An open letter to Hillsboro City Council:
I’m sure most of you would agree that in many ways 2016 has been a lost year for our city. Since he was first elected in 2011, Mayor Drew Hastings has been the focus of intense scrutiny like no elected official in the history of Hillsboro, all to the detriment of Hillsboro and its citizens.
Throughout this past year, Drew’s adversaries finally achieved part of what they wanted – taking Drew to court, both civil and criminal, with the hope of removing him from office. The results were not what they hoped for, and the fallout is not surprising, including personnel changes.
This week, as you know, Chief Todd Whited resigned from the Hillsboro Police Department. His career as a law enforcement officer is to be honored. I admire the chief for making the difficult decision to resign, but his email to you made it clear this decision is best both for him and for our town.
I can understand the chief’s feeling that he can no longer work for the mayor. Despite a trial that exonerated the mayor, the chief’s email to you continued to make a number of unsettling statements and allegations on the same issues and more.
His unwillingness to accept a jury’s verdict is demonstrated by his rehashing of charges that have had their day in court. Our justice system worked, because justice is a process, not a particular result.
The chief’s insinuation that if you are friends with someone who is charged with a crime, then you, by association, are also at fault because you had to know what he was doing is troubling coming from law enforcement.
The disparagement he cast on your council clerk – who, before joining the Hastings administration in 2012, served the Highland County Commission for a decade with an unblemished record and who has never been charged with a crime – is alarming.
His statement that Drew should have resigned when he was indicted is an affront not only to our system of justice, where everyone is considered innocent until proven guilty, but also to our citizens who put Drew where he is through their votes. It is a particularly troubling statement considering the trial ended with Drew’s acquittal on all charges.
The fact that the chief is unwilling to accept the results of due process and is now encouraging city council to take the law into its own hands is disappointing. But it’s not surprising when you consider that when he first came into possession of the evidence in Drew’s case a year ago, he provided it to five local citizens, whom he knew disliked Drew, for the purpose of filing a civil case that, if successful, would have immediately removed Drew from office. In our justice system, the roles of investigator, prosecutor, judge and jury are separate functions for good reason.
In his resignation letter, the chief said it was clear “that Mayor Hastings does not like me nor the police department.” Considering a Hillsboro police officer’s personal investigation of the mayor’s residency in 2013, the providing of criminal evidence to his adversaries for the filing of a civil suit, and the ongoing HPD investigation even after the case was supposedly handed off to the sheriff’s office, it might not be a stretch for the mayor to conclude that the police department does not like him. (In fact, I know there are HPD officers who have no problem with Drew.)
Why has there been such an intense focus on Drew Hastings? The chief summed it up in his email to you when he reminded you that Drew isn’t from here, and that he moved here 10 years ago from California. He’s an outsider, to be feared. Never mind that Drew actually grew up about an hour from here in the Dayton area and didn’t move to California until he was in his late 30s. Unfortunately we see that attitude as an undercurrent to so much of the criticism that comes Drew’s way.
But these issues are all beyond your control. So, what is within your control? Focusing on our city and its citizens. I doubt that any of you ran for city council thinking that you would spend so much of your time embroiled in controversies manufactured by the mayor’s adversaries.
I’m guessing that each of you ran for council because you wanted to contribute to Hillsboro’s growth, prosperity and success. There may be projects across the city that are particularly important to you. For members who were elected from particular wards, I imagine there are issues in your own neighborhoods that you want to tackle aggressively.
Drew’s devoted adversaries have demonstrated that they will never put the best interests of Hillsboro above themselves. They will continue trying to shame you – mostly through internet posts using pseudonyms, which tells us there are probably just a handful of people posting under numerous names – into keeping your focus on their agenda rather than on the accomplishments that most of our citizens hope you and the mayor will achieve for the sake of our city.
Drew is mayor because the people of Hillsboro elected him, twice, and by healthy margins. Most Hillsboro residents like the direction Drew is leading our city. Most citizens are exhausted with the nonsense and are hoping that the mayor and council will work together for the betterment of Hillsboro. It’s a safe bet that most Hillsboro residents would rather be reading stories about projects and improvements happening here than reading about more court filings, accusations and infighting.
Thank you for your service on city council. The year 2016 may have been mostly lost to side issues and unnecessary distractions. Going forward, I hope you will make a choice that is entirely within your control. I hope you will make the decision that 2017 will be a year that is remembered for progress and achievement. If you do, I think you’ll find that what is often a thankless job results in considerably more appreciation from the citizens you serve.
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @abernathygary.