London Mayor Patrick J. Closser is asking for the “voluntary resignation” of London City Council President Joseph Russell two days after the councilman pleaded guilty to a single count of disorderly conduct in Madison County Municipal Court stemming from a domestic violence incident in September.
Russell, however, says he has no intention of stepping down.
In a letter dated Dec. 12, Mayor Closser wrote: “A request has been made for the voluntary resignation of Mr. Russell of the position of London City Council President.” On Wednesday morning, Closser said he was making this request for Russell’s resignation “…as a representative of the city administration. I made it on behalf of the city administration.”
Later Wednesday, Russell was asked if he had seen the mayor’s letter calling on him to resign. “I have not,” he said. He added he had heard there was such a letter, but hadn’t seen it. After the letter was read to him, Russell was asked for his reaction.
“The mayor has not been part of the legal process. He does not know all the facts in this case. I respect his opinion dearly. I am not going to resign my post, because ultimately I was given a minor misdemeanor, which is tantamount to a traffic fine,” Russell said.
“I don’t know of any public official who has resigned their post because of a traffic violation, that didn’t result in death. So, I completely understand the concern, but this is a private matter between me and my wife that has nothing to do with my ability to serve as City Council President, so I will not be resigning my post.”
Russell was appointed London Council President in May after council member Jennifer Hitt left that position to become the City Law Director. In November, Russell was elected to his position for the upcoming two-year term when he defeated challenger Butch Scott. Russell received 777 votes, 62 percent to Scott’s 474 votes, or 38 percent of the total.
Russell was asked if there were aspects of the police report that were untrue. “There are aspects of the report that are devoid of certain facts that are important to what had happened,” he said.
Does he feel the domestic violence charge filed against him was unfair? “I think the statute in the state of Ohio is pretty clear. When the police get called to a domestic complaint, they don’t have a lot of options. I think the police acted responsibly and I commend their service to our community,” he said. “I think had there been more options I would not have been detained, and the officer said as much.”
Russell said he appreciates the honor to serve on City Council. “What happened has nothing to do with my ability to perform those duties and I hope to do that in 2018 and beyond.”
Russell said he believes he will be sworn into office before the first council meeting in January. There is one more council meeting this month — Thursday, Dec. 21. “This is the last meeting of the year. We hope to pass the operating budget for 2018 and address some other issues before the docket closes,” he said.
Russell’s guilty plea resulted from a charge of domestic violence filed against him after a Sept. 10 incident in his home. After London police were called to the scene and witness statements were taken, Russell was arrested and transported to Tri-County Regional Jail.
Fred Ballam acted as special prosecution because Hitt recused herself from the case — a conflict for the city to prosecute one of its own council members.
The city offered the reduced plea Monday because Russell had no prior criminal record, no weapon was used in the act, the victim did not sustain a serious injury, and Russell reportedly underwent screening or therapy. According to the court documents, Russell was fined $150 and ordered to pay court costs of $100.
Closser was asked on what basis the request for Russell to resign was made, but Closser declined to say any more than what was in the statement.
“At this time, that is my statement. I hope you can respect that,” he said.
The following is the letter, or press release by Mayor Closser in its entirety:
“The City of London does not condone any act of domestic violence or any derogatory, harassing or discriminatory statements. Actions of this kind will not be tolerated as they do not adhere to the high standard of our hometown of London, Ohio.
The City Administration has full faith and confidence in the legal justice system. When the allegations arose against the London City Council President, we made it a point not to interfere or influence the legal process. The case was handled in all respects to ensure that Mr. Russell did not receive special treatment. To avoid all conflicts of interest, a special prosecutor was appointed after the recusal of city Law Director, Jennifer Hitt.
Now that Mr. Russell has been afforded his due process rights, it is the appropriate time for administrative action. A request has been made for the voluntary resignation of Mr. Russell of the position of London City Council President.
The City of London handled this matter appropriately in all aspects. We will continue to expect the highest level of integrity and respect from our public officials and employees.
Mayor Patrick J. Closser
City of London, Ohio”
Mayor Closser was also asked about the London police report on the incident, which has still not been released.
The report was written Sept. 10 and included two pages, a Statement of Facts page written by London Officer Chris LeGrand, and a Voluntary Statement signed by Russell’s wife, Molly Carroll. The Madison Press learned of the charges in late November and obtained the two pages on Nov. 30 from Madison County Municipal Court.
Closser had Joe Mosier, Safety-Service Director, look into the reasons for not releasing the report. “It is the police department’s policy to not release the report until it is closed. It was until Monday an open case,” said Mosier.
Reach General Manager/Editor Gary Brock at 937-556-5759.