Public comments at Thursday’s Hillsboro City Council meeting centered around the since-abandoned possibility of moving the Lincoln School Marching Mothers and Civil War Unknown Soldier monuments to make way for a new seat wall on the Highland County Courthouse grounds.
The family of Robert and Anne Bagshaw rescinded an offer to the Highland County Board of Commissioners to fund the seat wall last Wednesday, citing concerns about the cost of the project.
In his comments to city council, Patrick Shanahan, a representative of Hillsboro Against Racism and Discrimination (HARD), said, “That proposal has since been withdrawn, but we still have a couple things we’d like to make sure city council is aware of or city officials are aware of.”
Shanahan voiced concerns that conversations about moving the Lincoln School Marching Mothers bench took place without including the people who have a family connection to the bench and other stakeholders.
“I just want city officials to remember in the future that a lot of people here — a lot of Black folks in our city — they have a very intimate connection to that bench,” he said. “I also think any conversations about that bench needs to be sensitive to the fact that in the year 2022 racism is a problem.”
Shanahan also wanted to discourage the cityo from contracting with Evans Landscaping. Evans Landscaping owner Doug Evans was sentenced to 21 months in prison in 2021 for defrauding the city of Cincinnati and other public entities by obtaining contracts intended for small and minority-owned businesses.
“I know that since then the city of Hillsboro has given them a couple of contracts, and I don’t think that’s right,” said Shanahan.
In response, council president Tom Eichinger said that the city council does not have the authority to identify, select or approve contracts, and that contracting issues should be discussed directly with city officials. He deferred to Hillsboro City Safety and Service Director Brianne Abbott for further response.
“I’d like to thank you for your comments, and it’s something we’ll definitely be mindful of in the future,” said Abbott. “There are no contracts currently where we are accepting bids from any contractors at this time.”
Mayor Justin Harsha also responded to Shanahan’s comments. “I don’t know if you were aware of how much I had to do with helping a great project, the Marching Mothers bench, and I went through great lengths to make sure it was in the right spot,” said Harsha. “We met up there, and we did a lot of work. I’m glad everything worked out, and the bench is amazing. Everybody should be proud of it.”
Marva Captain of HARD made additional comments about the Marching Mothers bench and contracts with Evans Landscaping. “Like the mayor said, he did a lot of work to get the bench here, but it’s been there two years, but you don’t care about getting rid of it, and that’s why I say racism is alive and well in Hillsboro,” she said.
Harsha responded by pointing out that any decisions about the project that could have impacted the Marching Mothers bench are the responsibility of the Highland County government.
After about 15 minutes of discussion, Eichinger interjected and suggested that Captain speak directly to the Bagshaw family. “What I’m telling you is, which I’ve already said, council has nothing to do with those decisions, and the only people who know what conversations really took place, except the ones that were with the mayor specifically addressing the creation and setup of the bench itself, are the Bagshaws,” said Eichinger.
In other news from the meeting, a pending ordinance to double license fees for amusement devices in Hillsboro from $25 to $50 annually per machine was debated.
Initially, city council considered doing away with the fee altogether, but the Hillsboro Finance Committee voted to recommend doubling the fee.
Business owner Brandon Adkins spoke against the proposed ordinance. “As far as doubling them, I’m sorry to say that that is retaliation at best,” he said. “I think you need to reconsider this and look at it for what it is. If not, I’m prepared to take the next step that I need to take against the city of Hillsboro.”
City council members Jason Brown, Patty Day and Don Storer expressed opposition to increasing the fees. Brown said he is against any kind of fee on a game kids play strictly for amusement, but he would support increasing the fee for gambling machines.
“I agree with Jason 100 percent,” said Day.
“I don’t believe we need to put any more burden on businesses, especially at this time,” said Storer.
The ordinance was referred back to the finance committee for consideration before the council’s April meeting.
City council unanimously approved and adopted four resolutions and two ordinances on their first reading. The first was a resolution authorizing the mayor to execute an annexation agreement between the city, Liberty Township Board of Trustees, and Janet Fenner Benson and others to avail the property owners of city services as an emergency measure needed for health, welfare and safety.
Resolutions for the city to participate in the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) road salt contracts awarded in 2021 and to submit an application for the 2022 Community Development Program through the Highland County Board of Commissioners were among those approved. The Community Development Program grant would assist in funding a disability accessible playground for the Liberty Park/Harmony Lake area.
A resolution allowing the city to submit an application for the ODOT Surface Transportation Block Grant was adopted to seek funding for engineering costs associated with the Rails to Trails Community Trail Project.
The council approved an appropriation of $5,640 for an upgrade to firearms for the city’s police department and an appropriation of $16,351.89 for street paving.
A resolution to amend the zoning map of the city was passed on its third reading.
Second readings of resolutions to transfer the premises at 301 E. South St. to the Community Improvement Corporation and to amend the city code to provide limitations on extra-territorial water and sewer service were heard by council.
Council also heard a second reading of an ordinance vacating an unnamed alley by O’Connell Street.
Reach John Hackley at 937-402-2571.