Concerns about the new digital sign at the Colony Park, and vandalism throughout the city, were voiced at Monday’s Hillsboro City Council meeting.
Council member Ann Morris said that after reviewing the minutes of past council meetings, council never approved the digital sign.
In a prepared statement that she shared with The Times-Gazette, Morris said that according to minutes from a Nov. 9 council meeting, council passed a resolution to allocate Cares Act funds to the city’s general fund, with more information to follow later.
“From what the November (Hillsboro Design Review Board) minutes state, the design review board (DRB) did approve the digital sign, with the stipulation of approving the design drawing, and final approval,” Morris’ notes said. “It was explained to the DRB that the purchase orders must be in place by November 2020 for the Cares Act money. The same month, council was not informed what the money would be used for. We were not aware until the digital sign was installed this spring. The Cares Act Money project did not have to be completed until the end of 2021. Plenty of time to go through all of the proper channels and let the citizens as well as council voice an opinion.”
Morris said she was concerned about Hillsboro Safety and Service Director Brianne Abbott’s involvement with the progression of the sign at the Colony Park.
“It’s almost impossible not to be involved as the SSD is basically the center of all things in the city. Per DRB December 16th meeting, our SSD explained she had Chad Abbott Signs create a design with some adjustments, and presented copies to each member of the DRB. Final designs would be discussed later as DS2 will have drawings sent to Ms. Abbott that afternoon,” Morris’ notes said. “According to our own By Laws for council, the SSD is a ‘non voting’ member of city council… As such, the SSD cannot approve any ordinance providing for the appropriation of money unless it is accompanied by a form provided by the auditor which shall show fully the purpose of the appropriation. …The digital sign purchase … should have been visited more carefully, and appears as a conflict of interest.”
“As chair of the Property Maintenance and Restoration Committee, along with council, and other interested parties, a lot of time had been spent planning the Colony Park, and many other projects around town. The sign structure completely changes the aesthetics of the pocket park. There are several new projects in the works, and I am requesting the public be included in those decisions,” Morris added.
At last month’s council meeting, Morris questioned who the sign had been purchased from. Mayor Justin Harsha said it was purchased from Chad Abbott Signs. Chad Abbott is Brianne Abbott’s husband.
Council member Patty Day agreed with Morris that council did not approve the Colony sign.
Council president Tom Eichinger disagreed, saying the sign was authorized by council.
Morris said said the sign had been mentioned as a possible project, and funds were authorized, but the project was not.
“The funds to be expended were authorized,” Eichinger said.
“Anyone can pull the records. They’re public,” Morris said.
A pair of Hillsboro residents also addressed council with issues about the sign.
Tracy Araynos, a former council member and current member of the Hillsboro Planning Commission, said the sign is 100-percent illegal.
“It’s not permitted in the historic district. It’s stated clearly that it’s absolutely not permitted,” Araynos said.
She also said proper procedure for approving the sign was not followed, adding that the area where the sign is located is part of the historic uptown district and that there are city codes describing what kind of signage can be placed in the district.
“It seems to be a pattern of what I’m seeing with the administration, and I’m not happy about that,” Aranyos said.
Hillsboro resident David Mayer told council he also looked over minutes from past council meetings regarding the sign.
“My discussion with people in the city and county residents outside the city tells me that no one likes it,” Mayer said.
During his report to council, mayor Justin Harsha talked about vandalism at Liberty Park and elsewhere around the city, then asked Rick Tipton, a caretaker the park, to give further details.
Harsha noted the fountain on the Highland County Courthouse square that was originally opened last spring had to be shut down early last fall due to vandalism. Tipton said someone dumped soap in the fountain seven times last year.
Last week the city was preparing to open the fountain again, but again it was vandalized.
“Someone put some more soap in it, so when Rick turned it on in the morning we had more suds. We didn’t even get the fountain up and running and we already had vandalism issues,” Harsha said.
“People are just not respecting the parks,” the mayor added. “I walk by the shelter houses and all the picnic tables and they’re full of trash. People come out to eat lunch and leave it there…”
Tipton said he works seven days a week trying to keep the park clean, but the trash and acts of vandalism keep getting worse.
He said people steal toilet paper from the park restrooms, have kicked down the dividers between toilet stalls, caused toilets and sinks to overflow, have broken door handles, and left graffiti so disturbing that he would not discuss it during the council meeting.
He said people park in areas not marked for parking, damaging the grass and making those areas hard to mow, people fill the park’s trash containers with trash from their homes, the park’s trails are littered with trash, and people even steal bags left in the park’s dog park area for pet owners to clean up after their dogs. And that’s just part of his list.
Harsha said the city has discussed moving a gate at the park closer to the park entrance and possibly closing it at a certain time each night.
In her report to council, Abbott said the pedestrian bridge linking Shaffer and Liberty parks has been set and work continues on paving and sidewalks near it.
She said the Springlake Improvements Projects has been awarded to the Diesel Construction Co., school zone signs with flashing lights have been installed, the city is continuing to partner with the county commissioners for an economic development position with interviews to be conducted in the coming weeks, the city’s parks committee met to discuss a possible community watch program at the parks, and street sweeping has started.
Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522.