DANVILLE – Danville Mayor Bob Dile described Rob McDonald as “very much a people person.”
The former village administrator was known for his deep, gravelly voice and his broad smile. He was the mayor’s right-hand man, “and he was the right hand to the village,” Dile said. He spent his days working to address not only village projects, but also residents’ questions and concerns.
Dile said he and the village were blindsided by the news of McDonald’s passing last weekend.
“We were shocked. I mean, just utter shock,” Dile said. “You know, Rob had health problems and things like that, but he had that under control. It was a shock.”
McDonald, 50, was found dead in his apartment at 110 ½ South Main Street in Mount Vernon on Friday night. According to a report filed by the Mount Vernon Police Department, officers were called to McDonald’s apartment at 6 p.m. on a welfare check. Upon arrival, they discovered McDonald laying on the living room floor.
Det. Matthew Haver said the police department is investigating the death as a possible drug overdose. Police found a “white powder substance” on a small blue plate in McDonald’s apartment that night, the report states; nearby, they located a credit card with McDonald’s name on it.
The Mount Vernon News reported that McDonald’s son called 911 last Friday, requesting emergency personnel to his father’s apartment. While Haver confirmed that McDonald was not alone in his apartment on the night of his death, he said the police department does not suspect foul play.
The purpose of the overdose investigation is to determine exactly what happened that night, and to confirm whether or not there was foul play, Haver said. The police department will be talking to witnesses, family members, friends and neighbors as a part of the investigation. Haver said investigations like these are typically a matter of due diligence – even in cases where someone may die of natural causes, witness interviews are conducted “to ensure that we’re doing everything we can for the deceased and their family.”
Haver could not provide a timetable for the investigation, as it will likely depend on when toxicology reports are completed. A spokesperson for the Licking County Coroner’s Office, which will conduct a full autopsy and toxicology testing for the case, said Tuesday that a full report “won’t be done for about 10 weeks.” Preliminary autopsy reports were not available as of press time Tuesday.
While McDonald’s loved ones are left to grapple with his loss, the Village of Danville is working to move forward. Dile has appointed Freedom Desich, the village’s senior maintenance foreman, to be the interim village administrator. Desich served as McDonald’s senior assistant and has worked with the village for around 15 years, Dile said.
Dile announced Tuesday that village council will hold an emergency meeting on Wednesday at 7 p.m. to discuss the transition process. Given that the administrative building will be closed Thursday through Labor Day weekend for air quality testing – and given that council will not meet again until Sept. 19 – Dile said he wanted to hold a meeting soon to develop a plan moving forward.
“It’ll be a brief meeting, just to get everything in order,” he said.
Dile said the village will accept applications soon to fill the position. Desich and any other qualified village employees may apply, he said. Dile did not have a timeline for when he’d like to see the next village administrator hired. He noted that Danville will be competing with larger cities for qualified applicants.
“We don’t have any major projects in progress, so I think we need to take some time and get a good fit,” he said.
Dile seemed confident that Desich and the village staff would be able to handle day-to-day operations in the interim. Most of the village staff has been working for Danville for nearly two decades, he said. The village’s civil engineering firm, Columbus-based Bird & Bull, has also offered to help finish the village’s sanitary sewer project, which McDonald would have overseen.
Still, Dile said it will be nearly impossible to replace what McDonald brought to the table. He worked as the village administrator in Cardington and Gambier before coming to Danville in 2017. Before that, he had worked for the Village of Lexington, the City of Delaware and the City of Columbus, specializing in water treatment. His experience spanned the water, sewer and gas industries.
“It’s a big loss, and Rob was very astute due to his background,” Dile said. “It’s hard to replace that kind of experience. We were very fortunate to find him when [former village administrator Robert Shipley] retired.
“We hope to find someone similar to replace him, but we’re a very small village and obviously that position is a very competitive with larger cities.”
The village administrator works hand-in-hand with the mayor on a daily basis. McDonald facilitated executive orders, gave directions, and had signature authority on certain items, such as grant applications.
While the village will certainly miss McDonald’s experience, it will also miss his personality. Dile said Tuesday he had just spoken with a man who is trying to rejuvenate a business in town, and McDonald had been helping him every step of the way.
This, Dile said, was what McDonald did best.
“Rob was very much a people person,” Dile said. “He liked to engage with the citizens in the village and handle whatever their troubles may be.”