Mike Marsh reflects on 34 years as BG city attorney

Mike Marsh’s roots in Bowling Green run deep and, as his time working for the city comes to a close, he sees only positives for its future.

Marsh is retiring at the end of next month after 34 years as city attorney.

“I’ve been fortunate that, while I deal with problems every day, I never thought that any of them were awful or terrible to deal with,” said Marsh. “Hopefully my approach has benefited the city. That’s for other people to judge some day, I guess.”

Marsh said both his mother and father grew up in Bowling Green, as well and his grandparents, and most of his great-grandparents. Marsh was born in Cincinnati while his father, C. Richard Marsh, was in his final year of law school there, and the family lived in Columbus and Fort Wayne, Indiana, for his father’s work before moving back to Bowling Green around 1956.

Marsh graduated from Bowling Green High School in 1972, and attended Miami University before coming back to study at Bowling Green State University, graduating in 1976.

“Went to Ohio State to law school after that,” Marsh said, “and got out in 1978. Been here ever since.”

Even in his youth, Marsh wasn’t a stranger to working for the city. His employment started in high school with what is now the public works department.

“Actually, I did that for a summer, I think, when I was in high school, between junior and senior year,” he recalled, “and then after I graduated I worked for the street department off and on for quite a while, through the college years.”

Attending college and married to his wife, Terri, Marsh said his duties with the city covered a variety of things, including trash collection. He noted that trash routes weren’t as large at that time as they are now, and he’d work picking up refuse Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and do other tasks Thursdays and Fridays, sometimes in Oak Grove Cemetery, and other places around town.

The work made it possible for him to stay in school, encouraged me to stay in school. While working on the refuse truck, the crews would drop him off at his classes at BGSU’s Memorial Hall, and pick him up afterward.

“I always say, I owe everybody. They were all good to me, and the city authorized that, the then-administrator, and so I was a fortunate person to be able to do that, do both things, and I worked off and on for a contractor in town at the same time, did a lot of general labor, painting and that kind of stuff for Doug Valentine.”

After graduating, Marsh practiced in Bowling Green with his father. A partner in the firm, Pat Crowley, was then city attorney for Northwood and Marsh became Northwood’s prosecutor. Then he began doing prosecuting work for the city of BG. In those days, he said, the Bowling Green Municipal Court was located on North Maple Street.

“So that’s how I started doing that,” he said. “Probably similar to now, only not nearly the volume” that the court sees today.

“Always been a busy court, it’s one of the busiest in Ohio … for a single-judge court. That was true then.”

Marsh said that over the years, the business of Marsh & Marsh evolved away from trial and court work and more into real estate work, title insurance, estate planning and corporate work.

It was his father, who he said effectively retired in 1984, who told him he should take an offered post as Bowling Green’s city attorney – if only for a little while.

In a letter written to Bowling Green officials earlier this year announcing his retirement, Marsh noted that in late 1987, then-Mayor Elect Ed Miller approached him about taking the position and that Crowley, who was also BG’s city attorney at the time, “‘had announced his retirement at year end during the previous summer. I told Ed numerous times I was not interested.

Marsh said his father “convinced me… to do the (city attorney job) because Ed Miller had asked me” for three straight days.… I said ‘all right, Dad, I’ll do it for one year, one year only.’”

That one-year commitment turned into nearly 35 years.

Marsh said the job includes overseeing the city prosecutor and some staff positions.

“My management philosophy is hire people you trust, and leave them alone and trust they’re doing their job. I think (City Prosecutor Hunter Brown) would tell you I don’t bug him.”

“I think one way to describe (the city attorney) is, even though we all think of law as being black and white, there’s a lot of gray in the law,” Marsh said, “and so there’s often need for interpretation.

“That’s probably the biggest thing we do around here, from that standpoint, is advice and interpreting things. And, no matter how many conditions the law thinks they’ve provided for, it seems like, whatever the circumstances are, never neatly fit.”

One example, he said, is the city’s zoning code, which was put into effect in 1976. A decades-old code like that doesn’t have provisions for dealing with more current inventions like cell phone towers.

“There are a lot of things that exist today that didn’t exist then, and we have had to find a way to fit inside the parameters of that code. It’s partly why we’re rewriting the thing.”

According to his letter, at one time Marsh was attorney for 14 towns, cities and villages. Bowling Green is the last one remaining.

