A new administrative era was ushered in at Monday’s Hillsboro City Council meeting with a new mayor, safety and service director, auditor and council member all taking their respective seats.
Auditor Alex Butler said the new positions are not about authority or prestige, but about those in the positions making Hillsboro a better place.
“Let us never forget who we serve or who finances our paychecks,” Butler told those at the meeting. “Government is the institution we all love to hate. It’s an easy target and we’ve all done it. I want our people to feel confident in their local government. I want them to see cooperation, wisdom, honesty, transparency and hard work. I want them to feel like we have our act together, so to speak, and know we work for them. Part of my job is not just accounting for the city finances, but communicating those finances. If I can be a resource to you and make your job easier as council members, please let me know how I can help.”
Those attending their first council meeting in their new capacities included Butler, Mayor Justin Harsha, Safety and Service Director Brianne Abbott and council member Dane Allard, who replaced Harsha.
Councilman Brandon Leeth was appointed council president pro tempore, filling a position previously occupied by Harsha.
Abbott said communication is a major focus of the city’s new administration.
She said chain link fences and drug signs have been removed from the city’s “gateway” entrances, and that they will be replaced by new “aesthetically pleasing signs” soon, that the city is working on a zoning change for the Marriot hotel project from Industrial E to Business C, that Evans Construction will be working this week on a fountain being constructed on the courthouse square, that a storm sewer project is scheduled to begin in the coming days, and that a new paved trail and restrooms have been added to the Harmony Lake area at Liberty Park.
“It is truly an honor to be here and I’m very grateful for the opportunity. We are looking forward to getting to work on some exciting projects in the near future and to continue the efforts of many before us,” Abbott said.
In his report to council, Harsha said the Parker House and former Gross Feibel locations both need to be taken of, and asked council if the city could use available funds to tear the Parker House down. Council President Tom Eichenger said money was allocated to tear the Parker House down last year, and council voted unanimously by voice to use the funds for the demolition.
Harsha said he recently toured the Gross Feibel property with Public Works Superintendent Shawn Adkins. Harsha said some of the work there could be handled in-house. “We want to put together a plan and get something done down there,” he said.
The mayor also said the city has been working on issues on the second floor of the City Building, and that a dump truck full of items the city did not need were removed from the area. He also said the city is looking to replace the carpet in the building since it has not been replaced since the structure opened.
Leeth said council’s utilities committee met Dec. 19 to discuss a Highland County Board of Commissioners request that the city pay water and sewer fees at the Highland County Justice Center. According to Leeth, Commissioner Gary Abernathy said the county pays all the other costs for the Justice Center, and the commissioners asked the city to pay 10 percent of the water and sewer bill.
“The committee is willing to OK the city incurring 100 percent of the cost of the water and sewer at the Justice Center,” Leeth said.
He said legislation on the topic will be presented at next month’s meeting.
Leeth also said Southern State Community College, the Highland County Fair Board and the Hillsboro Elks have requested a repeal of storm sewer assessment fees approved last year.
“Long story short, this has already been through council, so now that the ordinance has been in place, it’s not really a council or legislative decision,” Leeth said.
Earlier in the meeting, local resident Ron Smith addressed council, saying he filed a complaint against Hillsboro Police Chief Eric Daniels earlier in the day.
Smith claims that in October he and his son were assaulted by a public official in the Lowe’s parking lot. He said the person they were assaulted by used a shovel in the attack, and that Daniels tampered with evidence because he did not confiscate the shovel as evidence.
Daniels was at the meeting and as Smith directed more questions toward the police chief and the mayor, Eichinger told him council was not the place for his allegations to be addressed.
Smith eventually asked Harsha and Abbott if they would look into the issue.
“I would be more than happy to look into the complaint,” Harsha said.
Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522.