Wendy Culbreath, Ann Morris and Claudia Klein have made their demands: Less “personal animus and political gamesmanship” among city officials, better leadership from the council president and more information from the city auditor.
At Tuesday’s monthly Hillsboro City Council meeting, Culbreath read aloud a joint statement from herself and fellow councilwomen Morris and Klein saying that “actions, comments, and threats” fueled by interpersonal issues between city officials often overshadow the business of the city, and that such behavior “has no place in these council chambers nor at city hall.”
The councilwomen’s statement further said, “If you have a difference with someone, go and talk to them one-on-one and solve it like adults. Otherwise, leave it at home.”
The statement at one point apparently took aim at Council President Lee Koogler, saying council meetings “could be conducted better,” and that citizens’ comments are “often allowed to go on and on and emotionally escalate” to the point of citizens being allowed to “bully council.” Further, the statement said council members’ discussions are too often “quickly cut off and referred to committees,” and requested training in Robert’s Rules of Order.
When asked for comment Wednesday, Koogler said he believes he conducts “a very efficient and organized council meeting, always have and always will.”
“Any council members that have a disagreement with that, they’re welcome to have their opposition, but I have no intention of changing the way I run meetings,” he said.
As for the Robert’s Rules training, Koogler said he had spoken about it with Law Director Fred Beery, but “I will not offer a solution at this time.”
The women also requested, citing Ohio Revised Code, that Hillsboro Auditor Gary Lewis provide detailed financial reports to council on a monthly basis.
Lewis did not hear the request because he was not in attendance, and has said he will not be at future council meetings unless he receives three days’ notice beforehand, according to Koogler.
Lewis did not respond to calls for comment on Wednesday.
Earlier this year, Mayor Drew Hastings and Safety and Service Director Mel McKenzie made a similar boycott, demanding “more cooperation” from Koogler and Council Clerk Heather Collins in providing agendas and legislation further in advance of meetings. Hastings and McKenzie have since said they are seeing the cooperation for which they asked.
In other business Tuesday, Culbreath defended McKenzie for his oversight of Hastings utilizing the city’s demolition assistance program to tear down the mayor’s two-story building on Governor Trimble Place earlier this year.
As previously reported, Lewis raised concerns about the mayor using the program and later sparred with McKenzie over his authority to administer the program. Culbreath cited a portion of the ORC saying safety and service directors are allowed to enter into public contracts as long as the financial commitment is less than $50,000. The mayor’s building cost roughly $30,000 to demolish.
Highland County Sheriff Donnie Barrera commended Hillsboro Police Officer Brian Butler and Highland County Sheriff’s Deputy Mike Gaines for saving a suicidal man’s life in the Fallsville area recently, and Hastings swore in Dan Hopkins as the HPD’s newest officer. Hopkins was previously employed at the sheriff’s office.
Hastings gave a brief mayor’s report, saying an ordinance on the agenda granting South Central Power Company rights for power infrastructure in an area that may eventually be annexed into the city was “boilerplate.”
In the safety and service director’s report, McKenzie said the city is wrapping up a few projects around town before cold weather sets in, including the Colony Theatre pocket park, Governor Trimble Place green space and a utility infrastructure project on East Main Street.
McKenzie said the city has received a $1 million grant to fund a project separating stormwater from sanitary sewage, which he called a “very big accomplishment for the city.” The safety and service director also said the city has received a grant for new sidewalks on portions of East Main Street and West Main Street, and those projects “will be a major focus for the coming year.”
In the Utilities Committee report, Chairman Brandon Leeth said his committee met Oct. 31 to discuss storm sewers and a controversial trash collection ordinance that was met with opposition at last month’s regular meeting.
Leeth said the committee heard from Gary Silcott of Stantec Consulting Services, Inc., a consulting firm that will assist the city with addressing the storm sewer situation. According to Leeth, due to old infrastructure, clean stormwater has been infiltrating the sanitary sewer and the city has been wasting money treating storm water. He said there is “a lot of work” to be done to separate storm water from sewage, and he expects the city will spend more than $7 million over the next two years on the project.
He also requested that an ordinance establishing a citywide trash pickup service, which was scheduled for its second reading Tuesday, be tabled for further discussion in his committee. He said local trash providers who would have to bid for trash pickup in the city under the new ordinance strongly opposed the legislation and made a number of arguments at the committee meeting. Koogler tabled the legislation.
Hastings said he had no report available for the Hillsboro Planning Commission’s most recent meeting, but said the gathering was “productive” and that the minutes are available at the city offices.
Finance Committe Chairman Justin Harsha said the issue of Hillsboro placing some of its properties on the real estate market will likely be resolved next month pending correspondence with Hillsboro’s Community Improvement Corporation.
In the Street and Safety Committee report, Chairman Adam Wilkin said his committee continues to explore funding for a sports complex in the old Railroad Street park area. He said bonds, grants and fundraisers are being discussed as options.
Council also approved four resolutions related to the storm sewer project and heard a first reading on the South Central Power Company ordinance.
Reach David Wright at 937-402-2570.