Hillsboro’s safety and service director said Monday he has still not received approval of a purchase order to demolish the Gov. Foraker Place building owned by Mayor Drew Hastings as part of the city’s demolition assistance program.
Safety and Service Director Mel McKenzie submitted the purchase order March 20. It has since been in limbo, with city Auditor Gary Lewis refusing to approve it despite a go-ahead from city Law Director Fred Beery, and despite Lewis having approved other similar purchase orders for demolition work.
McKenzie previously sent an email detailing steps he took to obtain approval from the law director and adhere to other steps in handling the matter.
Under the program, the city fronts the cost of demolition, with the property owner repaying the city over a period of five years through assessments on property taxes.
City council President Lee Koogler, previously told The Times-Gazette, “If (Hastings) is treated like every other citizen, he should be afforded the same opportunity through the city.”
Lewis last week told The Times-Gazette that he does not have confidence in Beery’s legal advice. In various emails to Beery, city council members and the safety and service director, and also copying The Times-Gazette, Lewis said he has been consulting with Brenda Wehmer, the city’s Cincinnati-based bond counsel.
He said that in an email exchange with Wehmer last Oct. 12 on a sidewalk issue, he learned that the city’s assessment practices may be inappropriate, citing that as a reason for holding up the purchase order for demolition of Hastings’ property. However, Lewis approved a similar demolition purchase order last Nov. 9.
Lewis said he is also seeking a “decision” from the Ohio Ethics Commission, and has also consulted with the Public Integrity Assurance Team in the office of state Auditor Dave Yost.
On Monday, The Times-Gazette reached out to Wehmer, the bond attorney referenced by Lewis, seeking an interview in regard to Lewis’ stated lack of confidence in Beery and his decision to instead rely on her advice, as well as his interpretation of Wehmer’s opinions in the emails he has sent to city officials in recent days.
She responded by email, “I am sorry I cannot discuss client matters with the media. It is a violation of attorney-client privilege to discuss any of these matters without express written permission from the client.” She later clarified that the client is the city of Hillsboro, and city council would need to grant permission for her to speak with the media.
In documents he filed to participate in the program, Hastings said he wants to tear down the building — often called the “Armintrout building” because it housed attorney Bill Armintrout’s practice — because it is blighted and damaged beyond reasonable repair. He said he wants to create parking spaces for tenants of an adjacent property, including The Times-Gazette.
Others who have participated in the city’s demolition program will repay 50 percent of the cost of demolition over five-year assessments. Hastings signed a document agreeing to repay 100 percent of the cost.
In one of his emails to city officials, Lewis said, “I want to assure everyone that I am not ‘out to get the mayor.’ It’s no secret that we don’t like each other. In the best of times we were only able to acknowledge each other’s existence, but under that minimal circumstance we were able to get a great deal done.”
He added, “But I do insist that the law be adhered to. I would have scrutinized this situation even if we were best friends. As such a new purchase order will not be issued for this project until Council takes action and approves the necessary measures.”
Council is scheduled to meet April 9.
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456, or follow on Twitter @AbernathyGary.