Gary Abernathy, The Times-Gazette publisher and editor-in-chief, was sworn in Thursday as a Highland County commissioner.
Abernathy was sworn in by State Rep. Shane Wilkin, whom he replaced on the board following Wilkin’s appointment to Ohio’s 91st House District. Abernathy’s wife, Lora, held the Bible on which the new commissioner took his oath.
In remarks to the public, Abernathy said he was honored by the appointment and humbled to take Wilkin’s place on the board.
“I decided this was an opportunity for me to try to put a lot of years in politics and government and journalism to work for my home county,” Abernathy said, adding that he hopes to make Highland County a better place to live and work.
Abernathy said he hopes to bring “a better effort at communication” across county offices which helps “avoid misunderstandings, rumors and gossip,” although he said he was “disappointed” to learn that on Tuesday — the day after his appointment by the Highland County Republican Central Committee — there were “people were already scouring the internet trying to find some piece of information to stop this appointment.”
“As they said, ‘Welcome to local politics,’” Abernathy said. He added, “If you search deep enough, you will find embarrassing pictures of me in an Elvis jumpsuit.”
Abernathy said he feels he represents the average Highland County resident because “I’ve known lean times and I’ve known good times. I’ve known the feeling of living paycheck to paycheck, worrying about paying bills, keeping food on the table, paying medical bills and keeping up with taxes.” He promised to be open and accessible, responsible and objective.
“I’m willing and anxious to work with anyone and everyone who’s willing to work with me,” he said.
After the oath, Wilkin congratulated Abernathy, adding that he has “a great team” in commissioners Terry Britton and Jeff Duncan, and clerks Mary Remsing and Nicole Oberrecht.
Wilkin said there are “still lots of things to be done” in the county, and said he is at the commissioners’ disposal.
As previously reported, Wilkin was appointed by the House GOP caucus to serve the remainder of the term vacated by former representative and Ohio Speaker of the House Cliff Rosenberger, who resigned in April under the cloud of an FBI investigation.
Wilkin was appointed and took his oath of office last month.
Both Abernathy and Wilkin will face off against other candidates in the November General Election for full terms beginning in January. Abernathy will run against a Democratic candidate yet to be appointed by the Highland County Democratic Party, and Wilkin will run against Democrat Justin Grimes and independent candidate Todd May, both of Clinton County.
Also Thursday, the commissioners announced a switch to a different health insurance provider due to rising rates.
Duncan said due to a rise in insurance claims, the county’s rate rose by more than 30 percent. The best alternative, Duncan said, was a different provider that would bring a 9.3 percent rate increase.
“That was the best we could come up with,” Duncan said, adding that the county hopes to see claims decrease next year so “we’ll see some better numbers.”
Duncan said the employees on the county’s insurance will be formally notified of the change soon. The new policy will take effect in August, Duncan said.
The commissioners also reorganized Thursday, with Duncan being named president and Britton vice president.
Duncan said a recycling bin in Mowrystown will have to be moved due to an inundation of non-recyclable materials in the bin. Duncan said items such as diapers and food are not recyclable, and putting them in a recycling bin is considered dumping, which is a fineable offense.
Highland County Health Commissioner Jared Warner told the board that he’s closely watching an outbreak of Hepatitis A in Ohio, and educational materials will be distributed to medical providers soon. Warner said the outbreak was caused by IV drug use and low standards of cleanliness among drug users.
Duncan said the 2018 Festival of the Bells kicked off Thursday at Southern State Community College in Hillsboro, and will continue through Saturday. Duncan also said Greenfield Night at the Chillicothe Paints was set to take place Thursday evening.
The commissioners also approved routine financial resolutions and contracts.
Reach David Wright at 937-402-2570, or on Twitter @DavidWrighter.