“And over time, I’ve just sort of dropped one town or village after another,” he said, “and last year was Grand Rapids, and this year’s it’s Bowling Green.

“I care about all of those communities,” Marsh said. “Some of them are like my second homes.”

It’s time for some new blood, he said.

In his letter, he wrote that he is “a great believer in having young people come in with new ideas and make organizations better. I have tried to practice what I preach, and over the last two years or so, I have scaled back and/or discontinued my involvement in leadership in my political party, the Board of Elections, Bowling Green Economic Development, various church and civic organizations, etc.”

However, he wrote that he expects “to continue my law practice indefinitely, though maybe in a more limited role.”

During its Aug. 15 meeting, city council unanimously approved the appointment of Brown as city attorney. A BG native and graduate of Bowling Green High School, BGSU, and the University of Toledo, Brown has served as prosecutor since 2016. Brown is to begin transitioning into the position the first week of September, which will allow for a month of overlap with Marsh.

“Fortunate to have Hunter on the staff, who I think will be great,” said Marsh. “He’s a BG guy and I like promoting BG people. All the roles I’ve played around here, I’ve tried to promote BG people to BG things. I think you get a little more loyalty that way, you get a little more stability.”

In his letter, Marsh noted that upon his retirement, the job model of city attorney “will change at that time, as my successor will be a full-time, in-house staff person. The assistant in the office will also serve as Clerk of Council.”

“Years ago, when I was younger,” Marsh said, “people asked me to get involved in some things,” including the creation of what is now Bowling Green Economic Development.

“I like to integrate all of those things into what the city’s doing. It’s not city attorney stuff” but it’s all related, he said.

Asked what makes his hometown unique, Marsh said “Lots of people care. In a small town, for a small town to be successful, at least key people – and maybe a lot of people – have to wear multiple hats. And in a lot of places, people aren’t willing to do that.

“But in BG, people always step forward when we need people to step forward and do things that aren’t required of them, but are needed of them in a lot of respects. … I’ve just tried to do that same thing. And that, I think, has made our town prosper.

“I think it’s a good place not just to grow up, It’s a good place to stay. A lot of people do… because there are opportunities here.

“Some of it is the luck of geography,” Marsh said. “I get it. I get that I-75 is our side door and all that, but I-75 is a long way, and there are a lot of towns along I-75 that don’t do that well. I think we can only ascribe it to the people that live here and the willingness of more than a few to do more than what’s expected. And it’s made us a good town.”

Marsh pointed to the city’s downtown.

“People are amazed,” he said. “I think our neighbors are jealous, and they should be. And that’s the result of a lot of people working together.”

Marsh further noted that Wood County office holders have a reputation for working together for generations.

“We’re pretty fortunate,” he said. “I think we make the most of our own by the educational opportunities that are in the region, with (BGSU) and Owens and really good school systems all around. Pretty fortunate. Pretty terrific place to raise kids.”

Marsh and his wife have four children and 12 grandchildren.

Over the years, he has worked under eight Bowling Green mayors, and said in his letter that some were “Democrats, some Republicans, all of them sensational leaders.”

He pointed out how people’s lives intersect over the years. Tony Aspacher, the father of Mayor Mike Aspacher, was Marsh’s little league baseball coach.

“Tony Aspacher was the best coach I ever had,” he said.

Marsh also noted that former mayor John Quinn, who taught for decades at Bowling Green High School, was the teacher of some of Marsh’s own children; former mayor Wes Hoffman was city administrator when Marsh worked for the then-street department.

“I was a laborer for the contractor that remodeled (former Mayor Alvie Perkins’) house. In those days, he was a councilman. It’s funny how your paths can cross multiple times in your lifetime.”

Looking to the future of his hometown, Marsh said that the city is a prime consideration for anyone looking to locate a business in the Midwest.

“As we’re able to make more properties available, especially in the I-75 corridor, you’ll see more evidence of that. And I think the jobs and the payrolls make the city’s financial position really healthy, so the city can continue to offer the top-notch services we’ve all become accustomed to.”

He pointed out that it’s “almost unheard of” to have a city where both its fire and police divisions are nationally accredited, as is the case in Bowling Green, and he said that contributes to low insurance rates.

“Running our own electric distribution system is really rare and gives us a lot of opportunities to do things that other communities can’t do,” Marsh said. “So people thought ahead about setting up some of those things. But I think it’s nothing but good things for BG in the future. I can’t imagine a better place to be.”