Ariana Jackson, a local pastor and wife of a Hillsboro city employee, spoke at length to Hillsboro City Council on Monday, lecturing council and the mayor using numerous biblical analogies and refusing to yield the floor even after the president pro tempore twice tried to gavel her comments to a close.
She condemned council members for not removing mayor Drew Hastings from office and accused Hastings of being a “wicked ruler.” In Hillsboro, the mayor is a separately-elected position from council.
Jackson, who described herself as a “prophet of the Lord,” spoke in ecclesiastical prose for about 20 minutes, even after council president pro tempore Dick Donley used the judge’s gavel to bring order to the room and threatened to have her removed.
Among many biblical comparisons, Jackson equated Hastings’ actions to those of King Saul, saying he used taxpayer money for his own benefit and made other unethical decisions to the detriment of the “nation of Hillsboro.”
Council president Lee Koogler was absent from the meeting, as well as council members Claudia Klein and Ann Morris. The remaining members were mostly silent as Jackson harangued them for not attempting to remove Hastings from office after he made what she described as racist comments on social media.
“I was here approximately two and a half years ago in regards to the wrongdoing of council and this administration, in regards to the negative words of racism that was spoke out, and even a request of something to be done about it, and nothing was done,” she said. “I sat back and watched for two and a half years as everything began to unravel, many comments that council made that felt like what mayor Hastings said about blacks was not offensive.”
Jackson said council member Justin Harsha hasn’t spoken out enough advocating for equality, and said Donley “didn’t feel like the people of color were worthy of a voice.” Harsha responded that he had tried to call a meeting to address the subject.
Jackson said Hastings’ actions in office have harmed the city and its citizens.
“When you have a wicked leader, you have a corrupt government and you have a corrupt city, meaning a dark cloud will be over this city as long as you have a king ruling in sin. There won’t be any prosperous nation of Hillsboro that they call the promised land,” she said. “Because you have a nation divided, divided because of what is being said of people of color.”
At one point, Jackson said she had a problem with a comment Hastings made in September of 2016 when he proclaimed Sept. 17-23 “Constitution Week,” in honor of the 229th anniversary of the drafting of the Constitution. At the time, Hastings urged “all citizens to reaffirm the ideals the Framers of the Constitution had in 1787.”
“You know what this was dealing with? Slavery,” she said. Hastings said later that the wording comes with the template for the proclamation each year.
Jackson also referenced a statement Hastings made Aug. 29 on Twitter saying he preferred the term “white enthusiast” than white supremacist, since it’s “more upbeat and positive.” Although Hastings later deleted the tweet, Jackson said Hastings was “upbeat about beating down people of color.”
Jackson began to raise her voice after Hastings attempted to speak up, saying there would be a “revelation of oil, silver, gold and precious stones that God has given to the people that you hate.”
At that point, Donley used the gavel and said, “Ma’am, I could have you removed.”
After some discussion with Mel McKenzie, the safety and service director, about a set of three letters sent to her husband, Craig Jackson, regarding scheduling a medical exam, Ariana Jackson asked Hastings to explain his comments.
“The part that really bothers me here is that you’ve put city council on the spot, when really, if you have an issue with me, it should be taken up with me,” Hastings said. “You’ve never bothered to contact me, you’ve never spoken to me, unless you have a public forum like now.”
Donley again had to use the gavel when Jackson and Hastings began raising their voices.
“I think you’re taking a lot of things out of context,” Hastings said to Jackson, “and anybody will tell you that if they want to meet with me, if they want to talk to me about anything, even the most sensitive issues, anyone is welcome to come up and talk to me at any time.”
Council member Becky Wilkin apologized to Jackson, saying Hastings’ comments were “pretty out of line,” but “I certainly have no control over that.”
Later in the meeting, Craig Jackson said he wanted to know where he stands as an employee of the city. He said he received two letters from the city administration in previous weeks asked him to bring his medical records to a medical assessment on one of four dates, including Sept. 20. Jackson said he told city administrator Debbie Sansone that he wanted to go Sept. 20.
After that, however, Craig Jackson said he received a third letter from McKenzie which was delivered to his home by a police officer, demanding that he visit the doctor on Sept. 6 or he would “be punished and you could be fired if you don’t go,” as Jackson described the letter. Jackson said he received the letter on Friday, Sept. 1, and said he wouldn’t have been able to compile his medical records in time.
McKenzie said the city’s legal counsel recommended the administration ask Jackson to be assessed earlier for financial reasons, and said Jackson didn’t have to bring all his medical records to the Sept. 6 appointment.
“Because of the situation, the administration sent you home [from work],” McKenzie said. “You didn’t have any sick time to take. We decided we would pay you on administrative leave.”
“But no one told me that,” Jackson said.
“We didn’t have to pay you,” McKenzie said.
“Well no one told me that, this is is the first I’ve heard that,” Jackson said.
“Well, we have,” McKenzie said. “Legal counsel… advised us to move it up so we don’t have to pay administrative leave that long and get the results back earlier. And that’s when the third letter was brought.”
After some discussion, Craig Jackson asked what happens next, and McKenzie said the original doctor refused service due to the conflict, so the administration is seeking a new doctor to conduct the assessment. McKenzie said the city would notify Jackson when a doctor is found.
Craig and Ariana Jackson were two of the five Hillsboro residents who signed a civil complaint in Highland County Probate Court against Hastings in December 2015 accusing him of malfeasance over the issue of a $500 rebate he had received from a vacant property registration fee. The case was dismissed by judge Kevin Greer.
The allegation was also part of a criminal investigation launched on the same day as the probate court filing. Hastings was eventually charged with four felonies. During a jury trial last November, a judge threw out two of the charges against Hastings, and the jury acquitted him of the remaining two charges.
In other business Monday, Hastings said in the mayor’s report that he’s happy to see new sidewalks going in along North High Street and welcomed new interim chief of police Sgt. Shawn Kelley.
Hastings also said a possible sports complex originally slated for construction at the old city water plant may instead be built at City Park, since it was found the water plant site may take too long to develop.
Hastings said the site will remain under the care of the Hillsboro Area Economic Development Corporation and be put up for sale.
According to Hastings, the proceeds will be distributed evenly between the Gross-Feibel complex and the Colony Theatre site for improvement expenses.
Hastings also said there will be legislation for council to act on at the next meeting regarding an uptown redevelopment district.
In the safety and service director’s report, McKenzie said a spray-foam type surface to cover the exposed walls on either side of the empty space left by the Colony Theatre demolition will be more economic than a stucco surface.
In the Hillsboro Planning Commission report, Hastings said the commission recently discussed possible water usage for a Board of Developmental Disabilities group housing project being planned. Hastings said the board is considering construction on Beech Street or John Street.
Hastings also said an intern will be hired to assist with upcoming changes in zoning codes. The intern will be paid with funds allocated for the project.
Justin Harsha said a possible parks district and parks and recreation coordinator were discussed at a joint meeting of Community Enhancement Committee and the Property Maintenance and Restoration Committee. Harsha said the members voted to bring to council the idea of hiring a part-time parks coordinator. Council took no action on the matter.
In other discussion, council member Tracy Aranyos said she and some women from the Hillsboro Uptown Business Association want to help organize Christmas lights uptown. Shawn Adkins, the city public works lead, said he has some concerns about the Christmas lights damaging light poles, and alternatives may have to be discussed. No action was taken.
Council also voted on various resolutions.
Reach David Wright at 937-402-2570, or on Twitter @DavidWrighter.