Updated with additional comment by Mayor Drew Hastings.
Former Hillsboro Safety and Service Director Todd Wilkin has notified the city that he is claiming whistleblower status and appealing his dismissal.
Wilkin’s attorneys, Randolph Freking and Kelly Mulloy Myers of the law firm of Freking, Myers & Reul, with offices in Cincinnati, Dayton and Denver, Colo., – which advertises itself as “advocates for working people” – notified the city this week that Wilkin is challenging his Nov. 22 firing by Mayor Drew Hastings. City officials have said they anticipated the appeal.
The letter was addressed to the mayor, as well as to the Hillsboro Civil Service Commission, even though Wilkin was not a civil service employee. Law Director Fred Beery was also copied on the letter.
The letter revisits the $500 vacant property refund that the mayor received on what Wilkin has claimed was a forged document containing his stamped signature. That charge was dismissed during Hastings’ November trial due to a lack of evidence that the mayor had tampered with the document or ordered someone else to do so.
Wilkin’s attorneys state that they believe the mayor’s administrative assistant, Debbie Sansone, “is responsible for stamping the refund approval document.” In a footnote, the lawyers allege that Sansone withheld the document from a subpoena request in September 2015.
Sansone was out of the office on a scheduled day off Wednesday and could not immediately be reached for comment.
The attorneys also state that the stamp was kept in the desk of another assistant in the mayor’s office, Heather Collins, and that Collins was “one of the employees who had pressured Mr. Wilkin to issue the refund to the Mayor.” Collins testified at Hastings’ trial that she was upset when she saw the letter authorizing the refund.
The letter also states that Hastings “continued to flout the law” throughout 2016 and “Mr. Wilkin diligently documented each transgression,” including an allegation that Hastings “had split his High Street property without installing an additional water meter tap” and had “failed to secure a Certificate of Appropriateness for work on a historical building,” both in violation of city ordinances, according to the letter.
The letter states that in May, Wilkin expressed a concern to city Law Director Fred Beery “that Mayor Hastings was treating him abusively in retaliation for his reports and for providing testimony to the State Auditor’s Office and BCI investigators.” The letter states that Beery replied, “Rest assured, as Lee (Koogler) and I have explained to you, your status as a whistle blower is accepted and acknowledged.”
After Hastings fired Wilkin, Beery asked the city auditor to continue paying Wilkin. Hastings objected to that action and said he was going to seek outside counsel to protect the statutory authority of the mayor’s office to hire and fire the safety and service director, which is an at-will position.
On Wednesday, Hastings said that the comment by Wilkin’s attorneys regarding Beery and Koogler’s involvement “is exactly why I didn’t want this to go beyond my office.” He said that “by exceeding their authority,” they have placed the city in an awkward position regarding Wilkin.
Hastings was charged by a special prosecutor from the office of state Auditor Dave Yost with four felonies involving the $500 refund, the use of city trash dumpsters and a residency issue. Two of the charges were thrown out by the judge at trial, and a jury acquitted the mayor of the remaining charges.
Wilkin’s attorneys write, “These facts make clear that Mayor Hastings retaliated against Mr. Wilkin for protected activity,” and “Mr. Wilkin therefore respectfully appeals his termination” in accordance with the city’s Personnel Policies and Procedures Manual.
When Hastings fired Wilkin, he said it was “absolutely not” related to Wilkin’s actions in regard to the investigation against him or Wilkin’s testimony at his trial.
The next step is for a hearing to be set. According to the policies and procedures manual, such a hearing is to be heard by the safety and service director or the mayor. Since Wilkin was the SSD and Hastings is the subject of Wilkin’s appeal, it’s likely that an independent hearing officer from outside the city will be sought.
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @abernathygary.