So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you,” Leinbach concluded.
Council president Jim MacDonald spoke next.
“Relative to a recent mailer that was malicious against city administrator Dr. Burtch, this was an exploitation of public information and was nothing short of pure, unadulterated evil, cruel and deceptive.
“It is very disturbing the tactics that this group resorts to,” MacDonald continued. “It is obviously a vindictive response to the rental inspection ordinance passed earlier this year. This group is mostly comprised of Maumee rental property owners, and they do not want his ordinance.
“Make no mistake, council approved this ordinance to maintain safe and clean neighborhoods, hold landlords accountable to keep their properties up to code, and maintain our property values,” MacDonald stated.
“Public service is not what you can take from the community, but what we can give back,” he concluded.
Council member Scott Noonan spoke next, saying, “I completely condemn that mailer and everything within it.
“Saying our city is under martial law is the most egregious, outrageous statement that I have ever heard of, especially with what is going on in the international news right now,” Noonan said.
“Anybody that understands the definition of martial law and the examples of it throughout history, and then says that our city is going through martial law is beyond ridiculous.” Noonan stated.
“The mailer also alluded that Dr. Burtch was not properly vetted,” Noonan continued. “I can tell you from personal experience, I was on that committee, and we interviewed four candidates. I can tell you right now that Dr. Burtch was far and away the best candidate.”
Noonan stated that when Burtch displayed his extensive knowledge of city infrastructure, sewer systems and urban planning during the job interview, “I noticed that the previous service director’s eyes went to the back of his head because he was so amazed at how much he knew. That is what solidified it for me in choosing his hiring,” Noonan said.
“So, to say he wasn’t properly vetted, I call ‘baloney’ on that. I only say that because we are in a family-friendly venue, or else I would have a few more choice words,” Noonan remarked.
Council member Margo Puffenberger was next, saying, “I am going to address the same things many others have, but I am going to choose to state some positives and some of my perspectives versus the negative accusations that were on the postcard.
“I am at a loss for words when it comes to trying to figure out how to respond to the harassment that our city administrator and his family are having to endure,” Puffenberger said.
“Absolutely no one deserves this sort of treatment.”
Puffenberger then went on to list seven areas in which she felt Burtch has excelled:
“I see someone who spoke up to right a wrong by reporting that the city had indeed not corrected the storms/sewer system and has since taken every opportunity to investigate and correct the problem as quickly and accurately as possible.
“I see someone who is putting the needs and safety of every person (meaning young, old, financially unable to own a car, physically unable to drive) first by ensuring that the focus is not on the automobile and ensuring that our infrastructure is thoughtful about the modes of transportation outside a vehicle.
“I see someone who is making much-needed infrastructure repairs for a city that hadn’t done so for too long. Roads are being repaired. Sidewalks are being repaired and widened so that they are more functional. The city is ensuring that old buildings are properly taken care of and updated/repaired.
“I see someone who is proactive and recognizes problems that are on the horizon and is taking steps now to make sure the city of Maumee stays ahead of this by making sure to: get more variety of housing, take streets back to a more appropriate size that saves money down the road for upkeep, making sure the proper programs are in place to protect tenants and property values through the non-owner-occupied rental ordinance.
“I see someone who is willing to take steps toward protecting our environment and our residents from climate change by planting more trees and vegetation, while decreasing impacts of heat islands and allowing for more permeable surfaces that can absorb the larger amounts of rainfall that the Midwest is experiencing due to global warming.
“I see someone who is willing to bring new ideas to Maumee to make sure that our historic community stays relevant and doesn’t need to dig itself out of a financial hole in the future.
“I see capable leadership that is willing to stay educated on the issues in this country and lead the efforts to correct these wrongs in Northwest Ohio versus waiting for others to lead the pack and then follow years down the road.”
“To conclude with a final perspective,” Puffen-berger stated, “I do not believe these attacks would have gotten as vicious as they have if it weren’t for the non-owner-occupied rental ordinance.”
“There are two main goals in mind with this ordinance: protecting the tenant and protecting the property value of those around these structures,” she added.
Council member Gabe Barrow spoke next, saying that he is tired of all of the personal attacks on social media and in the mail.
He said that the postcard was designed “to convince you how horrible Maumee is being managed. On their cards, this well-financed landlord group and realtors falsely accuse council of having closed meetings, say that people are leaving Maumee, claim that there is martial law in Maumee and talk about how much money city employees make. This group is responsible for nasty and horrible attacks on our city and its employees, council and our mayor,” Barrow stated.
“What this group didn’t count on was the recent backlash from the community. Maumee stood up and blasted back on social media and also personally to council members that they are appalled at this level of evilness and reckless allegations,” Barrow contended.
“I can’t remember when Maumee has ever had a city council, an administration and mayor that has worked so hard for the city and will continue to do so,” Barrow added.
Burtch took a few moments to react to the support of the city council members.
“I wasn’t planning on speaking tonight. I was moved. I didn’t realize this outpouring would happen tonight. I was kind of blown away by it,” he said.
“I have been investigated three times in my life. Every one of those times was initiated by a landlord who somehow thought they were being slighted. From the time I was 24 to my present age, 60 this year, it has always been about inspections of rental homes, even when there wasn’t an ordinance in place,” he said.
Burtch said that everyone has skeletons in their closet, but he has worked through everything that has ever been a problem in his life. He said that he would be willing to talk about his past to anyone who would care to listen.
“I haven’t done anything that I am so ashamed of that you couldn’t know,” he said to the audience.
He said that whenever individuals instigate personal attacks on a person, “you affect their families. My sister called me on Sunday. She saw that postcard and she was in tears. My wife, the same way. My children, yesterday, the same way.
“I ask that everybody who is involved in that, or even says they don’t support it but doesn’t speak out against this type of vitriol, to ask yourself: ‘Is that something you would want done to your child, or your spouse, or your grandmother or grandfather?’ Because I am a father, I am a spouse, I am a son.
“Is that something you would want to have done to a family member, to the point where you start getting threats and you fear for your life? When you have to start putting up more cameras at your house? When you have to institute metal detectors when people are coming to a council meeting, because we know on a national level what that causes when you speak out like you do?” Burtch asked.
“You can apologize, but if you don’t speak out against this – if you don’t stand up publicly and speak out against this vitriol – you’re the next person.
“When you throw stones, make sure you don’t live in glass houses. Also, you become part of the problem if you don’t stand up against this kind of bullying. You are the same as the bully,” Burtch concluded.