Hillsboro City Council met Monday on the heels of Mayor Drew Hastings’ acquittal by a jury last week on two felony charges, and while the council president and most council members seemed ready to move on, two city officials who were on the prosecution’s witness list brought up points of contention involving the mayor.
When it was time for the mayor’s report, Lee Koogler, the council president, offered an olive branch to Hastings, saying, “I know the past year has been a challenge for everyone, employees, citizens,” and adding directly to the mayor, “and an incredibly challenging year for you.”
Koogler said city officials are “here to serve the citizens” and “I plan on, and expect all of us, to work with the administration and with you personally.”
Hastings thanked Koogler for his comments, and throughout the meeting most council members seemed more engaged with Hastings than in several recent meetings.
But at the end of his report, Todd Wilkin, the safety and service director, said, “I will not selectively enforce the law in Hillsboro.”
Wilkin was a key witness for the prosecution’s case against Hastings. He testified that his signature on a document authorizing the refund of a $500 vacant property fee the mayor had paid was not his signature but was instead a stamp, which he said he had not authorized. The charge was dismissed by Judge Patricia Ann Cosgrove when she ruled that no evidence had been presented that Hastings tampered with or ordered anyone to tamper with the document.
Wilkin also testified about the mayor’s use of a city dumpster, saying he had told Hastings he should not use the dumpster, although an investigator for the state auditor said he could not find in his notes a conversation with Wilkin about that statement.
Attorneys said after the verdict that Hastings was acquitted of the dumpster use in part because there was no city ordinance prohibiting public dumping, no signage at the city yard, an unlocked open gate, and because he had “implied consent” since no one told him he could not use the dumpster.
On Monday, Wilkin, asked council to approve legislation to prohibit the use of city dumpsters by citizens or city employees, as well as amending or repealing a list of ordinances that deal with issues ranging from how quickly property owners must undertake snow and ice removal, to how water meters are installed at various parcels, to Design Review Board legislation, to the vacant property law.
Council members did not respond and no further action was taken on Wilkin’s requests, but Koogler said Tuesday he would look at the ordinances and assign them to the appropriate committees.
Prior to the trial, Gary Lewis, the city auditor, was openly critical of Hastings in several social media posts. Lewis was on the state’s witness list for the trial, but the special prosecutor decided against calling him to testify.
On Monday, Lewis expressed resentment over a letter he found out the mayor had written to the bond counsel for the city, as well as the fact the mayor held a meeting with the counsel.
In his letter and at the meeting, Hastings had questioned whether the recent refinancing of the bonds on the new fire station and the police department would negatively impact the city’s negotiations with the Paint Creek fire district in regard to the sale of the new fire station.
Lewis read from a letter he said he received from the counsel describing the meeting. He said he should have been copied on the mayor’s letter to the bond counsel, at one point saying, “I am, after all, the chief financial officer for the city.”
Hastings asked, “Why is the auditor being defensive just because I was trying to do some due diligence on my end?” He said he became aware that Lewis had told the bond counsel that the Paint Creek deal was dead, and Hastings said he was concerned that language in the refinancing deal would make a sale more difficult.
Lewis acknowledged saying that the Paint Creek deal wasn’t happening, but said he called back the next day and “told her I was incorrect, that things had changed.”
Koogler found himself refereeing the exchange between Hastings and Lewis, at one point shouting over them and telling them they would be allowed to speak one at a time.
Lewis said he was available to discuss the issue with Hastings, but the mayor said he had not consulted Lewis because, he said, he and Lewis had not spoken for months, and Lewis had said after one inquiry that “he did not owe me an explanation.” Lewis responded angrily, saying, “That’s such a blatant lie.” The mayor said it was not.
Later, Hastings said that Lewis, possibly through Wilkin, had said he was “uncomfortable” giving the information to Hastings. Lewis, referring to the mayor’s reworded recollection of his comment, said, “I applaud you for that. That takes talent.”
Hastings said that when the bond refinancing was approved by council, it was “somewhat glossed over.” He asked whether council members understood the intricacies of the refinancing.
Several council members asked Lewis questions about the refinancing or restated what they said was their understanding of the deal.
As Monday’s discussion between Hastings and Lewis ended, council member Bill Alexander urged the city officials to communicate and work together. After the meeting, Koogler was praised by several in attendance for his handling of the sometimes antagonistic proceedings.
Hillsboro Police Chief Todd Whited, who called in BCI and took evidence in the Hastings case to the sheriff’s office to investigate, is typically on hand at council meetings to provide security. On Monday, he sat with audience members rather than his usual seat not far from the mayor within the council chambers.
Hastings was acquitted last Wednesday of two felony counts involving his residency and the use of the dumpster. The judge had earlier dismissed another dumpster charge and the tampering charge involving the $500 rebate.
At Tuesday’s Hillsboro Rotary meeting, over which he also presides as president, Koogler at one point joked to a rowdy group that he was going to have to shout them down as he did at the council meeting the previous night.
Koogler said Tuesday he was not surprised there were some lingering ill feelings on display at Monday’s council meeting.
“Last night was a bit contentious at times,” said Kooger. “It will take time to rebuild trust and a working relationship, but that’s what we have to do. That’s what has to happen, and hopefully everybody does.”
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @abernathygary.