Intimidation, threats won’t trump the First Ammendment in Butler Township

By Darrell Wacker - Managing Editor -

It’s not unusual that some readers disagree with my opinion columns. Over the past four years I’ve taken some pretty strong stands on things such as school levies, staffing at the Vandalia Senior Center, the Butler Township JEDZ, and, more recently, the ongoing political saga in Butler Township.

Rarely, however, does someone take the step leaving a supposedly anonymous (it wasn’t) voice mail that is intended to intimidate me. In fact, it’s a first, and I admit to being both amused and angry about it at the same time.

What makes it worse is the caller didn’t give a name nor did he leave a number. Anonymity in this day and age is fleeting at best and thanks to caller ID and Google, I’m pretty certain I know who the caller is.

I tried to reach out to them Wednesday afternoon but there was no answer and no opportunity to leave a voice mail. The person who called me back from the number a few minutes later sounded exactly like the person in the voice mail but denied calling and told me, after I identified myself, “I don’t even know who you are.”

I don’t usually give much credence to anonymous complaints, but someone willing to question my credibility and ethics certainly raises the bar. The caller took issue with my article about the letter received by the Butler Township Trustees telling them they couldn’t use police levy money for the Sheriff’s contract.

Clearly, my series of columns critical of Trustees Joe Flanagan and Nick Brusky has touched a nerve with the caller.

“I’m calling because your editor at the Vandalia Drummer is just totally out of control,” the voice mail said. “There’s an article online here that’s totally out of line. He states an opinion was given by the Prosecutor’s Office – it’s just a letter by the Prosecutor’s Office – an opinion would state ‘this office’s opinion is…’”

I’ll leave it to my readers to decide if I’m out of control – that’s the first time anyone has said that about me – but if being out of control means holding politicians accountable to their voters and taxpayers, I’ll wear that badge proudly.

As for the letter by the Prosecutor’s Office not being an opinion – I don’t know how else to describe it. I guess one could say that it is really more of a statement of fact than opinion, but that would be even more decisive against using levy dollars for the contract and therefore less favorable to the caller’s view.

“It’s about Butler Township, which he doesn’t live in…” the caller continued.

The caller is right about this one – I don’t live in Vandalia or Butler Township, although I’m a taxpayer in Vandalia by virtue of income tax.

I believe this is a good thing, however, because by not living here I’m able to take an objective look at issues without having a vested interest in the outcome. Yes, I go home to my own community each evening, but I count many residents of Butler Township and Vandalia as friends and neighbors. That, to me, is a good thing.

“He’s in cahoots with one trustee and against the other two and you can go back over time and see he’s aligned himself with Mike Lang, the one trustee, and he writes what Mike tells him to write,” the caller continued.

This is categorically false. For the record, I do talk to Lang as I do other trustees, and on issues that have come before the Trustees, I have agreed with him – as have most of the residents of Butler Township.

However, there is no “alignment” or collusion with Lang – he’s a source just like anyone else and my writing, and opinions, are my own.

What the caller dismisses, however, is what I have told Mr. Flanagan and Mr. Brusky since they started the upheaval in January – I have sources everywhere. I know far more about what goes on in the Butler Township offices and government than they can imagine – some of which is not flattering, but I’ve chosen not to print that because they are personal matters and don’t pertain to the political decisions being made.

No one tells me what to write, nor does anyone tell me what to think. That’s a fact, and any assertion otherwise is a lie.

“As a subscriber to the paper, it’s just getting old. Report the facts, not your opinion. There’s an editorial page for your opinion and the facts belong in the news. I’d like for you to look at this and handle this problem. It’s really getting out of control and it’s getting to be where the residents are getting upset. It’s going to get ugly.”

On this charge, I’ll give the caller half-credit. He’s right about the opinion page versus the news. That’s why every week, on page four, the Drummer has an opinion page. Our website also has an opinion section – separate from news. That is where readers will ALWAYS find my opinion columns – without exception.

I believe strongly in being a voice in the community, even one that’s not popular at times. However, journalistic ethics require opinion and news to be separate – and I never cross that line.

If I intended the article in question to be a “hit piece,” I would have only quoted the letter and Lang – but I got comment from Brusky as well. Flanagan isn’t quoted because he won’t return my calls. It’s that simple.

The caller’s final charge – that the residents are getting upset at me – is laughable on its face. He’s right – they are upset, but not with me.

They are outraged that their elected officials have, in the span of seven months, forced the Administrator to resign in a way that cost the Township more than $100,000, essentially forced the popular police chief to retire while trying to soil his reputation, and have voted to disband their police department after having only four days to study the proposals and sneaking it into a meeting where the item wasn’t on the agenda.

They are upset because they have little to no recourse to stop the trustees since Limited Home Rule was defeated at the ballot in November in part because a mailer, funded by Flanagan’s generous campaign contributor, was mailed at the last possible second before the election to help tilt the scales.

And they are upset because under Ohio law, township trustees aren’t eligible to be recalled and therefore have free reign to do as they please with no repercussions until the next election.

Finally, the threat “it’s going to get ugly” is something I take seriously and have reported to the police, along with the phone number of the caller. While not crossing the threshold of being criminal, in this day and age one can’t be too careful.

Differing opinions don’t bother me, and I welcome comments about the issues of our day and yes, even my work. On more than one occasion I have offered op-ed space to those who I differ with. I routinely print letters to the editor, not all of which I agree with.

The free debate of ideas is what makes our nation great, and attempting to silence me, or any other writer because of the opinion they have is anti-American, wrong, and simply won’t work.

I urge the anonymous caller to contact me by phone, send me an email, write a letter, or submit a column. It will get a fair hearing, even if I don’t agree with it.

By Darrell Wacker

Managing Editor

Reach Darrell Wacker at 937-684-8983 or on Twitter @VandaliaDrummer.

Reach Darrell Wacker at 937-684-8983 or on Twitter @VandaliaDrummer.