After 26 years, Yellow Springs mayor calls it a day
- Published: June 29, 2017
After 13 consecutive terms in office, Yellow Springs Mayor Dave Foubert is preparing to hand the gavel to someone new.
That’s right, the only mayor anyone in town younger than 26 has ever known has decided not to run for re-election this fall. He’s making the announcement now so that potential candidates have plenty of time to get their paperwork in order before the Aug. 21 filing deadline. One villager, Pam Conine, has already declared her candidacy.
“It’s time to let someone else have the honor of serving,” Foubert said in a recent interview at his home on President Street.
Feeling the rightness of his decision doesn’t mean it was easy. “It was one of the hardest decisions I’ve made,” he said. “I always said I’d keep doing it as long as I’m having fun. And I’m still having fun!”
But as Foubert looks toward his 75th birthday in March, he said he’s contemplating a more retired lifestyle. While continuing to work three days a week as an ordained clergy leader at Memorial Presbyterian Church in Dayton, he is considering an end date there as well.
“I don’t want to give it up,” he said of his Village role presiding over Mayor’s Court as well as the ceremonial duties that are the other main responsibility of the Yellow Springs mayor. “I’m going to miss it like crazy … but it’s time.”
While facing the thought of leaving is hard, “the decision to run for office the first time was really easy.”
He and his wife, Diane, moved to Yellow Springs in 1987 when their daughter, Emily, was a baby, and they quickly became involved in a variety of spheres in the village’s life. He worked at the time in the development office at Antioch College, Diane was director at the Children’s Center, they were members of First Presbyterian Church, and he served a stint as president of the Chamber of Commerce.
But Foubert wanted to do something more to serve the community he came quickly to love, and so he “talked to a bunch of folks in town” to test their response to the idea of his running for mayor, and they encouraged him.
His main campaign strategy involved going door-to-door and meeting as many residents as he could, a learning experience, he said, noting his surprise in discovering the diversity of life experiences and worldviews he encountered. “We’re such an eclectic group of people.”
He won that first campaign — a three-way race — with 55 percent of the vote, he said. And for a majority of the subsequent elections he ran unopposed.
He said the day after that first win in 1991, then Police Chief Jim McKee offered him some advice about being a public official: “Slow down, don’t speed, they’ll be looking for both you and me, and there will be no favors.”
The chief also gave the new mayor-elect a road map Foubert said he has tried to follow since: “We’re not here to make money,” McKee said of the police department’s relationship to the judicial rulings of Mayor’s Court. “We’re here to make sure people are licensed, insured and registered.”
His role, as Foubert came to understand it, was to be a fair arbiter in Mayor’s Court and to conduct the ceremonial duties of the office with joy and enthusiasm.
The local Mayor’s Court, currently held in the Village Council chambers at the Bryan Center, hears misdemeanor charges that occur within the village, including DUI and other vehicle-related citations. More serious charges go to the county municipal court in Xenia, and cases involving minors go to Greene County Juvenile Court.
A two-day training in Columbus precedes a new mayor’s term, and a one-day refresher course follows annually for incumbents.
Despite the training, Foubert said he was feeling “really green” his first time in court. He recalled that “Officer Grote — he was ‘officer’ at the time — said, ‘It’s OK, we’ll help you out if you need help.”
As most villagers know, Grote rose through the ranks of the Yellow Springs Police Department, eventually becoming chief. “His rise to chief was really great for the village and for me as mayor,” Foubert said.
The respect was mutual. In a phone call earlier this week, Grote, who retired in 2011, said that he had only good things to say about Foubert’s tenure as mayor.
“Yellow Springs should know that they have a real blessing in Dave in his service to the village.” Grote said. “He was a really good guy, and he really had the offenders’ interest at heart, and that really helped.”
Grote noted that Foubert would give people the chance “to get legal” (as in getting their license or car registration renewed) before coming into court, “and then dismiss the charges.”
That served the needs of the village as far as Grote was concerned. “We didn’t want [Mayor’s Court] being a punitive hammer, and Dave was that guy” keeping it humane. “He did an amazing job.”
Foubert said he could not have been effective without longtime Clerk of Court June Allison. “I have been really blessed by having June Allison as clerk of court all these years,” he said. “She came in as clerk with Jean Hudson [Foubert’s predecessor]. She kept me on time and where I was supposed to be. I really couldn’t have done the job without her.”
When Foubert first took office, Mayor’s Court and his office were located on the third floor of the former Union School building. “It was a traditional old courtroom with the bench so high up you could get a nose bleed just getting up to it,” he recalled.
Judicial ethics necessitates discretion in talking about particular cases, but he felt comfortable sharing a couple of memories. One was of sentencing a defendant to 10 days in jail, perhaps the longest sentence he ever imposed. And to Foubert’s surprise, “the man was ecstatic.” The month was February, and the defendant explained: “Man, it’s cold outside.”
Some times the consequence of the offense was worse then anything Foubert might do, he said, recalling a group of college-age youths who went skinny dipping at Gaunt Park pool and then climbed the fence and hid in the poison-ivy infested overgrowth before police cited them for trespassing. “They came into court, all of them scratching their backsides. I think the police were laughing. I was laughing.”
In looking back, Foubert’s affection for the village and its residents is clear.
“My main goal was to be fair and to listen to people,” he said.
He said the hardest thing he ever did was take the driver’s licenses away from three separate elderly friends.
But the ceremonial duties that come with being mayor added sweetness to the job. He enthusiastically attended festivals and led parades, often wearing a spiffy top hat. He gave the keys to the village to foreign dignitaries, and met visiting celebrities; and he spoke with school and youth groups, an activity he particularly enjoyed.
And he presided over weddings.
Foubert estimates he has married at least 400 couples during his tenure, and it was always “fun.”
“Well, I’m still having fun,” he said. But he said he feels good that he is leaving office when the police department is back in good hands with new Chief Brian Carlson.
“There’ve been some rough waters with policing and Mayor’s Court,” he said. Under the last two chiefs after Grote, “the cases just weren’t coming to me in Mayor’s Court.” The police department was referring most cases to the municipal court in Xenia. More important than the loss in fines and court costs to Xenia was there was “no community court for people to come in front of.”
He said he already sees a renewed “respect for the people in town” shown by local police. “The difference in the demeanor of officers in the courtroom is phenomenal. … Brian has done such a beautiful job.”
The police referrals to Mayor’s Court have risen significantly since Carlson began leading the department. Two recent court dates saw “as many cases as all of 2016,” when 18 cases became before him in the entire year.
“I can leave the position as mayor knowing things are good in the village,” he said.
“It’s been a beautiful time, and I want to thank the people of the village for electing me 13 times.”