Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect that Hillsboro Mayor Drew Hastings’ term expires at the end of 2019, not 2018.
Citing a fractured relationship with the president of Hillsboro City Council and concerns with the council clerk, Hillsboro Mayor Drew Hastings and Safety and Service Director Mel McKenzie refused to attend Monday night’s council meeting or present routine reports, and the mayor said members of his administration will not attend again until the president and clerk “get a little more professional.”
“The administration has been really frustrated with the leadership of city council over the last year,” Hastings said in an interview Tuesday. “We finally had to make a stance.”
Council President Lee Koogler told The Times-Gazette that his relationship with Hastings has “been strained for a long time,” in part due to Koogler’s involvement in a criminal investigation and eventual felony trial against Hastings in 2016.
Also strained is the relationship between the Hastings administration and council Clerk Heather Collins, who testified for the state in Hastings’ trial, in which he was charged with four felony counts alleging official misconduct, but was acquitted. Collins said Tuesday she feels animosity from Hastings because of her testimony.
Hastings said no one in his administration received an agenda or copies of impending legislation prior to Monday’s meeting, and were not informed of a planned executive session, which did not end up taking place due to Hastings and McKenzie’s absence.
Hastings said he believes Collins intentionally did not send the agenda and legislation to the administration.
Collins told The Times-Gazette that the agenda and legislation not being sent was “a simple error.”
Collins said legislation was added to the agenda at the last minute during her family vacation at the Highland County Fair, and she was unable to send virtual legislation packets and agendas to council members until Sunday night. Members of the administration were not included.
“It was fair week,” she said. “I apologize for that… it wasn’t intentional. It wasn’t intentional to leave them out of that.”
When Hastings was asked if he had reached out to Collins regarding the agenda issue, the mayor said he had not.
“I don’t think she has any interest in talking with us,” he said. “She certainly hasn’t shown it to date… We thought it would be futile… We have bent over backwards to be accommodating, and to no avail. It’s time that they are the ones that make the effort.”
Collins said she, too, has “bent over backwards to have a working relationship… They have had ample opportunity to have a working relationship and that hasn’t happened.”
Debbie Sansone, Hastings’ administrative assistant and previous council clerk, also raised a number of complaints about Collins’ performance of duties. Collins said the allegations were unfounded and amounted to “the pot calling the kettle black,” accusing Sansone of negligence as council clerk during her tenure in the position.
McKenzie said his area of the administration was affected when a new surcharge on utility bills was approved by council and Collins did not publish it in a timely fashion. McKenzie said that cost the city roughly $8,000 in lost revenue.
“It just hurts us when there’s no follow through,” he said. “It’s just an expectation of professionalism that we aren’t really getting.”
Collins said there were “some issues with communication” between city officials about correctly submitting the legislation for publication.
“It was all through email and I didn’t get answers,” she said. “As soon as that decision was made… I did it.”
Hastings said Koogler and Collins “are happy to do nothing” to mend the rift between council leadership and the administration “until the day I leave office” at the end of 2019.
“And that, exactly, is why we chose last night to put our foot down,” the mayor said.
Hastings said council members have little to do with the quarrel, saying they “suffer absolutely because of the way city council is governed.” Hastings accused Koogler of having a “lack of leadership.”
After an initial phone interview Tuesday, Koogler said he called each member of council and told them he would resign if they felt he was not effective as council president.
“Nobody took me up on it,” he said. “I’ve done this for a long time. I do what is statutorily required of me. It may not always be what the administration likes, but I’ve always done what I feel is necessary for council.”
Koogler said while his goal in office is “to put forward what needs to be done for the citizens of Hillsboro,” he admitted that “Drew’s and my differences sometimes make that more difficult to accomplish.”
But, he said, “it would be my hope that we could be adults and do what’s necessary.”
For further coverage of Monday night’s meeting, check back at www.timesgazette.com, or read Thursday’s edition of The Times-Gazette.
Reach David Wright at 937-402-2570, or on Twitter @DavidWrighter.