Hillsboro Mayor Drew Hastings said Wednesday he will call on an outside attorney who is an expert in statutory authority after what he called an effort by others in the city to appropriate authority delegated to the mayor, including the law director’s order to continue the pay and benefits for the former safety and service director after Hastings fired him last week.
Meanwhile, a special meeting of Hillsboro City Council has been called for 6 p.m. Friday to discuss any “settlement authority” council might have in the matter. Council President Lee Koogler said Wednesday the meeting would consist solely of an executive session with no other business.
Todd Wilkin was dismissed last Tuesday from his position as safety and service director after Hastings said he first offered Wilkin a chance to resign and be paid through the end of the year. After Wilkin turned down that offer, Hastings said, he fired him, but the mayor said he learned a short time later that Fred Beery, the city law director, had instructed the city auditor to continue Wilkin’s pay and benefits.
Hastings said he had cordial meetings on the subject this week with Koogler and with Beery, but since Beery was advising Wilkin prior to his dismissal, he said outside counsel is necessary to protect the statutory authority of the mayor’s office.
Hastings provided The Times-Gazette with a letter he emailed Monday to Beery, copying all members of council. In the letter, Hastings wrote that he copied everyone because “copying Council and making this matter more transparent is exactly what is needed to ensure that every elected official is given an accurate and complete account of any talks that take place.”
He wrote that he was also copying council because the decision to continue paying Wilkin appeared to be an action by other city officials “that is beyond the scope of your respective offices.”
“This is precisely the same dynamic at play again that was at work in the criminal investigation against me and we know how that charade turned out. I will not allow this to happen again,” Hastings wrote.
“It has long been recognized by law – and indeed your own office – that the Safety Service Director serves ‘at the pleasure of the Mayor’ and is ‘an at-will position,’ to quote your own words to me,” Hastings wrote to Beery.
When outlining the powers and duties of the mayor, Hillsboro city ordinance refers to Section 733 of the Ohio Revised Code. ORC 733.03 states that the mayor “may appoint and remove the director of public service, the director of public safety, and the heads of the subdepartments of public service and public safety, and shall have such other powers and perform such other duties as are conferred and required by law.”
The same statute also authorizes the merging of public safety and public service director, which has been the case in Hillsboro for several decades.
In his letter to Beery, Hastings wrote, “Your office had no right to override my decision by directing the Auditor to continue paying (Wilkin), which had the effect of reversing his termination.”
Beery said Wednesday that isn’t true, and that he considers Wilkin’s employment terminated as of Nov. 22 when Hastings fired him. But he said Wilkin’s termination is “subject to his claim” that his termination was improper.
In regard to legal considerations, “Is he an adversary of the city? Yes,” said Beery, referring to Wilkin and assuming that the former safety-service director takes the position that “what the city did was wrong.” He said that continuing to pay Wilkin is a procedural decision in anticipation of a claim against the city.
“The reason for my request (to continue paying Wilkin) was to preserve the status quo until we could get information about his claim,” said Beery. He said that no money has actually been paid to Wilkin yet.
Beery said he asked Koogler to call a special council meeting to discuss “any settlement authority” the city might have.
In his letter to Beery, Hastings wrote that “it appears to me that you are trying to represent the City Administration, City Council, and a former employee. As Law Director, it is impossible to represent opposing parties.”
But Beery said Wednesday his only advice to Wilkin prior to his termination was the same advice he would provide to any city official, providing answers to questions they pose. He said he could not discuss the specifics of the conversations he had with Wilkin.
The city has not received a formal notification from Wilkin about appealing his dismissal, but Beery said Wednesday that Wilkin “talked to Lee” and indicated “that’s what he was going to do.”
Koogler confirmed Wednesday that he had agreed to meet with Wilkin the day after his firing, and Wilkin said “he was seeking legal representation and discussing what course of action he would take.” Beery and Koogler said they are no longer communicating with Wilkin.
Wilkin was a key witness in Hastings’ recent trial, which ended with the mayor’s acquittal. Some city officials have suggested that Wilkin might attempt to invoke “whistleblower” status and claim that his dismissal was retaliatory.
Hastings said last week he did not dismiss Wilkin for that reason. “Absolutely not,” he said.
Wilkin did not return a call seeking comment Wednesday.
Hastings said Wednesday he had yet to decide who he would bring in as outside counsel, but said, “This action is a really good opportunity not just to frame the mayor’s authority, but so all elected officials know their authority. It will help to show the clear boundaries established by law, which I think at times have been eroded in Hillsboro.”
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @abernathygary.