By MAX FILBY
and ALLISON REAMER
When Mayor Lydia Mihalik walked past a security checkpoint carrying her gun into the Findlay Municipal Building in June, a police officer raised concerns, sparking an inquiry that reached the Ohio Supreme Court.
Police wanted to know if Mihalik, who told The Courier she has a concealed-carry license, could legally carry a gun into the municipal building. The mayor is not specifically mentioned in state law as someone who may do so.
Although city Law Director Don Rasmussen told police Mihalik was permitted to carry a gun in the building, police still sought guidance from the Ohio Supreme Court.
The state Supreme Court said interpreting whether the mayor has the authority to carry a firearm into the building is a legal question that should be referred to the local prosecutor, according to an email provided to The Courier by Rasmussen.
Rasmussen said Mihalik may carry her handgun inside because state law designates a mayor as “chief conservator of the peace,” a title that means Mihalik is a law enforcement officer.
Mihalik has carried her 9 mm Glock into the building since about mid-2012, when she first obtained her concealed-carry permit, she said.
Police Chief Greg Horne was aware she had a concealed-carry license, but said he did not know she had brought the Glock to work for about four years. It was June, he said, when he learned she bypassed the security checkpoint on the municipal building’s first floor.
Horne sought the opinion of the state Supreme Court, which is in charge of security regulations for buildings with courts.
“We had the law director telling us it was OK… But we were just double-checking that everybody was OK. Plus, I don’t want to be culpable if it’s against the law,” Horne said.
“(For) people like judges, it’s clearly written in the law, but mayors you don’t deal with so often, so that’s why we checked,” he said.
State law prohibits citizens, even with a concealed-carry license, from bringing a weapon into a building where a courtroom is located, such as the Findlay Municipal Building or the Hancock County Courthouse. Law enforcement authorities, such as police officers, judges, magistrates, bailiffs, prosecutors and probation officers, are allowed to carry a gun into such buildings, according to state law.
When the state Supreme Court deferred to Rasmussen, Horne requested a copy of Rasmussen’s legal opinion on June 21. Horne then distributed the opinion to his officers.
But, even then, Horne expressed concern about the mayor carrying a gun into the building.
“I’m still not very comfortable with it and worry about someone making an issue out of the decision,” Horne said in an email to Rasmussen on June 21, which was provided to The Courier.
In an email to Mihalik on June 23, Horne said “it may be easier” for her to come in through the private police entrance to the municipal building. Horne also asked Mihalik to go through the security checkpoint if she continued to use the front entrance, rather than walk around it.
Instead, Mihalik said she continues using the front entrance, walking through the metal detector, but not allowing officers to screen her bag.
More recently, Horne said he is “neutral” on the question.
“As long as it’s legal, we’re all right,” he said.
If the mayor carried her weapon improperly, she would face a fifth-degree felony.
While the Supreme Court reviewed the issue, Horne asked Mihalik to come in through the municipal building’s back door and store her weapon in the Police Department’s lock boxes. She does not have to do that now, he said.
“She’s allowed to go wherever she wants. She’s the mayor,” Horne said.
Mihalik said she first started carrying her gun about six months after taking office, after several “incidents” in her first few months gave her pause.
“There were a lot of things that happened in the first six to 12 months that were weird,” Mihalik said.
Mihalik said she is approached at least once a week by people who are “a little unusual.” Some, who she referred to as “frequent flyers,” have approached her several times, she said.
“You’re just kind of guarded,” Mihalik said about being mayor. “You recognize when things just don’t seem right.”
One time, Mihalik said, she met a man at a picnic event. She spoke to him for awhile and, days later, he was at the municipal building so he could hold the door open for her.
It’s a “weird” instance, she said, even if the person wasn’t threatening on the surface.
Another time, when Mihalik was unarmed, a man approached her at the Oktoberfest celebration. She had just finished tapping the keg and stepped off stage.
The man told her that he hated her when she was first elected, but she had proved him wrong. He then started crying and yelling, she said.
The incident prompted Mihalik to consider hiring an off-duty police officer as a bodyguard, something she ultimately decided against, she said.
“You just want to be prepared for that kind of stuff,” Mihalik said.
Mihalik’s title as a law enforcement officer awards her some of the same powers as police officers, including the authority to make arrests or write citations, Rasmussen said.
But she is not held to all of the police training standards.
Police are required to undergo weapons and sensitivity training, something Mihalik does not do, although she did have to take training and meet educational requirements to get her concealed-carry permit.
“It’s not that I’m against it, I just don’t know that it’s the best allocation of the mayor’s time,” Mihalik said of taking additional training.
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