In Hastings demo case, the truth finally gets a boot on


I have suggested to Drew Hastings more than once in recent months that he should resign as mayor of Hillsboro — not because he’s not a good mayor (he is), but because he deserves a life free of the pettiness he will never escape as long as he holds the office.

The most high-profile example, among many, of the kind of targeted animosity he’s had to endure came, of course, in 2015-16 when he was investigated, indicted and tried on a collection of charges involving a trash dumpster, the rebate of a $500 fee, and his private residence.

So flimsy was the case that a visiting judge threw out two of the charges before they reached the jury — a jury which then took all of two hours to return unanimous not guilty verdicts on the remaining two counts. Drew walked away acquitted, but not until he and his family endured nearly a year of daily stress, worry and humiliation.

The humiliation included Drew’s visiting father-in-law being tossed out of the mayor’s Hillsboro home on a freezing February night so it could be invaded and searched in a late-night raid to document shoes, bras, children’s toys, beds and even a toilet in a bizarre effort to determine whether, in somebody’s arbitrary opinion, there was enough “evidence” to prove whether Drew and his family actually lived there.

I’ll bring that up every time, because I’ve worked at this newspaper a total of about 15 years, including my first stint three decades ago, and that late-night invasion remains the most embarrassing event I’ve ever seen or covered in Hillsboro.

Do crazy things like that ever happen in Greenfield? I need to ask Ron Coffey before he retires Friday. (By the way, when Ron’s replacement as Greenfield city manager is selected, don’t be surprised when it’s a very familiar name.)

The latest example of singling out Drew is the completely unnecessary controversy over his application to the city’s Demolition Assistance Program to tear down the so-called Armintrout building on Gov. Trimble Place in order to create some parking spaces for tenants (including this newspaper). Under the program, designed to eliminate blighted properties (and the building in question is clearly blighted, as a short visit inside makes clear), the city initially pays the cost of demolition, and then gets repaid by the property owner through additional property taxes for five years.

Somehow, word began to spread among council members Tuesday evening that something fishy was going on regarding a purchase order that had been submitted to the city auditor’s office to tear down the Armintrout building. You know the old saying that a lie will travel halfway around the world before the truth can get its boots on? By the time the truth got maybe one boot on by Wednesday morning, it seemed like half the town had already been misinformed.

Council members and others would be well advised to consider the source when their phones ring or the text messages and emails come flying with negative implications about the mayor. A good rule to follow would be not to share what you’re being told before talking to the law director or someone else without an axe to grind. Maybe even call the mayor.

As Fred Beery, the law director, said Wednesday after everyone had calmed down a little, “People just heard crazy stuff about it. Turns out, there’s nothing much to it.”

After the facts of the situation finally became clear, both Lee Koogler, the council president, and councilman Justin Harsha said last week that as a citizen, Drew has every right to take advantage of the program. Justin added, reasonably, that his only concern was that city officials tend to know more about programs like this than the average citizen. That should no longer be the case after last week’s series of stories.

In handling Drew’s application, Mel McKenzie, the safety and service director, went to great lengths to ensure that, as Mel put it, every “I” was dotted and every “T” was crossed, in consultation with Fred Beery. Mel was so careful about covering all the bases, sometimes more than once, that at one point Fred asked him in an email, “Is there some reason you are asking me again?”

Whether the city auditor or any council members agree or disagree, the approval by the law director provides all the legal authority necessary to move forward. Unless Drew Hastings is involved, of course.

Drew has already announced he won’t run for a third term. He rarely attends council meetings anymore, finally surrendering to the reality that even if something is a great, no-brainer idea (like a downtown redevelopment district) it will be a non-starter if the idea comes from him. So the people whose blood pressure rises at the mention of his name should sleep better at nights already. He’s got one foot out the door.

My encouragement to go ahead and let the other foot cross that threshold, too, is entirely because I think it would be better for him personally. But it might be good for Hillsboro, too. If Drew was strictly a private citizen, he could proceed on various development projects without his enemies having as many tools to stop him.

That’s assuming he would, at that point, want to keep investing in Hillsboro. It would be understandable if he didn’t. I would hope he would remind himself that among the general population there have always been a lot more people who support and appreciate his efforts compared to those who devote themselves to his downfall.

Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456, or follow on Twitter @AbernathyGary.

By Gary Abernathy

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