ST. CLAIRSVILLE - Several Belmont County residents said Commissioner Matthew D. Coffland lost their votes when he was arrested at Jamboree In The Hills, and some even believe he should resign his post.
Not everyone sees it that way, though, as many residents remember Coffland as the Mead Township trustee who helped lead the village of Shadyside through the flood of 1990, which killed 26 people. Coffland played a key role in the response and the rebuilding that came in the days following it, and he gained their respect at that time.
In the midst of his bid for re-election in the Nov. 6 general election, Coffland faces criminal charges related to an incident at the country music festival and other charges filed in connection with his Shadyside bar. Coffland was elected commissioner in 2008 and is presently completing his first four-year term in office.
Coffland was charged on July 20 with assault on a peace officer and disorderly conduct while intoxicated at the Jamboree In The Hills venue near Morristown, and some of the county residents he represents this week said he should leave the commission office and withdraw from this year's election ballot.
"Yes, that behavior was definitely unprofessional," said Wannetta Neuman of St. Clairsville. "I would not vote for someone like that running the county. I would not want them to represent me in Belmont County."
But Sheila Hughes of Bellaire sees it differently. While she said she didn't personally observe the incident involving Coffland, she was at the JITH site at the time and others there told her the agents were singling out Coffland and antagonizing him.
"He's an honest person," Hughes said. "It was an injustice to one of our commissioners. It was in bad taste, as he went to Jamboree In The Hills to be with his family."
The citation filed by the Ohio Department of Public Safety states that while at JITH, Coffland threw "a bottle or can," struck a liquor control agent in the head and splashed other agents with "an unknown fluid."
This alleged act came after liquor control agents already had brought charges against Coffland and his son, Matthew B. Coffland, for incidents last spring at Coffland's Tiger Pub bar in Shadyside. Commissioner Coffland has said that at about 2 a.m. April 1, he informed patrons of his bar that liquor control agents were on the premises and he was closing. The agents then filed charges against the Cofflands for obstructing their efforts to investigate the bar.
Coffland is scheduled to appear in Eastern Division Court to answer all the charges at 10 a.m. Tuesday.
Belmont County Democratic Party Chairman Gordie Longshaw, vice chairman Greg Bizzarri and other members of the county's Democratic Executive Committee declined to comment when asked about Coffland. Some members said they believed the issue will be raised when the executive committee meets at 7 p.m. Monday at Undo's West in St. Clairsville.
But most county residents who were asked said he should resign.
"I don't think he is the person to represent us," said Libby Divine of St. Clairsville. "I don't think he will be re-elected."
Larry Swiger of Colerain said it "looks like a bad situation" for Coffland.
"They caught him off guard, and he reacted badly," Swiger said. "Instead of letting them go through with the process (of carding patrons in his bar) and warning people, he should have let them take care of themselves. ... It's a bad time for him in his political aspirations."
Delmas Radabaugh of St. Clairsville said he doesn't think Coffland should be re-elected.
"He should be out," Radabaugh said. "I don't think he's the right person for the job."
Gerald Dorriss of St. Clairsville said he would resign under similar circumstances.
"I think the others should kick him out," Dorriss said. "That's what happens when you place yourself in those situations."
Coffland ran unopposed to be the Democratic nominee for his commission seat this year, but he faces opposition from two Independent candidates in the Nov. 6 general election - Jerry Echemann and Doug Longenette. No Republican candidate filed in the race.