Hillsboro City Council President Lee Koogler said Tuesday that controversial Facebook remarks by Mayor Drew Hastings do not reflect the opinions of other city officials or employees, and he believes elected officials must be “held to a higher standard” when making social media remarks.
Koogler missed Monday night’s council meeting due to illness, and he said Tuesday, “I’m sorry I was ill and couldn’t be there, but it was in my thoughts all evening.”
Koogler said he was glad that the mayor “continued to apologize for his off duty comments. But as public officials we’re never really off duty.” He said he was glad members of the community came to council to express their concerns.
While a diverse group of attendees was present at the council meeting, it was primarily members of the black community who spoke on Monday, describing their displeasure and anger at Hastings’ comments and repeatedly calling for him to resign.
Koogler said he wanted to be clear about his personal feelings regarding the mayor’s Facebook comments.
“I in no way condone the mayor’s comments,” said Koogler. “I respect the opinions of our local African American community.”
He said that in regard to council as a whole, “We don’t agree with the mayor’s statements. They do not in any way reflect the opinions of the other elected officials or employees of the city of Hillsboro. They were completely inappropriate. I understand why they were found to be offensive by many people”
Koogler said that while he is speaking out publicly against the mayor’s comments, there is no legal action council as a whole can take against Hastings. He said he recently attended a legal seminar dealing with social media comments by employees.
While Hastings, as an independently elected mayor, is not an employee of council, Koogler said the law protects social media comments unless there is a “nexus” between off duty conduct and employment duty. Without that, social media comments “are not actionable,” he said.
“This is not a condition where the mayor can be disciplined by city council,” said Koogler. “A public censure of the mayor doesn’t do anything but publicly state what I can do by stating my views publicly.”
The Times-Gazette first reported the controversy on its website Nov. 30 and in the Dec. 1 print edition after Steven Williams, a former Democratic mayoral candidate, expressed concerns about comments made by Hastings on Facebook.
Hastings had posted comments as part of a discussion about terrorism, race relations and the Colorado shooting at a Planned Parenthood facility. His post included a comment that “we are in a Revolution in this Country. Blacks have all but formally declared war on whites, ideological types are fighting with Planned Parenthood, there’s violence over immigration, Muslim extremism, and our own Government at war with its citizens.”
Hastings soon deleted the post and apologized, as he did again at Monday’s council meeting. But some of the mayor’s previous Facebook posts were read Monday by some attendees as indicative of what they said was a pattern of insensitivity at best, and racism at worst.
On Monday, Hastings specifically 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. “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.” He said after the meeting that he will not resign.
Many in attendance Monday made it clear after the meeting that they did not accept Hastings’ apology, and, along with calling on the mayor to resign, also called on council to take further action.
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @abernathygary.