NEW ROME, Ohio – When does someone win a mayor's race with only six votes? When his opponent gets none.
Yet in New Rome, Ohio, it's the candidate with no votes who is currently mayor.
That's because, for years, every time this town of 60 needed a new official, they just appointed one. That is, until Jaime Mueller came along.
"I'm the elected mayor of the village of New Rome," Mueller said. "I'm bucking the system ... so to speak ... and I think it's a bit of a threat to them."
But, even with a petition, his name on the ballot and every single one of the half-dozen votes cast behind him, it's not clear who the emperor of New Rome is.
And the confusion hasn't ended even after the interim mayor – the unelected one – said he was ready to resign in the face of his undaunted challenger.
"It's his. Tell him, for $4,800 a year, it's not worth it," suddenly ex-Mayor Christopher Gamble told the Columbus Dispatch Friday. "I'd like to see how (Mueller) runs it without me."
Gamble added that all five of the town's council members, who were also appointed, were going to resign.
It was a far cry from Tuesday night, when Gamble vowed to stay in City Hall.
"The village council of New Rome refuses to recognize Mr. Mueller as mayor," he said, accusing Gamble of staging a fixed election.
It's not certain how much of a choice Gamble or the councilmembers had in resigning anyway. On Wednesday, Franklin County Board of Elections said that no one currently serving as a New Rome official is certified for office, under state law. Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O'Brien said that Mueller should officially be made mayor immediately, and that he would begin an investigation into whether the councilmembers are serving legally.
Meanwhile, at least two councilmembers said Gamble misspoke, and they're not willing to resign. One of those two, Clerk-Treasurer Connie Tucker, also said another councilwoman is going to be sticking around.
If Mueller finally does grab hold of New Rome's reins, he'll have a big job on his hands. He's promised to hire a lawyer to untangle the legal mess. And after 30 days, he'll have to fill the council vacancies.
Then he'll have to work out his problems with the 17-member police department. The tiny town has a one-fifth-mile speedtrap that nets the town an incredible $300,000 a year. Yet, according to 11 years of state audits, more than $100,000 has simply disappeared.
"When you're handling cash ... people steal it," Tucker said.
Steve Brown is an author, radio broadcaster and seminary professor at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida.