Her vote didn’t count, but it represents hope for Hillsboro


By Gary Abernathy - gabernathy@aimmediamidwest.com



Thank you, Isabelle Bourne. You represent hope for the future of Hillsboro.

Isabelle is the student representative on the Hillsboro City Schools Board of Education. As an unelected member of the board, her vote does not officially count, but her name is called with each roll and she weighs in on all the issues.

Last week, when the school board voted against approving the Downtown Redevelopment District plan proposed by Hillsboro Mayor Drew Hastings, four of the five official votes from board members were against the plan. Only Doug Ernst cast a vote that counted in favor of the DRD. Thank you too, Doug.

Doug was appointed to the school board about a year ago to replace Sam Barnhouse after Sam’s sad passing. By all accounts, and from our own monthly coverage of the board, Doug has been an excellent board member, smart and very involved. His loss at the polls earlier this month was a loss for the school district.

But Isabelle’s vote in favor of the DRD plan was particularly impressive because she represents the very students who some school board members claimed to be protecting with their “no” votes.

When Hastings originally presented the DRD project to school board members in October, one board member said, “My standpoint is that our first duty is to make use of the funds we have for our students and staff. Twenty years from now, what’s the dollar impact that has on our district?”

Keep in mind, the DRD only involves a portion of future, additional property tax revenue that would be generated from any substantial improvements that are made in the two DRD districts. No revenue that currently exists for the school district would be impacted. The DRD incentivizes additional improvements that will likely not be made without a DRD in place. So it really is a no-lose proposition for the school district or anyone else.

The best point the mayor made on the subject came at the school board meeting last week, which, as reported by The Times-Gazette, was this: “At one point, Hastings said that while he respects the school board’s responsibility to secure a high quality of life while children are in school, he feels DRDs fulfill his responsibility to provide a high quality of life for children outside of school.”

I have not spoken to Isabelle Bourne, but in casting a vote in favor of the DRD plan, perhaps she realized that the mayor was right, that it’s important to create a town that makes our younger generation want to stay, live and work here instead of moving away to more alluring communities.

Aside from petty personal politics clearly in play in the overall anti-DRD campaign, much of the stated resistance has been based on fear. What proof do you have that this works? That answer isn’t available because the state legislation is so new. But the mayor’s office has been fielding phone calls from other nearby towns interested in the plan. Fifteen years from now, when every city in Ohio has taken advantage of the DRD legislation, Hillsboro will be years behind.

I never cease to be amazed at the accusations, the jealousy and the fear that Drew Hastings might profit from something. Aside from whatever he has accomplished as mayor, Drew has done more for the city of Hillsboro over the past decade in the realm of economic development than anyone I can think of at his own risk.

He bought building after building that was in severe disrepair, including Bell’s Opera House, which he was implored to purchase by the previous owners. There wasn’t a line forming to buy any of those properties. No one else wanted them. He remodeled most of them and made them attractive and usable. On the opera house, yes, he sought and won a grant to help keep it from further deterioration. That, too, gets painted as something evil.

If the opera house is restored to its former glory, do you really think Drew or anyone else is ever going to get rich from it? How does that work?

The school board’s approval for the DRD was needed because the plan presented by the mayor was for more than 10 years. The city could have adopted the DRD for 10 years without school board approval. But as the mayor said when he decided to pull the legislation from city council after the school board’s vote, 10 years is simply not enough of a commitment to make a long-term economic development plan work.

Or, as Nate Green, the expert with the Montrose Group, told the school board, 20 years is not very long from an economic development perspective. “You have to put the seeds in the ground,” said Green. In other words, a 10-year DRD is like planting corn in April, but plowing the crop under in July, long before harvest.

Drew announced recently that he won’t seek re-election in 2019, and who can blame him in an environment where the vision for the future seems based on how many roadblocks can be erected?

I don’t know what your future plans are, Isabelle. But if you stay in Hillsboro after your high school and college years, perhaps you’ll run for office someday. And, hopefully, you’ll avoid getting into the roadblock-building business and continue to exhibit the leadership qualities that you showed last week with your wise-beyond-your-years understanding that long-term progress and innovation requires overcoming short-sighted fear and trepidation.

Hillsboro will be counting on you and others like you, when the time comes that your votes will count.

Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @abernathygary.

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By Gary Abernathy

gabernathy@aimmediamidwest.com