LOVELAND, Ohio -- Loveland’s mayor has upset enough residents that a contingent will ask him to resign from his post at the next council meeting April 11.
If Mayor Mark Fitzgerald doesn’t resign -- and no one really thinks he will -- a relatively new Loveland political action committee will start circulating a recall petition to place him on the November ballot.
Ultimately at issue is distrust of Fitzgerald from residents seeking more transparency in city hall and revelations of previously alleged misdeeds in North College Hill.
“Transparent he is not,” said Neal Oury of Loveland, who got involved because of the city hall plan.
Fitzgerald’s personal attorney also sent a letter to four residents, telling them statements they made about Fitzgerald may be false or defamatory and asking them not to destroy evidence on any electronic device.
“It’s hard to know whether Mr. Fitzgerald is saying stuff for effect or if we should take him seriously,” said Councilman Robert Weisgerber. “There’s a lot of angst in general.”
Joe Wessels, public information officer for Loveland, said the city is not doing anything wrong. Loveland hired Wessels Thursday to help communicate with the community.
"Transparency is paramount to the mayor and the council," he said.
Residents formed the PAC, Loveland Community Heartbeat, to get information about what is going on, said Ellen Mershon, a recipient of Fitzgerald’s letter.
Among their top concerns are a plan to raze and rebuild city hall for a cost of $5 million to $10 million, new and higher event fees that included the farmers market, a defunct beautification committee and continuing land deals that include the mayor.
Some residents became concerned when the January Loveland city newsletter published that city hall was to be razed and replaced with a four-story structure that would include government, retail and apartments. That was the first that many had heard of the plan.
“He has historically decided he wants to do something, and he has his four votes,” Weisgerber said. “The rest of us can’t stop him through the normal legislative process.”
Weisgerber said the city set a goal last year of looking at how to best use city hall since it’s not fully occupied.
“The problem is there is no finances, no plan, no commitment to doing anything ... it appears it is a done deal when it is not.
“Residents don’t want to held over a barrel (financially),” Weisgerber said. “They are nervous that it will encumber them with debt.”
Wessels said the city hall plan was in the very early stages.
"Of course, by law, the community will have an opportunity for public comment (on any plans)," he said.
Other developments, such as the old bowling alley property and continued construction contracts, concern PAC members. It’s not that they necessarily disagree, said Halie Suzy Rebeccaschild.
“What I’m certain about is that Mark Fitzgerald does not need to be involved,” she said. “It’s not that we’re saying no more development. We would like to participate in what Loveland is in the future.”
Wessels reinforced that the city manager, David Kennedy, returns emails and phone calls and has met with some community members in person to talk about their concerns. Kennedy and the council are trying to work in the best interests of the community, Wessels said.
In February, media coverage of North College Hill’s resolution of its legal troubles that included Fitzgerald continued to fuel residents’ concerns so much that Oury brought it up at a city council meeting. That’s when Oury and three others got letters.
Fitzgerald told the council March 28 that the letter was his personal business, but council and Mershon questioned the wording. The letter, from attorney Doug Holthus of Columbus, stated that it was also written “in (Fitzgerald’s) capacity as Mayor of Loveland, Ohio.”
Rebeccaschild received the letter, too.
“It took me a few minutes to realize it as a warning sign and a threat and an attempt to silence us," she said.
Fitzgerald has denied any allegations of past wrongdoing at recent Loveland council meetings, but he was named in a whistleblower lawsuit in North College Hill in 2014. According to court documents, as city manager he was accused of possible fraud concerning the Ohio State Retirement System.
“There was never an official charge against him,” said Sheryl Long, North College Hill city administrator. Long said that Fitzgerald retired in 2011.
Fitzgerald also previously served as city manager in Loveland, resigning from office in 2000 over issues regarding compensation, according to records.
Fitzgerald was elected to the Loveland council for a four-year term in 2011 and again in 2015. The council made him mayor for two years, which could end this December. His council term will end after the 2019 fall elections.