Drew Hastings says that after spending his first four years as mayor of Hillsboro laying the groundwork for growth and improving the city’s finances, he wants to help the city reap the rewards.
“We’ve spent a lot of time on infrastructure – not just street and sewer work – but things that most residents never see a lot of,” said Hastings, adding that much of his first term was spent “updating ordinances, fixing our zoning issues, modernizing internal systems like recordkeeping and making departments more efficient, responsible and thus more cost-effective. We created building codes and a building department.”
He added, “In other words, we’ve spent four years preparing Hillsboro for growth – managed, thought-out growth. So the next four years is actually where I can help Hillsboro reap tangible benefits from all that preparation and groundwork.”
Hastings, a Republican, submitted answers to several questions posed by The Times-Gazette in a recent questionnaire provided to him and his opponent, Democratic candidate Pam Limes. He said the decision to change fire coverage has saved money and freed up his office to focus on other needs, and that an uptown plaza would benefit Hillsboro because every successful small city has a gathering place uptown for regular events.
Hastings, 61, said that among his top priorities in a second term would be an updated zoning plan, revitalization of the uptown district, and cleaning up blighted properties around the city.
“Hillsboro has had a hodgepodge of zoning for years, and fixing it would solve a lot of problems and be a big help in planning for Hillsboro’s future growth,” he said.
Hastings said that revitalizing uptown Hillsboro is important because “the respect we have for our city is in direct proportion to how we treat our town center. How else do we honor our history if not through our historic uptown?”
He said the uptown district would be improved “if we return it to a place of commerce and civic activity the way it was founded. No one will ever think of Harry Sauner Road as the place that was most memorable about Hillsboro.”
Hastings said that cleaning up blighted properties is another priority. He said that during his first term he has worked with city council to create more strenuous enforcement designed to require property owners to address issues regarding rundown properties around the city.
Hastings has been self-employed throughout his life, owning a small Cincinnati warehouse and trucking business from 1976-81, driving forklifts, loading trucks and calling on customers. He later owned a commercial records storage facility before turning to standup comedy in 1991. He performed on the road nationally for 20 years, lived in Hollywood for 13 of those years and participated in sitcom pilots for NBC, CBS, ABC, Warner Bros. and HBO.
He moved to Hillsboro in 2005, continuing intermittent tour dates and beginning private real estate renovation and development in the city. He was briefly married and divorced many years ago, is today remarried to the former Taryn Blanchard, and is stepfather to his wife’s young daughter, Willow.
Hastings said the decision to disband Hillsboro Fire & Rescue in favor of a contract with the Paint Creek Joint EMS/Fire District “was not easy, but the results of that decision have been clear and visible. Much of the street repairs and paving have been possible because of it.”
Hastings said, “People will argue about exactly how much money has been saved, but it has made a large, positive difference in our finances.” He said another advantage has been allowing his administration to focus on other initiatives.
“The other, less obvious benefit is the added time that the administration has gained. A fire department is only one of a city’s six or seven departments, but it is usually the most time consuming from a management perspective. I think the reason our office was able to get some 30-plus grants over the last three years – which is far above the norm for Hillsboro – is that we had the time and resources to work on grants with the time that was freed up.”
Hastings said he believes Paint Creek has done a “great job of coverage,” and added that he thinks residents have noticed no difference in their fire and EMS needs being met.
Hastings said the idea for an uptown plaza “came about because one day I noticed two senior citizen ladies talking on the street for a good 15 minutes. I thought there should be benches where two friends can sit and chat, but there is no civic or public space uptown.”
He said he noticed the same 10 or so cars parked on Gov. Trimble Place every day, “so I felt that a plaza or town square would add to activity uptown.”
Hastings said that historically, “Hillsboro has had gathering places – there was a Chautauqua, a large park-like meeting place on the site where Holtfield Station now sits. It was very popular.”
He said every small city today that is successful is so “partly because they have regular events. Do I think it is the answer to revitalizing uptown? No, it’s just one of many efforts we can undertake to make our uptown more accessible.”
Hastings said he looks at everything connected with his job through its impact on economic development.
“Sometimes people think that the city or mayor can pick up the phone and somehow get a company to move here. We can’t,” said Hastings. “What we can do is create an environment that makes companies want to locate here. That’s what businesses look for. How are the streets? Does it look like a city on the way up or on the way down? Does the city plan for growth?” Those are the things people look for.
“Three years ago, people would come here and say to me, ‘You don’t have any kind of building or code enforcement?’ shaking their heads. We now have a building department and code enforcement.”
Hastings said that even though the national economy might be improving slightly, “this region is still in recession. But my office stays on top of any opportunity that we hear of and works hard to keep improving the city so that when opportunities present themselves we are in a position to win them over.”
He said the city works with other state and regional officials “to stay on top of opportunities that occur – for example, at the airpark in Wilmington, and how we can get Hillsboro people hired when jobs come up.”
Hastings said, “Think about it. Look at all the sewer, street, parks and other improvements we’ve made in spite of the loss of local government funds and an overall anemic economy.”
Hastings said the fact he is not originally from Hillsboro is sometimes a benefit.
“I think it’s easier to make hard decisions that are in the best interests of all residents precisely because I wasn’t born and raised here,” he said. “And I’m well aware that many past native-born Hillsboro mayors have made difficult decisions. But a city with multiple problems and issues like Hillsboro currently faces shouldn’t have to worry about stepping on the toes of a ‘good old boy’ system that benefits the few.”
Hastings said his 40 years of business experience has taught him valuable lessons. “One is to have talented, capable people working with you, which we certainly have in place in our city offices. It would be a big loss to Hillsboro to lose them along with their work ethic and ability.”
Hastings said he is proud of a number of personal and professional accomplishments through the years, including visiting Peru and hiking to the Inca city of Machu Picchu. “It took 10 days with a mule, had to go up to 11,000 feet and walk along tiny trails in the Andes mountains. And I am deathly afraid of heights and spoke not a word of Spanish.”
But he said that among his accomplishments, including earning praise from famous comedians like Joan Rivers and Jackie Mason whom he encountered throughout his career, it was a Hillsboro experience that left him in awe.
“About two years ago, I was going up in the elevator in the old Fifth-Third bank building which I own uptown, and I thought, ‘Wow, I own a building with an elevator in it!’ Which was meaningful to a guy who came from pretty modest means. I never thought I would own a building with an actual elevator. I’m proud of that building.”
Hastings said he thinks most Hillsboro residents share his vision for the city.
“If voters feel that there’s not much room for improvement in Hillsboro except a couple of minor tweaks and that it’s important that the office of mayor be occupied by someone who was born here, then I’m probably not your guy,” said Hastings. “But I do think that the vast majority of Hillsboro residents want more. They want the best of what the past has offered, but they also want the best of what the future can bring.”
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @abernathygary.