'Frustrated' Kline says park mower sought only fame

SANDUSKY In an e-mail to a Sandusky resident last week, city manager Matt Kline accused John Hamilton of sta
May 24, 2010



In an e-mail to a Sandusky resident last week, city manager Matt Kline accused John Hamilton of staging his own arrest.

Late Thursday, a mellower Kline said he wrote the e-mail while he was frustrated and angry.

In the e-mail, Kline said Hamilton, the man arrested when he ignored police orders to stop mowing overgrown grass at Central Park, was just "wanting his 15 minutes of fame," and suggested Hamilton told the Register of his plans to get arrested in advance so the newspaper could photograph him.

He also blamed the Register for the media frenzy surrounding the story. It has circulated as far as New Zealand since the incident last Thursday.

"Could (it) have been handled different?" Kline wrote May 30 to Sharon Johnson. "YES, by the poor excuse of a newspaper we have in this town."

Read Kline's e-mail exchange with Sandusky resident Sharon Johnson

The e-mail was a response to an e-mail from Johnson, who wrote to Kline expressing anger over Hamilton's situation.

Kline stressed to Johnson the city had to arrest Hamilton for liability reasons.

"I wonder how angry you would be and what the 'PR disaster' would look like had the city ignored this individual and allowed him to send a shard of shredded glass or tin can into a small child's eye?" Kline wrote.

"In addition, I find it curious when a police officer is called to speak to an individual and the local newspaper camera people arrive at the same time. Coincidence? I think not. Wanting his '15 minutes of fame?' I think so.

"I also find it strange when an individual who is politely asked by a law enforcement officer to stop doing something ignores the request. I'm pretty sure I was taught in kindergarten to listen to a police officer. The proper technique of being arrested on camera must have been taught at a later grade."

On Thursday, Johnson said she was "flabbergasted" by Kline's response.

"How can you accused him of a photo op?" Johnson said. "That's terrible. That's sick. I was floored by that.

"I don't think that's a proper way for a city manager to act," she added. "I urged them at the last commission meeting to cut the grass. The city should be embarrassed."

Register photographer Jason Werling, who took the photos of Hamilton's arrest, said he wasn't tipped off by anyone.

Werling, who lives on Central Avenue near the park, said he saw two police cruisers and the abandoned lawn mower while he was on his way to work.

"Had I known earlier than just (seeing it while) driving by, I would have been there earlier to get photos of Mr. Hamilton actually mowing and being stopped by police," Werling said. "I had no prior knowledge of Mr. Hamilton's mowing of the grass in Central Park."

In his e-mail to Johnson, Kline also accused the Register of reporting that Hamilton was arrested for mowing the grass.

In all of its stories, the Register has clearly stated Hamilton was arrested for not following multiple police orders to stop mowing.

On Thursday, city commissioners responded to Kline's e-mail. Commissioner Julie Farrar said Kline has the freedom to say and think what he wants.

"That's Matt's opinion," she said. "He has a right to have that opinion."

Commissioner Brett Fuqua said Hamilton was "doing it to get attention, definitely, but I wouldn't say he was doing it to get 15 minutes of fame." He added the whole situation has been blown out of proportion, and he would support dropping the charges against Hamilton.

Hamilton is charged with persistent disorderly conduct and obstructing official business, both misdemeanors.

"I think this could have been handled better on every level," Fuqua said. "We could have handled it better. John could have handled it better. Everyone could've handled it better."

Commissioner Dan Kaman disagreed Hamilton staged the arrest.

"I doubt that very much," Kaman said. "John was a couple years ahead of me in high school. He's an honest and stand-up guy. He just wanted to do what's best for the city."

Kaman said he thought Kline and ex-officio mayor Craig Stahl "added fuel to the fire" with their responses since the incident. Stahl didn't return a phone call Thursday afternoon.

"Stahl and Kline should've just manned up and talked about the right way to volunteer instead of blaming other people," Kaman said. "Blaming the whole thing on the media, I don't think that was the right thing to do."

For his part, Hamilton said it wasn't planned or staged. He said the city can check his phone records if they want.

"I'm speechless," he said. "The e-mail is madness. This is the furthest thing from what I intended to happen. Nothing was staged or premeditated.

"I think the photographer was just walking to work or something. Right place at the right time, I guess. I just wanted to cut the grass. I never intended for any of this to happen."

Kline said Thursday he believed it was a set-up at the time because Hamilton told police officers "he was going to go to the Register."

"It's just frustrating because in January and February and March, I told people with our budget the grass would be longer and we wouldn't be able to fill in potholes," he said. "Then people were surprised when we didn't cut the grass.

"My charge is to provide the same carryover and the same services with $600,000 or $700,000 or $800,000 less. It's an impossible task. If (the city commissioners) are willing to lower the carryover, I can hire some seasonal employees."

If he could do it again, Kline said he'd talk to Hamilton before the police acted. But ultimately, residents must follow police orders.

He said there could be a positive outcome from this whole ordeal.

"If this puts Sandusky on the map, then that's a good thing" he said. "It was literally reported all over the world. If that gets people to come to Sandusky and attend Cedar Point and eat at The Zinc ... then I don't mind being the scapegoat for that.

"What's the saying? No news is bad news," he added with a laugh.