Mayor Drew Hastings’ comments Monday about some members of city council wearing “smiley face” buttons and others not wearing them left council as a whole less than happy.
During his mayor’s report at Monday’s council meeting, Hastings said council was “broken,” and used the buttons as an analogy of what he said represented a division, with three council members on the left side of the table wearing them, and three on the right side not wearing them.
As she had done at a Finance Committee meeting last week, council member Claudia Klein distributed yellow “smiley face” buttons to members of council and others who were present Monday. Three council members pinned the buttons to their shirts or blouses while others chose not to do so.
Wearing the buttons were council members who were seated side by side on the left side of the table, including Klein, Ann Morris and Tracy Aranyos. Hastings and Safety and Service Director Todd Wilkin also wore the buttons. Auditor Gary Lewis later joked that he was disappointed not to have been offered a button, which Klein promptly provided to him.
Becky Wilkin, Justin Harsha and Bill Alexander were seated side by side on the right side of the table and chose not to wear the buttons. Dick Donley, who was filling in as president for Lee Koogler and was seated in the judge’s chair on a riser where the president typically sits in the municipal courtroom, did not wear a button.
Hastings pointed to those who were wearing the buttons and those who were not, saying it illustrated a division on council.
Council member Becky Wilkin took exception to the mayor’s remarks, saying she had worn the button last week, as had Alexander, but simply chose not to wear it Monday. She said it did not reflect a broken council, and told Hastings, “I don’t agree with some of the things you want to do.”
After the meeting, Wilkin said council is not broken. She said she considers it a “checks and balances council.”
Harsha said he simply decided not to wear the button, and “there wasn’t any reason behind it.”
Even a couple of council members who had worn the buttons said later they were disappointed in the mayor’s comments, agreeing they were unnecessary, with one saying it was “a bad move.”
At the conclusion of the meeting, Hastings appeared to be ill and left immediately, leaving some council members to speculate after Monday’s meeting about whether the pressure of a criminal investigation that is now into its fourth month is taking its toll on the mayor.
On Tuesday, Hastings acknowledged that the investigation is having an impact.
“I like to think that this investigation isn’t wearing on me,” said the mayor. “But yes, the sheer stress of the unknown hanging over you, yeah, has definitely taken some toll. So yes, I definitely do not feel my hundred percent self.”
He added, “It’s taken some toll on me, and has definitely taken a toll on my family.”
Donley said Tuesday that Klein was simply trying to “lighten the atmosphere” with the buttons.
“I don’t think she had any intentions to divide or make a statement, she was just passing them out,” said Donley. “People were welcome to wear it or not. That’s what council does, they make their own decisions.”
He said he was sorry if Hastings feels council is divided.
“I think we have done pretty well working with him, and getting things accomplished,” said Donley. “Council gets along pretty well. Everybody comes to meetings, we don’t argue much about things. We just have a difference of opinion sometimes.”
Donley said he understands why the investigation is taking a toll on the mayor. But as for council, he said, “We’re trying to stay neutral. We’re not taking sides. We’re just trying to run the city’s business and not worry about outside influences, even though I know it’s on the back of everybody’s mind.”
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @abernathygary.