Two employees of American Electric Power (AEP) were threatened with arrest by McArthur mayor Jim Wooddell simply for doing their jobs in the aftermath of severe thunderstorms which left over 1 million Ohioans without power for over a week. On July 2, Mayor Wooddell, a Republican, threatened to arrest the AEP workers when they allegedly refused to provide acceptable identification.
Wooddell allegedly pulled over an AEP utility truck driven by AEP employees J.P. Adler and Gregory S. Taylor, II, and demanded that they prove they were truly utility workers. According to records obtained by Media Trackers, Wooddell threatened to place the employees under arrest because they initially refused to provide positive identification of their employment.
A police report filed by Lieutenant Charles Boyer affirmed that the truck was clearly identified as an AEP vehicle, as it was “an [sic] white pickup with AEP stickers on the side.”
The Vinton County mayor threatened to charge the workers with “obstruction of official business” after the AEP workers stated – in Wooddell’s words – that “they were with AEP and it was AEP’s poles and lines and they didn’t need to inform anyone.” According to a statement Wooddell made to AEP, the power lines and poles are owned by the local government and therefore AEP is responsible for notifying local authorities of any maintenance or repairs.
Legal experts contacted by Media Trackers indicated Wooddell was mistaken, as public utilities’ transmission lines are almost universally considered the property and responsibility of the utility company.
In his complaint to AEP Ohio Community Relations director Jon Buck, Wooddell writes that he “introduced [himself] as the Mayor of the Village and ask [sic] the occupants what they were doing. Their response was that they were looking for the problems with the electrical grids or lines in the Village.”
Wooddell “informed them that the Police and Street Department people had compiled a list of known problems,” but that the workers replied that it “was their job to determine where the problems were.”
According to Wooddell’s complaint, he became suspicious of what he described as a “confrontational attitude” from the AEP workers and demanded that they prove their identities. On August 17, Mayor Wooddell told Vinton County Courier staff journalist Michael O’Brien that he had been concerned that “there are people that will come into an area like that and do home invasions and do all kinds of things posing as people from utility companies.”
AEP spokesman Jeff Rennie said the company “[disagreed] with the mayor’s interpretation of the incident,” and “[did] not anticipate any charges from the county prosecutor’s office.”
A public records request filed with the Vinton County Prosecutor’s Office in August was not fulfilled or acknowledged by the time of this article’s publication.