Bill Fawley considered retiring at the end of 2018 when he will complete his seventh term as Highland County auditor. But then he asked himself, what would he do then?
So instead of finding a hobby or catching up on his reading, Fawley will be running unopposed for his eighth term for an office he first won in 1990 after teaching school, working for three different congressmen and trying his hand in the commercial construction business.
Fawley, the son of the late Edgar and Marjorie Fawley, graduated from Lynchburg High School in 1964. He attended Union College in Barboursville, Ky., where he graduated with a B.S. specializing in Social Studies.
From there, he returned home and spent seven years teaching American History and math at Lynchburg-Clay High School, following in the footsteps of his father, who taught agriculture at Hillsboro High School for 34 years.
Then came an opportunity to do something completely different – working in the federal government. In 1976, Fawley, a lifelong Republican, joined the staff of Congressman Bill Harsha, working out of the 6th District office. When Harsha retired, Fawley – who in the meantime had married the former Dianne Wilson of Hillsboro — went to work for his successor, Hillsboro native Bob McEwen, but this time moving to Washington to work in the new congressman’s D.C. offices.
In 1982, Fawley accepted an offer from 4th District Congressman Mike Oxley to work for the Findlay Republican. After a couple of years, the Fawleys decided to pursue a different path, moving to Tennessee in 1984, where Bill worked for his father-in-law in the construction business, renovating hotels and other commercial properties.
But a touch of homesickness set in, and with a son, Will, born in 1987, an offer in 1988 from McEwen to work for the congressman again – this time out of the Hillsboro district office — was quickly accepted.
After spending years working for other elected officials, Fawley was tempted to throw his own hat into the ring. As part of his job with members of Congress, “I had met with auditors in different counties, visiting with them to talk about different issues,” said Fawley. “I thought what they did was interesting.”
Fawley’s first general election campaign in 1990 ended in something of a nail-biter as he defeated Democrat opponent Libby Musser by just 94 votes. He hasn’t faced an opponent since.
In an interview Thursday, Fawley said his longevity in the office and his decision to run for yet another term boils down to one simple reason: “I enjoy what I’m doing.”
Likewise, other elected officials appreciate having him there.
“Bill’s knowledge of the budget, the reason behind things that were done in the past, and his history and experience are invaluable, especially when new people come into office,” said Shane Wilkin, president of the Highland County Board of Commissioners. During the economic downturn of 2009-2010, “We just relied on him almost daily,” said Wilkin.
Fawley remembers that time as the most challenging since he took office. The county’s General Fund budget faced a reduction of 30 percent, due to losses of tax revenues, state cuts to the Local Government Fund and other factors.
“Every office lost at least one employee, the sheriff more than that,” Fawley recalls.
Highland County Common Pleas Judge Rocky Coss agreed that Fawley’s knowledge and accessibility have been important for the county.
“He’s not hard to work with,” said Coss. “He’s always responsive to issues.” Fawley’s ability to recall details of past decisions comes in handy, said Coss. “I run across that a lot when talking with the commissioners. It’s an asset,” he said.
Anneka Collins, the Highland County prosecutor, agreed with Coss that Fawley is “easy to work with,” adding that he “is knowledgeable about what he does, and he keeps up with changes in the law really, really well.” She said Fawley has an impressive memory about why decisions that continue to have an impact were made in years past. “He remembers things,” she said. “He’ll say, ‘This is why they did that.’”
Fawley’s institutional knowledge of the ins and outs of levies, the finer points of homestead exemptions, or the changes in CAUV calculations means he is often asked to attend county, township or even city or village meetings to explain the financial impact of various government actions that have been instituted or are under consideration.
Last year, Hillsboro Mayor Drew Hastings asked Fawley to attend a Hillsboro City Schools board meeting and city council meeting to explain the finer points of a Downtown Revitalization District plan he was proposing.
Hastings said he has dealt with the county auditor on a number of issues over the years, agreeing with others that Fawley is responsive, friendly to work with, knowledgeable about the issues, and willing to share as much information as possible.
“I’ve gone to him many times when I’ve not been able to understand municipal finance,” said Hastings, adding, “I have found him to be very open and helpful.” Hastings joked about Fawley’s talkative nature, saying, “He’s always willing to tell you about everything on a subject. Even if he wasn’t an expert, he’s probably the most likeable elected official I know.”
When Hillsboro disbanded its fire department in 2013, which had also been covering neighboring townships, township trustees were faced with replacing fire and emergency medical services coverage, with most of them joining the Paint Creek Joint EMS/Fire District. Fawley attended township meetings, explaining to trustees and residents the rules and financial ramifications of joining a fire district.
Fawley said that when he is asked to explain levies or property tax issues, he doesn’t take sides.
“I don’t tell people they should be in favor or opposed,” said Fawley. “I just explain the facts.”
Fawley credits an “excellent staff” for running a productive office. He said that unlike some states, Ohio’s county auditors are, in essence, running two offices in one.
“On one side is the real estate section, appraisals, tax levies, homestead reductions, CAUV applications. On the other side is the county budget, county checks, payrolls, licenses. In a lot of states, these are two different offices,” said Fawley.
Among the licenses handled by the auditor’s office are dog licenses. “I’m not sure what that has to do with what we do, but that’s where it is,” said Fawley.
Naturally, a busy time of year for the auditor’s office is when property tax bills are mailed, and people come in to question changes in their taxes. Fawley and his staff explain adjustments to valuations which impact taxes, but sometimes, said Fawley, people have valid complaints.
“If we can’t explain it, we probably shouldn’t have done it,” said Fawley, adding that openness is the best policy. “The more people know, the better,” he said.
Fawley said his decision to seek an eighth term was due in part to his wife continuing to work as a teacher’s aide at the Lynchburg-Clay middle school, along with the fact that he doesn’t have pastimes to pursue. No other candidates filed for the office on either the Republican or Democrat side.
“I have never gotten into hobbies,” said Fawley. “I don’t fish, I don’t golf. My health is good.”
So, when he pondered whether to serve another four years, the answer he came up with was, “Why not?”
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or follow on Twitter @AbernathyGary.