Several members of Hillsboro’s black community called on Mayor Drew Hastings to resign Monday, citing recent comments he made on Facebook, as well as previous comments made by the mayor that critics said amounted to racism.
Some in attendance at the city council meeting said that Hastings’ comments were part of a long history of racist attitudes in Hillsboro, going back to the day when the school district was one of the last in the nation to integrate its classrooms.
For his part, Hastings again apologized, as he had done when The Times-Gazette first reported the comments and the reaction to them of former Democratic primary mayoral candidate Steven Williams.
Standing and facing an audience of about 40 attendees, most of them black, Hastings said, “I will apologize again, particularly to the two young people sitting here,” a reference to a couple of African American children who were in attendance.
Saying that he often complains about an “overly negative” attitude in the city, Hastings said, “I did not follow my own wisdom.” He apologized to the black community, the white community, the city of Hillsboro, and to members of council.
“I’ve learned a lesson here,” said Hastings, speaking quietly. “At 61 when you think you have all the answers, you don’t. You’re right, words can be harmful. Being an elected official is 24-7.”
But Hastings’ apology was not enough for many in attendance, although some conceded after the meeting that the mayor is not likely to resign.
“His arrogance is not going to allow him to resign,” said Williams.
Three council members were absent Monday, including President Lee Koogler and members Claudia Klein and Bill Alexander, all citing illness or family issues. Dick Donley filled in as president, with Justin Harsha, Rebecca Wilkin, Ann Morris and Tracy Aranyos in attendance.
After the first few speakers addressed council, Donley said there might not be time for everyone to speak, which was greeted by vocal opposition. Local resident Barb Cole urged Donley to let everyone speak, and eventually they did.
Jaymara Captain said that when she read Hastings’ comments, her first thought was, “Is he on something?” She read aloud what she said were several of Hastings’ Facebook comments, including the recent post that “Blacks have all but declared war on whites,” and saying that a revolution was coming.
Captain said she “had no idea what kind of racist he was.” She was critical of council for not taking action against Hastings, as were several others.
“You’re all creating division,” she said.
Her husband, Rodney Captain, said Hillsboro has a history of being “shady” when it comes to “politics, sports and race.” The Captains recently attended a Hillsboro City Schools board meeting where they said their son had been promised a spot on the basketball team, only to be cut later. After The Times-Gazette reported on the issue and the school reexamined the situation, the student was allowed on the team.
Williams told council that when he initially accepted Hastings’ apology, he had not been aware of the mayor’s previous Facebook posts.
“Hillsboro has been disrespected, disgraced,” said Williams, adding that council “has enabled” the mayor. He said Hastings cannot decide between “his comedy act” or “being CEO of the city.”
He said Hastings offended not just the black community, but others such as gays. He said that an uptown plaza Hastings wants built would include events and gatherings by people Hastings has offended.
Longtime resident Louis Williams said he was part of the 1954 march on the school issue, and had participated in marches here into the 1970s on race issues. Williams, a former council member, said “racism is ugly.” He said Hastings owed a public apology to everyone.
Rachel Hudson called Hastings’ comments “asinine and ignorant.”
“I don’t know who you think you are,” she said to the mayor. “I was scared of what you said. I have two small children.”
Derrick Haithcock said Hastings’ apology was not enough. He said a nephew was recently sent to prison in spite of saying he was sorry.
“Words carry weight,” said Haithcock. “I forgive you, but you’re old enough to know better.”
Craig Jackson, a city employee, said the mayor has “put me in an unsafe work environment,” a statement he repeated later. He said he encounters racism every day on the job.
Several others spoke, making similar comments about the Facebook comments and asking Hastings to resign.
Council member Rebecca Wilkin said she had not been familiar with Hastings’ Facebook posts and was just becoming aware of them. Council member Justin Harsha suggested that the issue be assigned to a committee for examination.
“This should be talked about,” he said.
James Matticks, one of several white attendees, attempted to question police Chief Todd Whited, but Donley would not allow him to continue. Matticks said he was not a resident of Hillsboro, but suggested to attendees that they could launch a recall election targeting Hastings, who was just re-elected in November to a second term.
Richard Stiffler, another white resident, said, “This hate needs to quit.”
Former Democratic mayoral candidate Pam Limes was in attendance Monday, but did not speak.
After the meeting, several people interviewed said they realized Hastings was unlikely to heed their call to resign, but hoped that council would pass a censure resolution against him. Some indicated that the door is open for Hastings to begin making amends.
Rachel Hudson reiterated her belief that the mayor should resign, but said she knew he would not, because “unfortunately, he has a lot of support.” She said he could “bring people together” by reaching out to “key black leaders” in the community.
But not everyone agreed, including Rodney and Jaymara Captain, who said Hastings’ actions were too defining for them to feel comfortable working with him.
Hastings said after the meeting that he will not resign.
“No, not at all,” said Hastings. “The best thing I can do for this city is keep doing what I’ve been doing for this city.” But he said he would be open to doing more to work with the black community.
“I’m open to listening to any representative of the community,” he said. He said some who spoke Monday seemed “genuinely interested in mending this, with no agenda.”
In other matters, council addressed a number of fiscal issues, including the 2016 city budget. For full details, see Wednesday’s edition of The Times-Gazette.
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @abernathygary.
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