The unanimous passage of a resolution aimed at discouraging elected officials and employees in the city from making offensive social media posts was met with applause Monday evening at a Hillsboro City Council meeting, following numerous criticisms over the past several months from members of the community regarding some of Mayor Drew Hastings’ comments, both online and offline.
The first draft of the resolution, written in September, slammed the mayor for his social media posts, describing the content of his posts as “pejoratives for African Americans, Muslims, Chinese, white supremacists, diversity, racism, affirmative action, sexual activity, work place violence, queers, gay marriage, women, homophobes, transsexuals, gays, obesity, disabilities and misogyny.”
The most recent version of the resolution, which council passed 7-0 on Monday as an emergency, does not mention the mayor by name, but says city council, “through the leadership of the mayor must set the example and tone for demonstrating respect and integrity,” and “calls on all employees and elected officials of the city to serve the public, and to serve one another, in harmony, kindness, generosity and respect,” by avoiding “coarse and abusive language.”
Hastings was not in attendance on Monday.
Before the vote, Jaymara Captain, who has frequently spoken out against Hastings, read a number of his posts and described the mayor as a “sick, sexist, racist, homophobic whack-a-doo.”
Captain urged council to vote affirmatively on the measure, and said Hastings is “completely exclusive unless you are a white male.”
Richard Stiffler, who has also been critical of the mayor, added, “I’m a white male and he don’t like me either.”
Kati Burwinkel and Brian Vance both said Hastings’ posts were inappropriate.
Vance said he attended the meeting with members of his church “in solidarity.”
“I am a white male, and I will check my privilege,” he said.
Council member Dick Donley asked Hillsboro Law Director Fred Beery to explain the difference between a resolution and an ordinance, and asked if there were any means of enforcement for a resolution such as the one at hand.
Beery said resolutions address specific matters, while ordinances cover more general affairs.
“It does not create a set of penalties,” Beery said of the resolution, but “it does draw a line in the sand,” and can outline the expectations of council. Beery said such resolutions are rare.
Council member Ann Morris said much of the public debate about Hastings’ posts has been due to misunderstanding, and that everyone has said things they regret.
“A lot of (Hastings’) opinions are out of line, a lot of his opinions are good,” she said.
Either way, Morris added, council does not have any type of authority over the mayor.
Council member Justin Harsha, who moved that the resolution pass as an emergency rather than through three readings, said, “For me, this goes without saying.”
Council member Tracy Aranyos said, “It’s not council’s job to make opinions on opinions,” adding that the resolution is not a law, but a statement.
Council member and employee relations committee chair Bill Alexander disagreed, and said it is council’s responsibility to demonstrate a stance on the matter, and that the goal of the resolution is not to stifle anyone’s freedom of speech, but to instead state there are lines that should not be crossed when it comes to public officials’ communication.
After the resolution passed, a number of people in the audience gave a round of applause.
In other business, council heard a second reading on an ordinance creating two Downtown Redevelopment Districts.
In the mayor’s report earlier in the meeting, which Hillsboro Safety and Service Director Mel McKenzie read aloud in Hastings’ absence, the mayor wrote that he was perplexed as to why a number of people in attendance at earlier public meetings on the matter seemed confused about the legislation.
“This ordinance, as presented, is essentially boilerplate legislation,” he wrote. “My understanding is that no other communities have found it to be confusing or overly complex. So I’m not quite sure what to make of it.”
Hastings said Highland County Auditor Bill Fawley was “kind enough to be present at the last meeting to explain it as simplistically as possible for all,” and attached a letter summarizing the effect of the DRDs. A third and final reading will be held at the next meeting. No public comments were made Monday on the issue.
In another matter, next month council will consider legislation deciding whether or not to join the the Paint Creek Joint EMS/Fire District or continue utilizing its service on a contract basis.
As reported by The Times-Gazette, if the city joins Paint Creek, a 5.5-mill levy would be imposed to pay for its services, equating to about $152 annually per $100,000 valuation for residential properties and $192 annually per $100,000 valuation for commercial properties.
If the city joins as a member, it will have a vote on the board.
If council does nothing, the contract will be renegotiated, and president of council Lee Koogler and Donley said the cost is unlikely to change.
Donley said joining the district as a member has “its good points and bad points.”
“I think the city will survive just fine,” if it does not join, Donley said. “Right now, I’m kind of leaning toward a contract.”
Alexander agreed, saying the property tax increase would be too much of a burden for elderly, property-owning taxpayers.
“It would be much to our advantage to continue to contract,” he said.
Stiffler said he is not in favor of the city joining, and said he feels the district is already doing a fine job. Stiffler added that if the city joins, he feels it will give the city a bad reputation for not taking care of its citizens.
Harsha said he will not vote in favor of the city joining the district due to the property tax increase.
In other matters:
• Creed Culbreath requested council place a historic marker at the site of the former Lincoln School and Hillsboro High School to honor Hillsoro’s “marching mothers,” who marched in the mid-1950s for integration of Hillsboro elementary schools. Koogler placed the matter in the Community Enhancement Committee.
• During the Street and Safety Committee report, chairman Harsha gave an update on the 2018 Festival of the Bells, which, as recently reported by The Times-Gazette, will be held at Southern State Community College.
• In the safety and service director’s report, McKenzie said excavation has begun at the old Colony Theatre site to prepare for masonry walls on either side of the empty space; the North East Street Phase II project has been completed; and he is preparing a budget to present to the auditor in coming weeks.
• In the Finance Committee report, chairman Donley said the committee is working on a city budget for next year. Koogler said it will be presented at the December meeting.
• McKenzie discussed the demolition of the rear of a property on South High Street that the owner said should have already been demolished by a city crew. McKenzie said he would follow up on Tuesday.
• Council also heard readings of various routine resolutions.
Reach David Wright at 937-402-2570, or on Twitter @David Wrighter.