Monday, August 20, 2001

Ousted mayor running to regain office

Sanders hopes for comeback

By Randy McNutt
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        WAYNESVILLE — Former mayor Charles Sanders, ousted last year in a recall election after he accused Waynesville police of racial profiling, says he's coming back.

        The first and only black mayor in Waynesville has filed to seek the office again in November.

        But his candidacy could face legal challenges, as well as lingering fallout from the controversy he stirred in this Warren County village a year before Cincinnati's unrest put police and racial profiling in the spotlight.

        “My recall was unmomentous and unjustified,” Mr. Sanders said. “I want to give the voters a chance to correct the record.”

        A popular politician before last year's controversy, Mr. Sanders is one of only three adult African-Americans living in this village of 2,500 people in northeastern Warren County.

        But he ran into political trouble after Waynesville, known for its antiques shops and the annual Ohio Sauerkraut Festival, made news with Mr. Sanders' claim that village police engaged in racial profiling.

        On Feb. 26, 2000, two village police officers stopped three black men for alleged traffic violations. The men claimed they were held at gunpoint and handcuffed while officers searched for drugs.

        The men were not charged. Mr. Sanders accused Chief Allen Carter of condoning racial profiling.

        A Warren County sheriff's investigation in May 2000 cleared police.

        Some charged that Mr. Sanders was grandstanding, with national debate at the time over the alleged practice of police targeting racial or ethnic groups, for publicity when he was running for Congress. Mr. Sanders rejected calls from council members for his resignation.

        Councilman Phillip Day, who helped start the recall drive, said the incident caused divisions in the normally close-knit community.

        “I stood against something that was wrong,” Mr. Sanders said. “All who live in and visit Waynesville should be treated as first-class citizens.”

        And now, in Mr. Sanders' view, he's returning to rescue the town from mediocrity and correct last year's “injustice at the ballot box.”

Legal fight ahead?

               He has filed petitions as a candidate for mayor in the Nov. 6 election.Legal opinions indicate he can run again but may not be allowed to take office.

        Mr. Sanders was recalled as mayor last Nov. 7, by a vote of 691-473, but continued to serve until the election results were certified on Nov. 21, 2000.

        But legally, can he run?

        “There's been some controversy over that,” said Village Manager R. Kevin Harper. “Our charter says he can't run for one year. The key is: What is the day you pin it on? The date of the recall election or the date that the vote was certified? Of course, this presupposes that he will be elected.”

        The town's charter states that anyone removed from office is not eligible for election to a similar position for one year from the date of removal.

        And if Mr. Sanders is elected again and the vote is certified on or after Nov. 22, he'll be eligible to serve, said Patrick D. Long, the village law director.

        But in a written opinion to Mayor Ernie Lawson, who has also filed to run, the law director also said the date of Mr. Sanders' election would be the date on which the board of elections certifies the vote. If that would occur before Nov. 22, he could not serve; if after, he could.

        “Since the date of the vote certification could be before or after the one-year period, I cannot give a more definite opinion,” Mr. Long wrote.

        But even if he is elected, Waynesville council could determine he had forfeited his office by lacking qualifications — removed less than one year before being elected again. If a minimum of four council members voted that he had forfeited his office, he could not serve, Mr. Long said.

        Councilman Patrick Henry Irelan says he likes Mr. Sanders personally but believes he wants the mayor's post as a launching pad to a higher office.

        “Friends say he wants to run for governor,” Mr. Irelan said. “He isn't putting Waynesville's interests first.”

        Last month, Mr. Irelan asked the Ohio secretary of state to rule on the Sanders case. J. Kenneth Blackwell's office replied that it is the duty of the village law director to interpret Waynesville's charter.

        “Nobody's knows exactly what's going to happen,” Mr. Irelan said.

Sanders optimistic

               Many Waynesville residents — even supporters of Mr. Sanders — are reluctant to discuss his candidacy publicly. But he's counting on good memories of his nine years in village government.

        “Even though he was recalled, I think he or any other citizen should have the right to run for office,” said Jeff Chaney, a Waynesville resident and business owner. “The charter just says a year. He's got experience and he's more than qualified. People should forget the past and give him a chance. And he's an honest person and a good man. He should have an opportunity.”

        Mr. Sanders, 54, a Democrat and retired trucker for General Motors in Dayton, had no doubts about his chances on Tuesday.

        He spoke to many people as he stood on the sidewalk, dressed smartly in a gray suit and cream-colored straw hat with an enameled red Martin Luther King pin on his lapel.

        “This is a good town,” Mr. Sanders said. “It needs good representation. I was the town's first Internet mayor, having my own web site. I entertain new ideas and concepts and focus on the future. I consider myself the only legitimate mayor, since I was actually elected.

        “If I'm denied an opportunity to run in November, then all the citizens of Waynesville will be denied a chance to speak.”


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