Outgoing Hillsboro Mayor Drew Hastings enjoyed his last day in office surrounded by friends, family and well-wishers during a farewell celebration held Monday in the city administration building.
A document recognizing his eight years service as mayor of Hillsboro was presented to him by administrative assistant Kimberly Newman, in addition to presentation of the keys to the city by fellow office assistant Paulette Goerler.
“I’m going to stand next to the Christmas tree since that’s the only thing around here taller than me,” Hastings joked to the assembled crowd in the administration building lobby.
Newman presented Hastings with a proclamation that waxed poetic and was entitled “See You in a Bit,” referring to a catch phrase she said the mayor used to end emails, letters and almost every conversation.
“He had vision and I think a great heart for the city,” Newman said, reflecting on the fact mayor-elect Justin Harsha would be occupying the mayor’s office on Thursday. “I feel like he’s motivated and done a lot for the city of Hillsboro, and we’re going to continue that spirit when Justin takes over as the new mayor.”
In reflecting on eight years as mayor, Hastings said the first thing he noticed when seeing his reflection in a mirror was the amount of gray hair the job had left in its wake.
“I never looked at this as a job,” he said. “I’ve always felt that public service is like a tour of duty in the military where you do it, go to the front lines and tackle the problems, and then when you’re done, you leave honorably.”
He said there was degree of pride when he looked back over the last eight years, and acknowledged that it took the efforts of the team that surrounded him to accomplish the things he wanted to get done.
He said no one thing stood out in his mind as a signature accomplishment, although he was the most proud of the some of the small things that were done during his watch that made Hillsboro a nicer place to live.
“This city never had a sidewalk that led from uptown all the way out to Harry Sauner Road and to Southern State College,” he said. “The fact that you used to see people in wheelchairs wheel out onto High Street because it was a dirt path five or six years ago, or how pretty the uptown area looks with that clock and the picnic tables near the courthouse, and what the Bagshaw fountain will look like come spring in front of the courthouse — sometime it’s the little things.”
He admitted that the situation with the fire department a few years ago would be a sore spot with some people when evaluating his term in office, but defended what happened by saying that, in his opinion, it fixed a broken city budget.
“The thing with the fire department isn’t something that you celebrate,” he said. “If anything, we found a solution to get our budget back under control, and we couldn’t have done things like building sidewalks, paving our streets, fixing our curbs and gutters, attracting developers for hotels and restaurants, and all those other things if we hadn’t done that.”
Highland County commissioner Gary Abernathy said that “there was a never dull moment” during the past eight years, and that the mayor had to take a crash course in politics while at the same time constantly being referred to as “an outsider” in a negative way.
“As an outsider in a positive way, he was able to do some things in this town that no one from here would’ve dared to tackle,” Abernathy said, drawing an analogy between Hastings and President Trump. “Yes, he had some rough moments, but I think that for the most part people will admit that he was good for the town and was very bold in his leadership.”
Outgoing Hillsboro Safety and Service Director Dick Donley said that regardless of people’s opinions about Hastings, he felt that he had been good for the city and mirrored Abernathy’s comment about him being an outsider, adding that he brought a fresh perspective that helped move things forward.
“I hope the city continues to look outside the box sometimes,” Donley said. “There are some who would just like Hillsboro to stay the way that it always was, and that’s not a good thing in today’s world because what happens is you get left behind.”
In looking forward at the post-Hastings years, Donley said he thought there are some exciting times ahead for the city under the leadership of Harsha, citing as one example the proposed hotel and restaurant development near Harry Sauner Road.
“I think that Justin is inheriting an already great city,” Hastings said. “And I know that he’s more than able to maintain the direction and drive that’s already in place, and carry it forward.”
Reach Tim Colliver at 937-402-2571