Gary Abernathy, publisher and editor of The Times-Gazette, was appointed Monday to serve on the Highland County Board of Commissioners for the remainder of the year, replacing former commissioner Shane Wilkin, who was recently sworn in as representative of Ohio’s 91st House District.
In two separate votes late Monday, the Highland County Republican Central Committee appointed Abernathy to the commission and also voted to nominate him as the party’s candidate in the November General Election.
Abernathy was one of eight candidates who applied for the role after Wilkin resigned last month.
The process for the appointment was prescribed by a directive from the Ohio secretary of state, according to Paulette Donley, executive chairwoman of the Highland County Republican Party. While Donley is often the spokesperson for local Republicans, she is not a voting member of the central committee.
According to Donley, all 31 central committee members heard from applicants individually in executive session and asked followup questions. Following discussion, the meeting was opened to the public and the committee held one round of balloting.
Donley said once a candidate had received a majority vote of 16, the counting was stopped. Abernathy received the majority vote.
Central Committee Chairman Dean Otworth said Tuesday afternoon that paperwork certifying Abernathy as a commissioner had been approved in Columbus earlier in the day.
Abernathy was set to be sworn in Thursday morning by Wilkin at the commissioners’ weekly meeting, postponed one day due to the Fourth of July holiday, Otworth said.
Abernathy, who has served in a variety of political roles over the years, said Tuesday that he has celebrated victories and mourned defeats with candidates whom he has helped, but to be trusted with a vote is “a very humbling feeling.”
As for immediate challenges facing the county, Abernathy said dealing with the “ongoing drain” of foster care in Highland County and shrinking sales tax revenues will require close attention. Abernathy said he looks forward to tackling those issues with commissioners Jeff Duncan and Terry Britton, whom he described as “two very good guys” who bring unique perspective and experience to the table. Likewise, Abernathy said he brings his own set of skills, and hopes to fill Wilkin’s shoes by regularly attending meetings around the county, Ohio Valley Regional Development Commission meetings, and traveling to Columbus when necessary “being an advocate for the county.”
Abernathy said establishing effective communication with the public will be one of his top priorities in office.
“Accurate communication… helps shoot down misunderstandings, gossip, rumor,” he said. “Everybody should be working together on the same page, and you do that best by being open.”
While politics in Highland County is often positive on the surface, Abernathy said, “people get vicious sometimes with their whisper campaigns and their efforts to try to drag people down. You don’t lift yourself up by dragging people down.” He said he hopes to foster “a positive political atmosphere, even behind the scenes.”
Otworth said the central committee had its choice of “very good candidates,” and thanked them for applying for the position.
According to Otworth, the applicants were Abernathy, Scott Bates, Rick Kisling, John Gillespie, Amy Davis-Fulkerson, Russell Newman Jr., Destiny Bryson, and Steve Roush.
“I’m very happy with the decision,” Otworth told The Times-Gazette. “I think the central committee picked an excellent replacement for Shane…. I know Gary will do us a great job in Highland County. His heart and mind, everything is in the right place and it’s for Highland County.”
Donley commended the applicants for their desire to serve Highland County.
“In reviewing their resumes, they each had many areas of past experience or education that could have served Highland County well,” Donley said. “However, we only needed one person to fill that spot… I’m pleased with the choice and confident he’ll be able to fulfill the duties of county commissioner.”
The Highland County Democratic Party will appoint a candidate to be on the November ballot. Independent candidates had 10 days to file following Wilkin’s resignation. According to the Highland County Board of Elections, no independents filed.
Abernathy said his tenure at The Times-Gazette, spanning 15 years in two different stints, “has been a huge part of my life,” adding that he has had “the greatest staff over the last seven years that anyone could ever want.”
Abernathy will resign from the newspaper effective Friday, July 13.
Reach David Wright at 937-402-2570, or on Twitter @DavidWrighter.