Councilman resigns

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PENDLETON — One morning a few weeks ago started out fairly routinely for Pendleton councilman Chet Babb. As a Fall Creek Township precinct committeeman, he was driving around town, trying to think of a person who would be good Democratic candidate for town council District 3.

That district is on the ballot in this year’s election, and Republican incumbent Bob Jones is running for re-election unopposed in the May primary and without a challenger thus far for November’s General Election.

That morning would soon become extraordinary in town political history.

As he drove down the street of someone he thought might make a good candidate, he realized that person lived just a few doors down from fellow councilman Mike Romack, who represented Pendleton District 2.

He entered the potential candidate’s address into a database to confirm the district he lives in, and it came back District 3.

So, he entered Romack’s address into a database, which led Babb to a startling discovery: Romack, a Republican who has served as the District 2 councilman since Jan. 1, 2016, appeared to live in District 3 and not the one he had been representing.

That finding — which Babb conveyed to county political leaders after he researched and verified it was correct, as best he could tell — prompted Romack later to resign from council. Romack read the following letter, dated April 5, at the town council meeting Thursday, April 12:

“It has come to my attention that I do not live in the district I was elected in,” Romack said, speaking from the public section of the town meeting room. “I was asked to run for the Pendleton town council District 2, by other members of the council to replace the seat vacated by Jeanette Isbell. My proximity to the home of Jeanette led me to believe I was in the same district. I also made inquiries and was assured I was in District 2. I now find that I am across the road from District 2 and am in fact located in District 3.

“I have enjoyed my time on the council and have invested my heart and mind in the decisions I have made. I have always been cognizant of the needs of all the people in the Town of Pendleton. I hope that all the citizens of the Town of Pendleton recognize my honesty, integrity and transparency. I am required, with regret, to resign my post as a member of the Pendleton Town Council.”

The revelation was a surprise when it came to light for many in town.

“We did not anticipate that,” said Jones, the council president, referring to the moment he found out. He said council business will go on with four members until the vacancy is filled.

Madison County Republican Chairman Russ Willis said in his 38 years in politics, five as chairman, he’s never seen this happen before.

“This is unique,” he said. “I’m sure it’s happened somewhere else, but I’ve not seen it locally.”

All of the people interviewed, including Madison County Democratic Chairwoman Ludy Watkins, said they believed it was what Romack himself called an honest mistake.

Watkins said she understands how such mistakes can happen.

“Those maps are hard to read sometimes,” she said.

Babb said he “wasn’t after anybody” when he was out that day in late March, but that he felt legally obligated to bring the matter to the attention of the county and state after he discovered it.

Willis said the Republican Party will move to replace Romack with someone to serve out the term, which runs through 2019.

A Republican caucus is scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday, April 24.