Hillsboro Law Director Fred Beery clarified Thursday that an opinion about the ethics of Hillsboro Mayor Drew Hastings’ participation in the city’s Demolition Assistance Program was strictly his opinion, not the opinion of Highland County Prosecutor Anneka Collins.
In an email sent by Hillsboro Safety and Service Director Mel McKenzie Wednesday to various city officials in response to concerns expressed in an email by Auditor Gary Lewis, McKenzie wrote that Beery had informed him that Collins “confirmed that there was nothing illegal or unethical about Drew, as Mayor, being afforded the opportunity of the Demolition Program.”
On Thursday, Collins contacted The Times-Gazette, saying she had not offered an opinion on the subject. She provided a copy of an email exchange with Beery dated March 6 in which Beery referenced a previous issue a few years ago involving a county commissioner and asking Collins if she recalled the subject.
Collins’ reply was, “I don’t know off the top of my head. Sorry!” Collins said Thursday that was her only response.
In an email to McKenzie later that same day, Beery wrote, “Anneka knew of no problem with this demo permit. Since we went outside for approval, there is no conflict. You may approve the permit. Thanks!”
Beery said Thursday that he translated Collins’ response as not recognizing a problem “off the top of her head.” He said his reference to going “outside for approval” was in regard to seeking the opinion of a Design Review Board from Wilmington, which had been done. He said he was not claiming that Collins had provided an outside legal opinion.
“She’s right,” Beery said in regard to Collins not weighing in on the matter. Beery took the blame for the misunderstanding with McKenzie, saying his email to McKenzie referencing his exchange with Collins was poorly worded and understandably left McKenzie with the wrong impression.
Beery said that in addition to email exchanges, many verbal conversations have been held on the subject.
Beery said, “I wasn’t expecting Anneka to do my job,” and was only seeking her recollection of a previous similar issue. He said the opinion that there is no ethical conflict for Hastings to participate in the demolition program “is my opinion, not hers.”
McKenzie said Wednesday that the demolition of the structure known as the Armintrout building will cost $33,100. Under the city’s demo program, the city will front the costs, and then be reimbursed 100 percent through a five-year tax assessment on the property.
The program is designed to help rid the city of blighted properties. McKenzie said property owners have utilized the program throughout the city many times.
McKenzie said Hastings paid a $50 fee for the demolition permit and a $500 retainer fee that will be refunded to him on completion of the demolition.
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or follow on Twitter @AbernathyGary.